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Fans returning to the Bronx proves emotional for Yankees and local businesses

Apr 1, 2021; Bronx, New York, USA; A fans tries to take the ball out of the glove of New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge (99) after he catches a foul out by Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Rowdy Tellez (not pictured) during the ninth inning of an opening day game at Yankee Stadium.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees may have lost their home opener of the 2021 season against the Toronto Blue Jays last week, but the reunion of fans and baseball was still a joyous occasion; not only for those 10,850 spectators but also the players, local businesses, and even one mayoral candidate.

More than three hours before the scheduled 1:05 p.m. first pitch, plenty of jovial fans were braving some no-joke rain and cold on that April Fool’s Day as many were hosting socially distant tailgates in parking decks adjacent to the Macombs Dam Bridge across from Yankee Stadium.

For many, it was simply more than a game.

One noteworthy fan, who came decked in Yankees gear as far as the eye could see was mayoral candidate Andrew Yang, who rode the D train up to E. 161st Street to watch the Bronx Bombers with his family.

Courtesy of Edwin Molina

“It goes to show that New Yorkers can come together and have fun and enjoy our city again without feeling like we’re doing something unsafe,” Yang exclusively told amNewYork Metro. “Opening Day represents such a big turning point for our city, not just for Yankee fans who want a 28th championship but also the small businesses in the surrounding who really suffered last year from fans not being able to attend the games.”

While Yang and his family watched on the third-base line from the stadium’s 200 level, several others rooted from many of those small businesses surrounding Yankee Stadium — just like old times.

“Words can’t capture how important it was, aside from the economics of it, these are families who felt emotionally abandoned over the past months,” said Cary Goodman, director of the 161st Street Business Improvement District.

Goodman sharply noted that while much of the city endured a harsh winter, it has been significantly worse for the seasonal businesses on that corridor of 161st Street and River Avenue.

“That winter began for them after the ALCS in 2019. That was the last time fans were at a Yankee game prior to this season,” he said, noting that the locally beloved mom-and-pop bars and shops managed to “hold on by their fingertips” through the past 18-months.

“You look at it only being roughly 10,000 fans in attendance, to us that’s 10,000 more patrons who haven’t been up here recently,” Goodman added.

As a way of welcoming back the good old crowd, the BID commissioned famed Bronx and Yankee artist Andre Trenier to create a mural of manager Aaron Boone outside the stadium.

The director has also laid some upcoming creative plans by utilizing the area’s Open Culture Zone to welcome back Yankee Stadium’s fellow tenant, NYCFC of the MLS on April 24.

As Goodman hopes for a World Series parade to bend around the Grand Concourse in October, he said that hearing the “same electricity” at Yankee Stadium before the pandemic was something “joyful and hopeful.”

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After hearing his name screamed in section 203’s first-inning “roll call” for the first time since 2019, the Yankees’ honorable slugger, Aaron Judge, reiterated that same sentiment in his postgame press conference on Thursday as well.

“Having that buzz, having that energy back in the stadium was something special I know we all enjoy…those fans, that energy, it makes the game, they’re part of the game, just like all of us,” Judge said.

Judge also took ownership of “missed opportunities” he had to put the game away in both the seventh and ninth innings – something that a full, 20% crowd let Number 99 know.

“They let us know when we don’t do our job,” he said in regard to the Bronx cheer.

Judge also had an up-close encounter with one fan while fielding a ball in foul territory late into the game.

“As I’m trying to run away I feel somebody kind of grabbing at me and they kind of tried to get their hand in the glove and rip [the ball] out,” he said with a smile on his face about the fan.

“It’s their first time back at a stadium in a long time. I’ll give ’em that time,” Judge said.

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