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DAMN YANKEES

In recent years, two things have basically been wrong with the Yankees–Red Sox rivalry, which has thrived on mutual hate since Boston sold Babe Ruth to New York, in 1919. First, Boston wins too much. Second, it’s really hard to hate the Red Sox and their fans when they do things like give Mariano Rivera a terrific farewell, including a seat from the original Fenway, bearing the number 42, and honor Derek Jeter with a standing ovation when he hits a home run, as they did at Fenway on Aug. 1. Even the Boston Globe has jumped in on the lovefest, with veteran sports guy Bob Ryan proclaiming, “If I had the choice of one major league baseball player who has put on a uniform during the past 30 years, my choice would be Derek Jeter.” Speaking of the Captain, if you haven’t seen him on his farewell tour, you’d better hurry. Ticket prices are skyrocketing as his last game — Sunday, Sept 28 at, appropriately, Fenway Park — draws near. Bonus for Yankee fans: Hiroki Kuroda, the only starter to make it the entire season, pitches. Kuroda has had a tough year, without much support from the lineup and deserves better than the 8-8 record he holds as we go to press.

Wed., Sept. 3, 7 p.m., 2014

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Bronx Bombers Is a Wax Museum Dedicated to Diamond Greats

If the effigies of famous Yankees sluggers at Madame Tussaud’s aren’t lifelike enough for you, cross 42nd Street to watch Eric Simonson’s Bronx Bombers, a veritable walking-talking wax museum of baseball greats—with about as much psychological complexity. All the biggies are here: Yogi, the Babe, Joltin’ Joe, Elston Howard, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter (maybe A-Rod’s invitation got lost in the mail). What’s missing is a compelling reason to gather them (and us) together, beyond misty-eyed reminiscing about ballpark glory days.

The first act of this Primary Stages production begins promisingly, throwing us into the middle of the notorious 1970s Reggie Jackson-Billy Martin feud. The lovable Yogi—whose double negatives always make a humorous positive—convenes a hush-hush hotel room summit. But it’s a furious stalemate: Neither the showboating star or the fire-breathing manager will give.

After this setup, it’s a real letdown when the second act turns out to be dominated by a bizarre fantasy-baseball banquet where the Yankee legends from different decades wax elegiac, eliciting grunts of recognition from savvy spectators. The play’s pent-up conflicts—team versus individual celebrity, tradition versus innovation, entertainment versus sport—evaporate. We’re left with a feel-good myth that’s supposed to eclipse all the greed, ego, and dirty deals. Tell that to A-Rod.

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BATTER UP

Baseball fans here are very lucky to not only have two major league teams but two quality minor league teams—the Staten Island Yankees and the Brooklyn Cyclones. And this year, more than ever, Mets and Yankees fans may want to spend more time watching their local farm teams continue their “Battle of the Bridge” rivalry. (Only 13 miles apart, the two teams have the closest proximity of any in minor league baseball.) For their openers, they play each other on consecutive nights, first at the Yankees’ Richmond County Bank Park, and then at the lovely beachfront MCU Park on Coney Island. The Yankees come into the season as defending league champs, and the Cyclones will be happy to hand them an early loss. This will also be a Battle of the Mascots, with the Yankees’ Scooter “Holy Cow” and his brothers Huck and Red taking on Sandy the Seagull and her adopted son, Pee-Wee. Dancing cows and seagulls—you have to see it to believe it!

Mon., June 17, 7 p.m., 2013

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TAKE ME OUT

The Yankees’ home opener is occasion to reflect on the history of all New York Opening Days. For instance, do you know which position player started the most opening days? Mickey Mantle with 18. (Derek Jeter missed the record in 2001 with a strained thigh muscle.) Who has pitched the most Opening Day innings? Whitey Ford, 53.2. Who has the lowest Opening Day ERA? Trick question: Randy Johnson, 1.38, started only one Opening Day. And let’s pause for a salute to Jorge Posada–this will be the first Opening Day since 1995 that he’s not on the roster. Hope the front office finds a place for him soon. This might be a more significant game than usual for openers as the Yankees are playing the team that is going for the top rung of the American League. The Angels have declared their intentions by signing Albert Pujols and ace pitcher C.J. Wilson. With luck, the rotation will allow C.C. Sabathia on the mound for the Bronx Bombers.

