Fans, former Yanks enjoy 'Park' event
Clemens visits as thousands watch game on projection screen
NEW YORK -- There were peanuts, there was Cracker Jack and there was plenty of rooting for the home team.
On Wednesday night at Manhattan's Bryant Park, two kids ran circles around their mothers while singing the ultimate ballpark song. No, they weren't at the ballgame -- they were at the next best thing.
With the Yankees away against the Toronto Blue Jays, more than 10,000 fans sprawled out on blankets, beach towels and cut-up cardboard boxes to cover the great lawn. "Pinstripes in the Park," the massive, baseball-themed block party of sorts, featured the televised game projected onto a 25-foot screen.
Outside the gates, fans lined up to meet former Yankees Whitey Ford, Joe Girardi, Graig Nettles and Dave Winfield during autograph sessions.
"This is a great way for any club to get closer to their fans and to their community," Winfield said. "When you see this many fans and people, that's what baseball's all about."
Winfield and his fellow Yankees shook hands and signed photographs for the queues of people wrapped around the perimeter of the park. Many waved cell phones and digital cameras to snap photographs of the Yankees stars.
"Any time you get a bunch of Yankees fans together and a bunch of Yankees players, it's obviously an enjoyable time for all of us," Girardi said.
People started arriving for the free event at 1 p.m. ET, four and a half hours before fans were allowed inside the gates. The first 3,000 entrants received complimentary posters showcasing the plans for the new Yankee Stadium, and Continental Airlines blankets, "the blankets they use on every Continental flight," announced WFAN radio's Chris Carlin, who emceed the event.
Posters, blankets and autographs, however, were not the only reason fans made the trip to Bryant Park. For some, the gathering was a way to show support for a Yankees team looking for a win.
Bonnie Lough and Joe Mattiace from Lincoln Park, N.J., left work early to catch a bus into Manhattan to make the event and watch their team on the big screen.
"We're Yankees fans, so when we got the e-mail from Continental, we thought we'd come out for the game," said Lough. "Hopefully, the team spirit might help."
They weren't out on the field that night, but the former Yankees also showed confidence in their team.
"I've been getting a little mad the last few weeks, but they're going to bounce back," said Ford, who played his entire career in a Yankees uniform. "They've got themselves in a real hole, but maybe we'll get that Wild Card and show them how good we are then."
Carlin warmed up the crowd in the time leading up to the 7:07 p.m. ET first pitch. Minutes before the opening pitch, Roger Clemens walked on stage to make an appearance in front of a standing ovation.
With temperatures in the 70s, fans made themselves comfortable in front of the screen to watch the game in an atmosphere different than what they were used to.
"I usually do happy hour on Wednesdays, but I watch all the games," said Matt Schimming of New York. "It's a great place to watch the game. You're outside, and it's a beautiful night."
On the other side of the table, Ford said that he never misses a game, either. A New York native who was born just blocks from Bryant Park, the 78-year-old said it was good to be back home and spend time with his fans and fellow Yankees.
"I'm tickled," Ford said. "I don't do this too often. ... I'm usually in Florida."
Lauren Kobylarz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.