Saturday, January 3, 2009

Viva La Bronx

By popular demand, the extended version of my guest post here.


How do I write about this place??

I’ve been here for five months, and still I haven’t tried it — it seems a task too daunting for a graduate student, much less a baseball blogger. I'm a rich white girl from Jersey. What the hell do I know about the Bronx?

When I walk to the grocery store on Arthur Ave, and I pass the cathedral, bells ringing and all, I imagine I am somewhere in sixteenth century Spain or eighteenth century Mexico. When I can smell the freshly baked bread and I see the fresh seafood lying on display in front of the fish market, I may as well be in Florence.

The language of this place slowly filters in — a Puerto Rican/Dominican blend of Spanish spoken so fast that despite my years of study, I have to strain to understand it. I begin to spot the bodegas that are on every street corner, which sell the essentials: Agua, cerveza, galletas, dulces and the Daily News. More often than not, the News is flipped over so that the back page — the sports page — is what greets you. Every bodega I’ve been in sells the News; I’ve only found one that has the New York Times.

After all, things like the mortgage crisis and the credit default swap don’t mean much to a lot of the people here, not when they’re too busy making sure they have enough money to pay for a gallon of milk and a carton of eggs.

Most of the people I meet could never afford to go to a Yankee game even in the old Stadium. I almost have to wonder if the Yankees even belong here. How could the Yankees be a part of a neighborhood that seems so far off from the baseball team?

The Yankees are a symbol of rich America, right? A symbol of corporate-types and their excess, while the Bronx is a grind of poverty, right?

And then …

Then I remember that night in The Jolly Tinker, a dirty, dark, dank place that calls itself an Irish pub. I am sitting at a table with three classmates. We're discussing plans to submit to a conference--at this point in time I have no idea that I'll have to withdraw, after tripping over my computer cord and shattering the laptop's hard drive, thus losing my paper. There are two pitchers of beer, and J. is busy telling us his life story, something that involves parents in a rock band, Katrina, bartending in Ireland while speaking fluent Gaelic, and living homeless in Manhattan for three months. One of the pub regulars walks over to our table and points out his hat, one commemorating the 2008 All Star Game at Yankee Stadium. The same one I am wearing.

“You go to the game?” he asks. His manner betrays a lifetime in this borough, hard work while the world passes him by. In his FDNY fleece with his slurred speech, he is every bit the stereotype. A baseball fan from a generation that no longer matters, his opportunity spent.

“Nah,” I say. “Couldn’t afford the tickets.”

J., sighing because I am again talking about baseball and not medieval England, slams his beer on the table, and then, in his thick southern drawl, says, “All right, that’s it, I have to say it. I hate the Yankees.”

“You’re from the South,” I say. “You don’t get it.”

The man in the hat looks at me and smiles.

I've never seen this man before and I probably won't see him again, but for that brief second, we are as united as close kin.

And then I realize something.

The Yankees do belong here.

This is a neighborhood that teems with life. People stop into the bodegas to chat with the owners, restaurants are (still) packed with university students and even tourists, and old women sit and talk outside their doorman-less apartments on a warm summer day, with Italian accents so thick I can't even guess at their conversation.

This is a place where I can get freshly baked bread from Madonna Brothers, fish from the fish market next door and produce from the covered market in between, and then purchase my toothpaste and shampoo from the dollar store. I haven't been to the Modern grocery store in months. I don't need to go.

Other neighborhoods have their teams, other teams have their neighborhoods. The Red Sox have the University capital of the world in Boston, the Giants have the Bay, the Cubs have the North Shore...but only the Yankees have the Bronx.

And, as I look at the man in the hat and my other compatriots in the Tinker, only the Bronx deserves the Yankees.


  1. Rebecca, well done with your guest post at LoHud, which I found engaging and very well written. I also agreed with your comment on the Sam I Am post thread (UGH) critiquing the use of the phrase "revisionist history." As a history grad myself, I appreciate where you're coming from with that--the presumption that history is an immutable narrative of "facts" instead of a moving window of dueling narratives and arguments.

    Keep up the good work here. I will add a link to your fine blog at my blog, Heartland Pinstripes. If you wouldn't mind linking my blog here, I'd greatly appreciate it.

    Jason from The Heartland

  2. Jason--No problem!

    Us history grads have to stick together!

  3. caught your blog post on lohud. as a recent graduate of fordham university, i commend you for your portrayal of that particular bronx community. i hope there are a lot more places in that area that you encounter. i see you've experienced tinker's. awesome. stalked your fbook a bit, saw you were from bergen county, as am i. (sorry =/, comes with the territory in our generation). keep up the good work. it's always nice to talk to people that have a passion for the yankees and baseball.

  4. Very lovingly written Rebecca. I enjoyed every word.