Fri., April 13, 1:05 p.m., 2012

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LET’S GO!

Forget about the Babe and Tea for Two—if you go by this millennium alone, this is still the best rivalry in baseball. Boston has dominated the series (4-11) this season, but you know that won’t mean a thing when they play again. Look forward to fireworks on the field: These are the two best teams in baseball. Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez is the odds-on favorite for MVP, and Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson are among the league’s top home run hitters (Robbie Cano joins them in the top five for RBIs.) The pitching is not bad, either: three of the two team’s pitchers in the top ten in lowest ERA. Tickets can be had on StubHub starting around $50, although decent seats will cost at least $150 a pop. Still, it’s a long winter before they play ball again!

Fri., Sept. 23, 1:05 & 7:05 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 24, 4:10 p.m., 2011

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LET’S GO!

If you can’t get—or afford—playoff tickets, this game might at least supply some pre-playoff atmosphere. The Yankees have been neck-and-neck with the Rays longer than any team in divisional race history, and we don’t expect it to let up at this late date. If the rotation holds up, C.C. Sabathia will be nailing down his bid for the Cy Young Award, and Mark Teixeira will be working to keep his lead in runs scored in the league.

Thu., Sept. 23, 7:05 p.m., 2010

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BACK ON TOP

The world is finally back on its axis, and the Yankees dominate again. If the rotation holds, it’s likely that C.C. Sabathia will pitch on Friday night (if not, then probably Saturday). Granted this series doesn’t have quite the excitement of the usual Yankees–Red Sox close division race of years past, but you could get the satisfaction of seeing the Yanks bury the Red Sox once and for all in 2010. David Ortiz is creeping up at 35 and is already slower than the Lincoln Tunnel on a Friday night, so this might be your last chance to boo Big Papi. StubHub has very cheap seats ($18), but if you want a view of the game, start in the $50 to $70 range.

Aug. 6-9, 7:05 p.m., 2010

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Summer Guide: Hit the Arts Road!

Y’know what’s wrong with you people who came to New York City from Nowhere, Nebraska, with five bucks in your pocket, dreaming of being the next Donald Gaga or Lady Trump? You don’t know nuthin’. You can’t guess where the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel goes. You’ve never driven over the Throgs Neck Bridge—you don’t even know what a throg is. Worst of all, you don’t realize that you live in a region. Back and forth you go on your chunk of the 4 train, with no clue that while a five-hour drive south gets you to frickin’ Virginia, five hours north won’t get you out of the Adirondacks—which is still New York State, bonehead! They’re mountains! You think Yale’s in Massachusetts, the Amish speak Dutch, and Lyme is just a disease. Pathetic!

Even those of you who suspect that New Jersey has more to offer than Skee-Ball and Snooki still think that culture “out thaere” consists of orchestras in gazebos playing Beatles medleys for comatose seniors—well, sometimes it does, but nowadays every county fair practically has a museum of modern art attached to the petting zoo. So get over the stereotype and get out of your urban Habitrail this summer—you can hit the commuter rail or the highway and get cultured without lowering your standards. “But hey,” you cry out, “where do I go?” We thought you’d never ask.

Though it lacks rides and cotton candy, the open-air sculpture museum known as the Storm King Art Center, located on 500 green acres in Mountainville, New York, an hour north of the city right next to I-87, brims with crazy postwar art by highfalutin’ stars like Alexander Calder, Alice Aycock, and David Smith. In 2008, Maya Lin created a “wave field” of 10- to 15-foot-high grassy hills across 11 acres there. This year, for its 50th anniversary, Storm King has commissioned works by five previous and five new artists, as well as an exhibit chronicling the history of the museum.

