With the Yankees far away, at spring training in sunny Florida, residents of the Bronx — the city’s poorest borough, which has the highest coronavirus infection rate — queued up well past midnight in hope of inoculation.
Some of them were dancing, if only to stay warm. At around 10 p.m., the temperature was below freezing, and dropping, with the wind shaving off another 20 degrees. Still, there was an air of nervous elation rippling through the crowd, which was small but steady with about 20 people hovering around Gate 4. They seemed thrilled to be here, at an odd hour, in the shadow of a stadium that hadn’t been full for more than a year.
The delighted-to-be-vaccinated energy was contagious. “People were laughing and singing on the line together, pure New Yorker style,” said Bianca Rodriguez, 30, who’s eligible for the vaccine as a city employee who works with Section 8 housing. “It’s a happy time.”
It’s rare to meet someone from the Bronx who’s not a Yankees fan, and a trip to the stadium typically marks the arrival of spring, a time of hope and possibility. Baseball season hasn’t arrived here yet, but with the vaccine comes the dream of some of American life returning to what it was, complete with the rush of cheering in the stands at ballgames. (Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) on Wednesday said venues with seating capacities of 10,000 or greater will be permitted to host fans at 10 percent capacity. Yankee Stadium seats 46,537, according to the team’s media guide.)
“It feels like it’s opening night of the country hopefully getting back on track. At least we have some grown-ups doing something reasonable,” said Landon Dais, a lawyer, 39, who wore a jacket embossed with the Yankee logo.
The construction firm he worked for built this new stadium — which replaced the iconic House That Ruth Built — in 2009. A “die-hard Yankee fan,” Dais lives a couple of blocks away from home plate. He was here for Game 6 of the 2009 World Series, when they won it all. He and his dad have been going to Opening Day every year since 1991, but last year the pandemic made that impossible. He misses it.
“Usually, there would be crowds here,” he said. “We’d be chanting, saying, ‘Boston sucks!’ or something, getting juiced up to go into the game. There’s nothing like that first roar. If you live in the neighborhood, you could tell something was happening because you could hear the crowd.”
The last time the Yankees played here for the home crowd was on Oct. 18, 2019, when they beat the Houston Astros in a playoff game. Now anyone who enters has to get checked in by members of the New York National Guard, some of whom sit behind plexiglass in the ticket booths, which were perfect for coronavirus protection.
There’s a chance the vaccination site will have to be moved when the baseball season starts up in April and the stadium is allowed to sell tickets for 10 percent of its seating capacity. But for now, the crowds flocking here overnight seem to be mostly people who haven’t been able to get an appointment in the daytime because of high demand, or people who hate shots and waited to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because they’d only have to get one jab. The vast majority identified themselves as Puerto Rican or Black, which lines up with the borough’s demographics. The age range was vast; New York has added groups like restaurant workers and people with certain health conditions to the eligibility list.
Afredi Belash, a 21-year-old South Asian cashier at Domino’s Pizza, came by with his co-worker, delivery worker Mehedi Hassan, as soon as they got off work at 10 p.m. “A lot of people don’t believe in the vaccine,” said Belash, “but I mean, I saw a lot of people who got covid and died. My friend’s dad, he passed away from it two weeks ago, so I didn’t want to take a chance.”
Carmen Rojas, 61, a retired cook for the board of education, was excited to be making her first trip to Yankee Stadium after a lifetime in the Bronx. After trying to get an appointment online for a month, she saw a hotline for overnight appointments advertised on TV, called it, and got bookings for herself, her sister and her neighbors. “Emotionally, I feel great,” she said, “because I know I can go out and I’m not going to be getting covid-19, which is good because I’m diabetic and I have problems with my lungs.”
Being a Yankees fan or caring about baseball wasn’t a prerequisite for getting your shot there, but plenty were getting a kick out of it.
“I wish they’d had Yankee players giving us high-fives on the way in,” said Kermitt Ramirez, 36, a hospital tech worker who brought his 70-year-old mother.
“I was really happy, but I’ve been happy many other times I’ve been here, watching the Yankees lose,” said Geury Del Pilar, 45, a Medicaid worker who’s a fan of the Mets and Boston Red Sox.
Jon Lindenblatt, an attorney who took a 12:55 a.m. appointment because he’s “relatively healthy” and wanted to leave daytime slots for those who needed them more, has hated the Yankees all his life — so it’s ironic that he now lives 10 minutes from the stadium. He wore as much Mets gear as he could find.
“You’re a jerk if you show up at a Yankee game in Met stuff and they’re not playing the Mets,” he said. “You’re just starting trouble for no reason.” But doing it on a night like this is all in good fun.
He knows other Mets fans who’ve gotten their jabs at Yankee Stadium, and it’s become a running joke. “My buddy’s like, ‘Make sure you get the right kind of shot,’ because when you’re a kid, you don’t ever want to come out here at night,” he said.
Another buddy is really immunocompromised, and Lindenblatt and his friends joked that “we hope his Mets DNA doesn’t reject it.”
And, of course, no one who showed up for the vaccine would be a true New Yorker if they didn’t complain about the situation a little bit. Some people wished the shots had been given on the field. Some were still sore about the original stadium from 1923 getting torn down. And some just wanted the concession stands to be open so they could have beers to celebrate.