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The home of baseball

NEW YORK — It’s a safe haven. A home away from home. These were my thoughts as I was taken through a tunnel in a humid atmosphere similar to Tampa’s.

But those small-town blues were melting away from me as I craned my neck skyward and still couldn’t see the clouds or the sun.

My recent trip to New York — along with Tropical Storm Cindy’s, which kept NYC relatively wet on Friday — had to be, and certainly was, highlighted by my excursion to the legendary Yankee Stadium.

And it was an excursion.

It took my girlfriend and I about 30 minutes to travel seven and a half miles on the crowded subway, a multicultural sardine can of sorts where every fish has an iPod.

And Cindy just wanted to rain on our parade. She poured all day, leaving New York half-flooded and cold in the beginning of July — it didn’t go above 70 degrees all day.

But despite the rain, despite the bitter wind, despite the angry blue-collar workers pushing their way around the subway, and despite wet rats crawling on the tracks underground, it was worth the ride (and the $24 cost of Metro Cards).

It was an excursion to a home away from home.

Growing Pains

Growing up in Florida all my life has left me, maybe, a little deprived. Baseball, at the major-league level, didn’t arrive until 1993, and that was down in Little Cuba, or what everyone else calls Miami.

Sure, there’s South Beach down there and more real celebrities there than on Dancing with the Stars, but I was just a kid. I wanted baseball.

The Devil Rays, poor and lousy as they are and always have been, were five years away. So for me, my memories of growing up around baseball — my first experiences at ballparks — were at minor league ballparks watching either the Tampa Yankees or the St. Pete Cardinals, who have now given way to the single-A branch of the Devil Rays.

I didn’t have history down the street from me. I didn’t have legends walking down my streets. The Bronx did and still does.

So when I got off that subway, I was a kid again. I was learning to love baseball all over again.

The pang in my heart was huge walking off that subway, down the steps and around the corner to the front of the stadium shadowed by a large metal bat and more people in pinstripes than at Appalachian.

I pulled my girlfriend by the arm as I practically ran to the gate to get into the stadium that the likes of Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, Dimaggio, Berra, Maris and Ford have played, where legends have been and continue to be made.

A Melting Pot Madhouse

Derek Jeter’s wannabe girlfriends, Hideki Matsui drones, Jason Giambi muscle heads and Alex Rodriquez worshipers surrounded us. We were at their mercy.

Not that we had a choice, but we had fun while we were in New York. We climbed to our seats on Mt. Everest. We hiked the long walk to Row V. We watched as we tried to stay dry.

Giambi hit an RBI single and we cheered for our first time for being in the Bronx. We were foreigners in a strange land, but we didn’t want to leave.

We were surrounded by commentators who had opinions about everything — the Yankees’ minor league system, Tino Martinez and, of course, George Steinbrenner and how the new stadium looks.

There were guys, drunk as priests on payday, complaining how the scoreboard displays “Giambino” to compare their first baseman to the legendary Babe Ruth. They’d curse and wave their fists, but then toast anew when the beer guy walked past them to refresh their round. People of all nations, whether legal citizens or aliens, enjoy the game like the little kids they used to be.

And that’s the thing: Everything is forgotten. The subways, the taxis, the long, dirty trip over. Work and home life are far, far away.

People who were once strangers in a large city become family, lounging and talking like it’s Thanksgiving in the living room of their little apartment back in Manhattan.Then again, there’s no place like home.