DIA:Beacon may be a relative upstart at seven years old, but it’s huge—240,000 square feet of contemporary art space in a former Nabisco factory in Beacon, New York. The length of its exhibitions tends toward the epic as well—many of the current shows, which opened in 2008, will end this summer, including an installation of Sol LeWitt drawings and Zoe Leonard’s You see I am here after all, a work that consists of thousands of postcards of Niagara Falls. Somewhat farther north, you’ll be able to get a great meal in the still-fashionable Hudson, on Warren Street at Red Dot or Swoon, after a hard day of antiquing along the same street, and perhaps of envying the sumptuous Vanderbilt Mansion on the Hudson in Hyde Park.

Unsated art hogs can also gorge at the trough of Saratoga Springs, primarily at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, which hosts the NYC Ballet’s summer season (July 6–17), and this year will also present works by modern-dance powerhouses José Limón (June 10) and Bill T. Jones (July 23 and 28). Also check out the Saratoga Jazz Festival (June 26–27), followed by the Philadelphia Orchestra‘s performance of Peter and the Wolf (August 6) featuring Alec Baldwin as the narrator—though with Jack Donaghy in mind, it might prove hard to take him seriously.

Edge your way up Saratoga Springs’ Broadway and snarf down some great grub at Max London’s or the Wine Bar on your way to Skidmore College in June or July for a series of free literary readings during the NY State Summer Writers Institute (June 28–July 23). Like swallows to Capistrano, many of the same scribes return yearly, but this crew you’d want to see more than once: Russell Banks, Jamaica Kincaid, Jim Shepard, Mary Gaitskill, Amy Hempel, Michael Cunningham, Joyce Carol Oates, Charles Simic, etc. If you’re in a criminal mood, you might even stalk them at the nearby Yaddo Gardens, or their pals, who may be in residence at the eponymous artist’s retreat.

If you’re cutting back on illegal activity, gambling at the Saratoga Race Course in August will have to suffice, or tours of wine regions. The Finger Lakes has some vintages to rival California’s, especially Dr. Konstantin Frank and Hermann J. Wiemar‘s Rieslings, and a few vintners even have great estate reds now—some of Damiani‘s 2007 crop seems supernaturally jammy, and Ravines‘ 2007 Cabernet Franc is worth the hike to Keuka Lake. If you go on July 24 or 25, get buzzed on a tour and then peruse the 50 Mile Long Garage Sale along Cayuga Lake’s Route 90—caveat emptor, to say the least.

For those with geekier vices, like Trekkies, there dost proliferate a multitude of fantasy festivals region-wide, including the Sterling Renaissance Festival (July 3–August 15) on Lake Ontario in Sterling, New York, and the Southern Connecticut Renaissance Festival in Danbury (weekends, May 29–June 13). Edgier obsessives may steer their dirigibles and bathyscaphes to The 2010 Steampunk Bizarre—The Experiment (July 9–16) in Hartford. Truly psychotic nerds can flock to former Spock Leonard Nimoy’s project ‘Secret Selves’ opening July 31 at Mass MoCa in North Adams, Massachusetts. It consists of photos and videos he has compiled while interviewing people about their inner lives. Better, one might hope, than his poetry.

The Amtrak Acela runs like poetry in motion—Leonard Nimoy’s—but hop on the comfy-yet-inefficient train to Boston (technically Cambridge) anyhow, where the American Repertory Theater is set to explore the inner lives of the once-accursed Boston Red Sox in the world premiere of a musical called Johnny Baseball (through June 27). It’s not likely to play well in New York, but it will give Newyorquinos the exotic flavor of life in enemy territory. While Western Massachusetts’ Williamstown Theater Festival (June 30–August 20) plays it safe this summer with “American Classics” including, drearily, Our Town—a text unenlivened since the Wooster Group did it in blackface in 1981—their “Nikos Stage” takes a risk on three world premieres by alt-theatermakers Mat Smart, Amy Herzog, and Michael Kimmel.

