Yankees Magical Address: River Ave. & E 161st Street

The Yankees are one of the few major league teams with a storied address. It’s one that’s known to nearly all of their fans. It has an inescapable inner city feel to it with sports bars in the immediate neighborhood, constant traffic. And the ever present beat of the overhead el trains. It’s simply magical.

The Yankees have enjoyed a myriad of compelling moments throughout their storied history. But there is one that stands out among the rest, and it has nothing to do with anything that occurred on the field. When the final days of Derek Jeter and his career in a Yankees uniform were dwindling down, he took a walk one day down River Avenue just outside Yankees Stadium.

Granted, the walk that Jeter took had staged elements attached to it because a film crew was on hand making a commercial for Gatorade. The ad became widely acclaimed and applauded as perfect for capturing the persona of Derek Jeter. But without the backdrop of River Avenue itself, the commercial is nothing as you’ll see here.

The Red Sox have Yawkey Way adjacent to Fenway Park, and it offers all of the New England specialty foods and team memorabilia for early arriving fans. But its image is somewhat tarnished by widespread charges that the team’s former owner, Tom Yawkey, is a racist. True or not, there is always a movement present in Boston to have the street renamed.

And with all the attention paid to the Chicago Cubs during the 2016 World Series, “Wrigleyville” is now ingrained in the minds of baseball fans across the country. But here again, there is an overtone of controversy attached to the neighborhood about various “redevelopment” projects proposed for the area.

River Avenue, on the other hand, is what it is. It hasn’t changed in decades as fans who attended games at the old Yankee Stadium can attest to. There’s the McDonalds across the street from the Stadium, continuous noise, wild and zany traffic to dodge through, ticket scalpers everywhere, and of course, Stan’s Sports Bar.

Typically, a place like Stan’s Sports Bar is best described as a “dive” with limited seating, dirty floors, and restrooms, the aroma of fried foods, expensive drinks, and wall to wall people. And, it is all that, which makes it a wonderful place to be on gameday.

The magic extends out into the street where you’ll find pretzel vendors, hat and t-shirt sellers, a wino or two, and a sea of blue-uniformed police officers. But amidst all of that, you’ll also find neighborhood residents going about their everyday lives.

Women with children tagging along behind them making their daily trip to the nearby bodega, men walking to work or the nearest subway or bus station. And if you glance across the street to where the old Stadium was located, you’ll see any number of ballgames underway in a setting that is the undeniable inner city.

They don’t build ballparks in inner cities anymore. The Atlanta Braves fought for years to escape to the suburbs where they will open their new venue in April. Miller Park (Brewers), Kauffman Stadium (Royals), Citi Field (Mets), and the list goes on of ballparks that sacrifice the loss of a sense that major league baseball belongs within city limits, and when it’s best, right smack in the middle of a city neighborhood.

To each his own. And I know that there are some, perhaps many, who would prefer to not fight the traffic, and a decent place to park. But for me, the walk that Derek Jeter took on that September afternoon symbolizes all that makes Yankee Stadium a unique place in the game of baseball. And I’ll always relish the “feel” of going to a Yankees game for that reason.

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