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A Long Way From Home


National Post - April 27, 1999.

To the Bleacher Creatures of Yankee Stadium's Section 139, visiting right-fielders have one thing in common -- they all suck

Hey Shawn! Shawn!

"Your mother's a Yankees fan!"

Shawn Green is playing right field for the Blue Jays in Yankee Stadium, and that means he's an automatic target. No opposing right-fielder escapes the barbs of the Bleacher Creatures, residents of Section 139 in the right-field stands.

"Mets suck. Green sucks. Everybody sucks!"

They've got a couple of custom chants for Green, including one that they sing. It's so vulgar, "you can't put it in your paper," Green says.

He knows the lyrics by heart. In fact, he sings it on key during a light-hearted interview in the visitor's clubhouse.

"They get into your head, but it's fun, entertaining," Green says.

Strangely, these shouting, screaming, slandering, profanity-hurling, living and breathing cutouts from a Tom Wolfe novel actually like Green.

"Green's cool," explains Big Joe, on a sunny Saturday at Yankee Stadium. "He jokes with us. We don't hate all right fielders. We hate Juan Gonzalez, Albert Belle, Wil Cordero, Bobby Bonilla, and all other ex-Mets for the simple fact that they once wore Mets uniforms on their backs."

For them, the taunting is merciless.

Cordero signed with the Chicago White Sox last year after pleading guilty in Boston to spousal battery. After playing the first of a three-game series in right field, he spent the next two games at other positions. The Bleacher Creatures assumed full credit.

"The best part is when we find out the intimate details," says Michael Donahue, a bartender. "You know, something that goes on in their life, like drugs, or booze, marital problems, or wife-beating. What we do to these guys, if people did that to me at my job every day, I'd shoot myself."

Most of it's in fun, though. That's the whole point of being out in the bleachers. That, or primal scream therapy.

"The experience in the bleachers keeps you coming back," says Donahue. "Every day is a different episode."

Milton Ousland rings a cowbell to inspire rallies. Someone else bangs something that sounds like an African tribal drum. They clap, they sing, they drone, they chant.

One hundred Bleacher Creatures make more noise than 20,000 Torontonians in the SkyDome, it seems.

"It's so quiet up there," one of these Creatures says. The shush-nature of the Blue Jay crowd was their lasting impression from a road trip.

Nearly all the prominent Bleacher Creatures have a nickname. There's Tina, Queen of the Bleachers. And Loudmouth Larry ("Yo! Give me a Playboy!" he yells at a program vendor). Mike Donahue goes by "Donahue" because there are too many Mikes in the crowd. One of the Mikes is Uptown Mike.

Their New Yawk accents are straight out of NYPD Blue, or maybe it's the other way around. NYPD Blue is straight out of their accents.

"We are the largest dysfunctional family," says Paul Kaplan, a stockbroker. "We're from all walks of life, all jobs, all races, all creeds."

Country club members ante up $40,000 initiation. These men and women fork out $14 for a ticket and keep out strangers just as effectively.

A man arrives with his wife an hour before Saturday's game.

"These seats are taken," Big Joe says.

"You can't block out all these seats," the man replies.

"I wouldn't advise sitting there, sir," Joe says, calmly.

The man leaves.

Another person tries to sit in Milton's seat. Milton's in charge of the cowbell. The security guard advises the casual fan to find another location.

"I guess my seat doesn't mean nothin' no more," Milton sniffs.

Jim Rome, a syndicated sports-blab radio host with time slots in the United States and Ottawa, refers to the Yankees' crowd as "battery chuckers."

When an outfielder gets pelted with foreign objects, fingers point to the Creatures. Unfair and inaccurate, they say.

"All the garbage comes from up there," one of them says, pointing to the second-deck reserved seats wrapping around the foul pole.

Nevertheless, the rowdy nature of the crowd means two of New York's finest plus two security guards keep constant watch. One of the security guards notices a National Post correspondent taking notes, and approaches. With a delivery of a stand-up comedian, he says: "We just made this section non-alcoholic. . . . No difference."

He laughs at his own joke, shakes his head, and walks away as if he's said nothing of profound importance to the sporting world.

Non-alcoholic? Excuse me? No beer?

Sure enough, one of the Bleacher Creatures points to the newly installed sign on the whitewashed wall in the back of the grandstand. They think George Steinbrenner wants them out.

They'd sooner be sober than cave.

"I've lived in the Bronx all my life," says Big Joe. "I've always sat in the bleachers. My parents didn't have a lot of money, so this is where I sat as a kid. Now, I don't want to sit anywhere else."

Too many right fielders, so little time.

"Hey Albert!" they yelled at Belle last week, during his visit with Baltimore. "You even suck in the video game."

Gonzalez, the Texas slugger, once made the mistake of imploring a scorekeeper to change an error to a hit so he'd get credit for an RBI.

"I'm proud of any Puerto Rican who makes it to the big leagues, just for the simple fact not too many make it," says Big Joe, giving away his heritage. "But I look at the way Bernie Williams carries himself off the field. Gonzalez [by comparison] is cocky, arrogant, and brash."

One day, if it isn't here already, these folks are going to get swelled heads. Through Kaplan, Nike's giving them free clothing. The producers of Kevin Costner's new baseball movie stopped by the other day to tape the cowbell.

For now, though, it's a fun, if crude, element to the Yankee Stadium show -- unless your name is Juan, Albert, Wil, or Bobby, and you play right field for a living.



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