Alt-rock hipster types who venture to the New Brooklyn—Philadelphia, that is—in search of dreamy/gloomy music will find plenty at the Northern Liberties Music Festival (June 5) and the 2nd Street Festival (August 1). Heavier on hip-hop (and presumably lighter on hipsters) will be Camp Bisco outside Schenectady (July 15–17), whose performers include Ghostface Killah, Method Man, LCD Soundsystem, and Disco Biscuits. The same month, Grass Roots in Ithaca (July 22–25), with Rusted Root, Burning Spear, and Merle Haggard performing, promises to be heavy on hemp, both in terms of garments and smokeables. The eternal truth about the countryside remains: You’re sure to return to the city feeling relaxed.

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PLAY BALL!

Finally, baseball is back! The Angels, the Yankees toughest foe this century—yes, more so than the Red Sox—are still smarting over their loss to the Yankees in the AL Championship Series last fall. Things to remember: The Yankees have a few new faces—Curtis Granderson in center could make Yankees fans remember when Bernie Williams was at his peak, and Javier Vazquez, after a great year with the Braves, is getting his chance in pinstripes. And, in the other dugout, it will be interesting to see if Yankees fans give a standing ovation to the Angels’ newest slugger, the Yanks’ MVP for the 2009 World Series, Hideki Matsui. (You know they will.) Tickets start on StubHub at $110 each, but we should all be used to the cost of Yankees tickets by now.

Tue., April 13, 1:05 p.m., 2010

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A Skating Rink Seeks a Home in the South Bronx

Cary Goodman stood on East 161st Street last week, pointing toward the lovely Lorelei Fountain that sits on a small ridge across from the Bronx County Courthouse. From the fountain you can look directly down the street at the two Yankee Stadiums: the one that is fast disappearing under the wreckers’ cranes, and the gleaming new granite colossus on the north side of 161st Street.

Sports is, naturally, a big topic in this neck of the woods, and Goodman had the notion to place a children’s skating rink at or near the fountain that sits at the entrance to Joyce Kilmer Park. This might inspire local residents as they were watching the Winter Olympics in faraway Vancouver on television. He envisioned tots gliding and wobbling around the fountain or some other prominent nearby spot, accompanied by the kind of music that makes ice skating the most graceful and seductive of sports.

This seemed like an excellent idea since the Bronx is the only borough without a public ice skating rink. In fact, it doesn’t have any ice skating rinks. The plan to remedy this came to Goodman last year, shortly after he was named director of the 161st Street Business Improvement District. Goodman, 59, has a long history of involving everyday people in sports. He even holds a doctorate in this field and wrote a book about playgrounds and street life.

This is the South Bronx, however, where the only sure bet is that this district will be found at the bottom of the nation’s poverty rankings. Everything else—especially the deal making necessary to make any good wish come true—is up for grabs.

The city’s Parks Department ruled that the Lorelei Fountain idea was out of the question: The little rink might interfere with pedestrian traffic. “It’s not a place to set up a recreation activity,” said a spokeswoman. You can stand at the fountain all day in the winter and count on two hands and feet the number of people who walk across this plaza, but never mind.

Ditto, the city’s Transportation Department, which knocked out an alternative plan to place the rink on Lou Gehrig Plaza, the new solid-stone mall in the center of 161st Street in front of the courthouse. This largely unused space was also ruled not a proper fit. The kids and the rink—made of flat panels of reprocessed plastic soda bottles—were too heavy, the agency said.

