Buy Me Some (Unsalted) Peanuts and Cracker Jack
For it’s one, two, three strikes, you’re out at the Yankee game.
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One of the most wonderful things you can do on a summer night in New York City is take the train to 161 St-Yankee Stadium and ride the current of slow-moving old men in RUTH t-shirts, hot dads wearing JETER hoodies and teenage girls with JUDGE jerseys draped over their tiny tank tops straight to the Yankee game.
An employee who has definitely worked the door for decades smiles at you, scans your ticket and chants “let’s go Yankees,” and you’re in. The stadium smells like smoke and sweat and buttered popcorn and summer. It’s 7pm and the cool nighttime breeze is blowing the day’s humidity far away. You carry your $30 double tequila soda to your seat and spill some onto the ground, which is littered with peanut shells. It’s fine because you’re surrounded by more Yankee fans, all of them glaring at anyone rooting for the away team. The 4 train passes the stadium — you can see and hear it through a small space in the seats across the field. You finally sit down and look up at the twinkling stadium lights. They’re just below the cerulean sky and are transforming the outfield grass into a luminous green.
Sometimes you’ll watch a man catch a foul ball, then lock eyes with a child in their row and hand it over to them. The kid’s eyes light up and they hold the scuffed up ball with both hands, proudly showing it off to their mom and dad. Everyone watches in awe, quietly accessing a warm, fleeting moment from their own youth. Between the 5th and 6th innings, fans start coming back to their seats with chocolate and vanilla soft serve swirled into plastic Yankee helmets. I used to like smashing open handfuls of peanuts and placing a few on top, their salty crunch making the ice cream even colder, sweeter, creamier.
Unfortunately, that’s not something anyone has been able to do in recent years, because those helmet cups are no longer filled with milky soft serve, but a grainy, dairy-free version made with Oatly. And it’s not just the soft serve, but also the wonderfully silly, Yankee-themed “pinstripe vanilla” milkshakes that have suffered. I don’t know how big the check Oatly wrote Yankee Stadium was to convince them to replace all of their dairy products, but considering both flavors somehow manage to taste exactly like Elmer’s glue that’s been living in a pencil case for years, I hope it was a fucking fortune.
In a way, it’s alright the ice cream is so bad, because my special salted peanut topping hack is also not possible anymore. Somehow, the greatest baseball stadium in the world only sells unsalted peanuts, which are not only bad and boring, but disrupt the all-American ritual of eating enough peanuts throughout the game to keep you craving cold beers and $6 water bottles that the concession stands insist on uncapping for you. Unsalted peanuts rob us of the experience of cracking open those sandy, woody shells, their salt granules covering your fingertips and making your tongue tingle. And it's not just textural. The salt makes them earthier, nuttier, more buttery — it's responsible for them really tasting like peanuts.
Your options for food between the appetizer and dessert are better — you can and should find the MasterCard branded chicken bucket, which is exactly what it sounds like, a plastic bucket full of french fries and chicken tenders. It feeds at least three people, costs $20, and is quite frankly the only thing anyone should be eating at any Yankee game.
You could wait for the exclusive Judge burger, named after our generation’s Derek Jeter, Aaron Judge, but why would you? You’ll miss at least an inning in line to potentially — there are only 99 (his number) made each night — get your hands on a mess of wagyu beef, caramelized onions and whatever “new school American cheese” is piled onto a too-delicate brioche bun. The Judge Burger’s worst offense? It’s only a penny cheaper than the chicken bucket.
At the last game I went to, I dragged my crinkly French fries across puddles of mustard and ketchup and watched a couple share a bowl of buffalo chicken mac and cheese and a woman fork her way through a chicken platters from The Halal Guys that looked far inferior to the original. I could not stop wondering why Yankee Stadium — arguably the most legendary baseball stadium in the world — is seeking relevance in such a cheap and inauthentic manner, or seeking it at all? Right now, it’s easy to reach for things the internet tells us is special and cool. Some trends are powerful enough to catch even the strongest of us under their spell, but I'd choose a classic over a craze any day. Maybe that makes me the minority, and this is some greater business plan that will work out for the Yankees. All I'll say is I saw that woman’s chicken platter, still 3/4 full, abandoned under her seat as I left the stadium that night.
But when the game ends and New York, New York starts radiating out of the speakers and Frank Sinatra’s hypnotizing voice prompts everyone in the stadium to sing along, you remember why you went to the game in the first place. It wasn’t to eat abominable dairy free ice cream or secure a limited availability burger. It wasn’t for the food at all, actually. You’re reminded of that when the team pitches the 24th perfect game in baseball history and breaks the home run record, when you witness history being made just a train ride away from your apartment. When the scoreboard says YANKEES WIN in big purple letters — that’s why you go to the Yankee game.