Our very nice neighbors gave us tickets to company seats at the Yankee game yesterday — my first trip to the new Yankee Stadium. It was fascinating — I grew up going to old Yankee Stadium — where some views were obstructed by pillars, I even saw some Mets games at the Polo Grounds — sitting way out in the bleachers (you could see the 475 sign up the stairs at the visiting clubhouse, at least that is how I remember it) with the cigar-chomping old guys who’d been there with their beer and peanuts back to days of the Giants back in the 40s — and then we went to basketball games at the old Madison Square Garden -cramped seats, filthy floor gummy with generations of you-wouldn’t-want-to-know-what geological layers — games far, far away. Sports events were the preserve of men — on a spectrum with prize fights and the track. Everything was tight, dirty, a bit rough and ready — we all would steal down to the good seats and play dodge-the-usher until the later innings, when they didn’t care. Going to a game was fun for kids, but it was also a hint of a path to a grown up guy world.
Not anymore. The Yankee Stadium we went to yesterday was huge, clean, friendly, — with people of all sorts spread through the stadium to offer helpful advice. Our seats came with a little party hosted by a corporation complete with balloons, free cracker jacks, and a caricaturist there to capture the smiling faces of kids in pencil. We had arrived quite early, which gave me a chance to glance at the waiting crowd — almost everyone was wearing some form of Yankee clothing — shirt, hat, jacket (Sasha had all of the above). We were living the Yankee brand — in which the game was almost irrelevant. The game was only a chance for the team to win, so that the brand would be meaningful, so that we would all want to share in it by experiencing this trip to Yankee-land — where we would get more Yankee merchandise, eat food in Yankee collectable cups, and visit the Yankee Museum where we would have the chance to “take home a piece of Yankee history.”
The Yankees are part of the mall, as is every team. When I grew up, teams were a reflection of the city — for better or worse. Now they are part of the branding jetstream — for better or worse. I think Sasha had a much sweeter, more protected, “nicer” experience than I did going to games at his age. But when I think of books, poor little books — those that are not part of series, that do not come with extensive advertising campaigns which make them brands of their own — those single, solitary experiences built through the artisanal labor of authors and publishers — I feel like a rowboat in the ocean. I feel that giant swells are rushing past me and there is just no way to catch up. It is so hard to make a good book, and then equally hard to get the world to notice. Sometimes I just wish there were a history jetstream — a way to make the brand of knowledge, of thinking, of insight, matter. Or isn’t that what “school” is supposed to be — the knowledge brand. Maybe what our educational reformers need is not new lesson plans — but rather better merchandise — I saw half-kidding.