The most suitable spot, officials insisted, was a couple of blocks north at the far end of Joyce Kilmer Park. Yes, this would be well out of view for the thousands of passers-by who trudge up the hill from the busy subway stop down by the stadiums. And, yes, this would double the already modest $7,500 budget since it would require a platform to be built atop the park grass. But there it is, take it or leave it.

Upon consideration, Goodman and his board of directors opted to leave it. A gracious last-minute offer was made by a social service center that operates in the grand old Concourse Plaza Hotel across from the park. The rink, bordered by hay bales, was set up in the hotel’s interior courtyard. There, over the past few weeks, some 1,500 youngsters who had never put on ice skates before have been learning the thrill of gliding on ice.

“The kids are thrilled. So are parents and teachers,” said Goodman last week as he stood alongside his white plastic rink, now heavily crisscrossed with skate marks. “What I’d like is that this become permanent somewhere, but I can’t seem to get anyone’s attention.”

It is always hard to get noticed in the South Bronx. The last time this neighborhood had the full and undivided attention of the city’s most powerful players was in 2006. That was when the Bloomberg administration and Yankee owners were eagerly courting local officials to allow them to build their new stadium on public parkland. To help win the hearts and minds of Bronx politicians, the Yankees hired the legal counsel for the Bronx Democratic party. This is the indispensable man who puts loyal candidates on the ballot, and knocks challengers off.

Lawyer Stanley Schlein went back and forth between his two sets of clients, eventually producing a document that was signed in April 2006. The agreement called for local residents and vendors to be employed in the construction of the new stadium. This was great, but the legal language necessary to compel a detailed accounting of this pledge was somehow absent. Also, the administrator named to handle the hiring happened to be a political operative whose chief job is working campaigns with Schlein and other pols.

The money side of the deal was even hazier. The Yankees agreed to pay $800,000 a year—over 30 years—into a fund serving the general public good. The hope was that the money would assist local efforts like Goodman’s skating rink. But here, too, the specific clauses that would let anyone outside a small circle of insiders find out how this honey pot was being handled were missing.

“It was such a poorly written document that it’s almost malpractice,” said Ramon Jimenez, a Bronx lawyer who often jousts with the local establishment.

For starters, it took the panel more than 18 months to convene, so the Yankees’ initial donation was considerably delayed. When the money finally came in, the chairman of the fund—a banking executive named Serafin Mariél—deposited it into a no-interest account in his own bank. The money stayed in the National Bank of New York for all of 2008 and much of last year.

This self-serving arrangement continued until Michael Drezin, a veteran Bronx attorney who had been named the fund’s administrator, blew the whistle. Drezin filed suit last spring, asserting that Mariél was mismanaging the fund. Mariél has denied it, but refuses to answer questions. Last week, he ducked phone and e-mail messages. He hung up on The New York Times‘ Fernanda Santos when she reached him last April.

Like Schlein, Mariél is another Bronx fixture. Back in the late ’80s, the banker’s name surfaced during what was then the borough’s worst scandal: A local military supply company named Wedtech was found to have bribed its way to success. Two congressmen and a borough president went down in the ensuing investigation. Although never charged, testimony at trial revealed that Mariél had handed the debt-ridden Wedtech owners a briefcase stuffed with $500,000 in cash, money supplied by a local mob-tied businessman—at 100 percent interest. It was an interesting performance for a banker, and not exactly a résumé-builder for someone heading a fund slated to receive $24 million.

The Yankees insist that all of this has nothing to do with them. They have made two years of payments into the fund and are readying a check for the third round. The team still retains Schlein as its consultant, despite his own problems. Two years ago, he was found to have used a city commission as his private office. He’s also barred from serving as a court-appointed guardian due to another series of abuses. But this is the Bronx, where scoundrels prosper, while those laboring to do even small good deeds push against the tide. Cary Goodman says he has one more idea for a place to house his little skating rink. “I think there’s room right there on the plaza by the new stadium,” he said last week, pointing downhill. He is waiting for the team’s response to this idea.

trobbins@villagevoice.com