“Yo! Join in!” – Bald Vinny
Walking toward the River Avenue side of Yankee Stadium, a cacophony of sounds greets fans amidst the shuffling of feet and the murmur of the streets.
Overhead, a train arrives every few minutes or so, bringing with it a deafening roar of steel upon tracks. Hopefuls stand craning their heads, imploring, â€œTickets? Tickets?â€ to anyone who will look their way. Street sweepers rub up against the legs of River Avenue, clearing the curb before gametime.
Yet silently leaning against a wall by Billy’s Sports Bar is Vinny Milano, his T-shirts speaking for themselves.
â€œThat’s the perils of working on River Avenue,â€ he says with a smile. â€œYou get very good at lip reading.â€
A leader of Bleacher Creatures and a growing staple at Yankee Stadium, you can pick Milano, better known as Bald Vinny, out of a crowd of 52,325. Before each game he attends, he starts up the roll call, and the fans now sitting in Section 203 â€“ formerly Section 39 in the old stadium â€“ give each Yankee on the field his due.
And recently, each Yankee has acknowledged the fandom in his own way, like Nick Swisher’s rigid salute from right field, or a flex of the muscles from Brett Gardner.
The Bleacher Creature roll call is as Yankee Tradition — with a capital â€œTâ€ — as it gets. And it boils down to Bald Vinny, who himself made baseball a routine of his when he was working in Midtown Manhattan years ago.
â€œI was low man on the totem pole, and I was always waiting for work,â€ he said, taking a swig from his iced coffee every so often. â€œI would leave, take a $2 train ride here, get a $6 general admission ticket, watch seven innings, head up to my desk and finish work. People would leave stuff on your desk.
â€œThat’s how I got introduced here. It was cheap and accessible. I was living alone â€“ I’m not going to go home and watch it alone, I’d rather come here and see it.
â€œI found a bunch of like-minded people.â€
But it was nearly 13 years ago that the â€œbubble burstâ€ for Milano’s dot-com advertising gig, and he turned to something he loved â€” his Yankees. The bleachers. An idea presented itself, and he grabbed at it.
Taking his severance pay, he invested in silk screening equipment and started his own business with two T-shirts, including the original regular gray Bleacher Creature shirt for Section 39 inhabitants.
Since then, his venture has grown, and on any given home game, fans can find an assortment of Yankees shirts at his table, including a line of rivalry shirts Milano said he was first to dream up.
â€œI was the first guy to put ’1918′ on a shirt,â€ he said. â€œThat was big for me early on. Nobody else had that market. Then I started dealing with more of the offensive stuff â€“ catering to that hardcore fan.â€
Milano stops to explain the hardcore fan. If you find you’re any of these, you might be a Hardcore Yankee fan.
- â€œYou go away on your only vacation of the year, you go to see the Yankees play.
- â€œOr you open up your closet and you have all Yankee gear.
- â€œOr you have a Yankee tattoo.
â€œThat’s my target market. The real passionate fans. And it helps we’re the most affordable ticket in the stadium. It’s more blue collar in the bleachers.
â€œYou go to Modell’s and you’re looking for your first Derek Jeter shirt â€” that’s like entry level. We’re a little advanced for that. We’re your senior thesis.â€
Once plans for the new stadium were under way, those holding Master’s Degrees in Bleacher Creature, in a sense, wondered what would become of them.
Leave it to the Yankees to save a good thing.
The usual suspects in Section 39 submitted a seating charter to the powers-that-be in the organization, complete with account numbers and where everyone usually sat.
â€œAnd they went, ‘OK,’ and we all went, ‘Really?’ â€ Milano said. â€œWe didn’t know what section number, we didn’t know any of the row numbers, but we had our spot. They reserved our spot for us. And when the tickets went on sale, they were very accommodating.â€
New Yorkers don’t like change. So while the switchover wasn’t the easiest thing to accept, the Bleacher Creatures are still intact and Bald Vinny and his trademark shades still sit in right field for as many games as he can make it.
â€œGoing to baseball games was a daily routine,â€ Milano said. â€œI knew where I wanted to go in there, I knew all the guards, I knew all the concessions, and you change it, and your whole routine is flipped.
â€œIt takes a lot getting used to. But really, credit goes out to the Yankees, they kept us together. Without their help, we wouldn’t exist anymore.â€
Â Quickfire Qs
Favorite Yankees memory: â€œWay too many. I’ve seen so many games it’s impossible. There’ve been great game memories. There’ve been great personal memories.â€
All-time favorite Yankee I got to see play: Bernie Williams. â€œAlways loved him. Will love him ’til the day I die.â€
Favorite all-time Yankee ever: Thurman Munson. Milano said when he started playing baseball, he was a catcher. And it was his coach who directed him to learn from The Captain.
Favorite current Yankee: “This is tough. Now that we’ve gotten do to things, get to know them on a personal level, it’s completely different. You root for guys based on their personality. AJ Burnett is the nicest guy ever, and you want to root for him so bad, but he makes it really hard. Granderson’s that way. Swisher’s that way. Robertson… You get to know them on a personal level, these guys â€” that’s why you root for people.â€
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