by John Ring

For one night at a baseball park, I pulled for the best and the richest.

I rooted for oil companies, utility companies, investment firms and all those corporate sponsors that pay cold cash to name stadiums– Heinz, Edward Jones, Bank One, Lincoln, you name it.

No longer was I frustrated with my favorite baseball team trading players, releasing players, signing players from the Mexican League and bringing up toddlers from the lower depths of the minor leagues and masquerading them off as big leaguers.

No longer did I care about the disparity between rich and poor teams. I could care less about the fans of Kansas City or Pittsburgh or Montreal or Cincinnati. Their crying and whining was nothing sour grapes. Winning was the only thing. Spend what you need to spend.

I was a Rich Boy. I was a New York Yankees fan. I was going to Yankee Stadium and I had an enormous chip on my shoulder. I was cocky and arrogant and the team my Yankees were playing– the Detroit Tigers– was mere cannon fodder. This once proud franchise of Al Kaline and Denny McLain had already lost an incredible 104 games and were threatening the 1962 Mets for ineptitude and losses.

I had on a Mantle replica jersey, a Yankees cap, rode the subway to 161st Street and really didn’t care that my adopted stadium was surrounded by one of the poorest urban neighborhoods in the country.

Before the game started, I had a hot dog from one of those famous vending New York City carts (it was incredibly good), a cold drink and talked arrogantly with my fellow Yankee fans. One of them had on a T-shirt featuring a Yankee urinating on the Boston Red Sox logo. His shirt was truly a conversation piece. I basked in the glow of Gehrig, Ruth, Reggie and Whitey. I quickly got The Attitude. You want something, you go after it. It doesn’t matter if it’s Roger Clemons, a good looking girl sitting at a bar or that elusive job on Wall Street.

It’s yours. Just go get it.

I made some new friends on this night and there were no boundaries of race or ethnicity– a Chinese guy wearing a Paul O’Neil uniform shirt, a white guy wearing a Bernie Williams shirt and a black guy sporting a Hideki Matsui uniform shirt. Yankee pinstripes are the great equalizer of race relations in this melting pot of a city. We all got along, we all laughed at the rest of the American League (especially the Red Sox) and prided ourselves on the superiority of our Yankees.

An aging hippie with a gray ponytail complimented me on wearing my Mantle jersey. A young guy pierced with more metal than an Abrams tank thought it was cool for David Letterman to show up at Yankee Stadium.

Inside the park, you could get a beer for $6.50, which is a bit pricey, but who cared? Sitting in front of me were two high school kids waving a Derek Jeter banner that loved baseball. There was a full moon, it was a beautiful night and this was Yankee Stadium. A moving video of September 11, 2001 was accompanied by Kate Smith’s rendition of God Bless America during the 7th inning stretch. Veteran pubic address announcer Bob Shepherd’s voice, one that has been heard in The Bronx for about 50 years, introduced each player at bat. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Oh, the game. The Tigers actually put up a mild fight– it was tied 2-2 after 7 innings– but New York eventually won 4-2 behind a strong bullpen effort and two runs in the 8th inning.

Funny thing, though. Along the way, some former Cincinnati Reds contributed heavily to their victory. Felix Heredia pitched two shutout innings in relief, Gabe White got the victory, third baseman Aaron Boone made some snappy plays on the field and Drew Henson scored the winning run after falling on his face rounding third base. The Cincinnati farm system won the game for The Empire.

But that didn’t matter. After all, the Yankees traded for Roger Maris from Kansas City after the 1959 season and all Maris did was win the MVP Award in 1960 and break Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1961.

Now that I’m back in Illinois, reality has set back in. The Reds field a Triple A team, baseball is still out of whack, the Yankees have won seven games in a row and George Steinbrenner rules.

We laugh at the commercial featuring Steinbrenner and Jeter. So what? I cohorted with my friends late at night as well in New York City.

That’s what we do there. Don’t you get it?

For one blessed night, I was among the rich, the elite and the powerful.

God, it was great.