Simple Pleasures.

Simple Pleasures.
Irish soda bread on its way up North with Noah.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Forget Spring Training. Hit the Bronx!

Got Yankee fans in the house? Can't think of what to do while the snow melts and spring sports haven't yet monopolized your weekends? Here's an awesome idea: Pack up the family and head to the Bronx for a behind-the-scenes tour of Yankee Stadium. Maybe you're saying, "Well duh, Peg, we did that when the kids were still growing baby teeth." But maybe, just maybe, you're as clueless as I and the rest of my family was and you have no idea that this opportunity even exists.

We discovered the Yankee Stadium tour back in December while trying to figure out what to do for my older son Ben's family birthday outing. On a whim, I logged on to the Yankees web site--looking for I don't know what. Divine inspiration, maybe. But I noticed a little line on a pull-down menu about "stadium tours." Further reading revealed that the Yanks offer these one-hour adventures through the stadium several times a day, seven days a week during the off season. Tours are also offered during baseball season, but only when the team is on the road. At $20 a head, we figured what the heck. If it turned out to be a real bomb, we'd just head straight for lunch or dinner at Arthur Avenue.

Well, what a great surprise the whole day turned out to be. Without the usual baseball crowds clogging the area, we zipped up to the House that Ruth Didn't Build in just about an hour and parked right next to the stadium. We checked in about 20 minutes in advance and joined a group of about 15 others (ranging from Korean tourists to local fans). There was something eerily wonderful about wandering around that massive new stadium--utterly empty save for some isolated foot steps. We checked out the Yankee Museum first for about 20 minutes and then walked over to Monument Park, a collection of big plaques honoring the most illustrious Yanks. All of that was interesting enough. But then things really got juicy. Our Yankaholic guide (a retired cop)marched us down to the dugout and invited us all to sit right in it (!). We then meandered over to the batting cages and practice rooms, which was way cool. Best of all--we were waltzed right into the Yankee locker room. And let me tell you--that place ain't no tile and metal athlete's foot hatchery. It was so cushy, so fancy, so over the top, it looked more like a high-end gentlemen's club than a place where sweaty athletes have towel fights. Ben was swooning at the very idea of being so close to greatness. I was nearly faint knowing that I was mere feet from where Derek Jeter has actually stood naked. We even got to see what was in Johnny Damon's locker (I assume he's since packed up those cleats and Yankee jerseys).

The tour wound up just around 4, perfect timing for us to get down to Arthur Avenue (Bronx's Littly Italy), park on the street, and snag a table at Roberto's newish pizza trattoria, Zero Otto Nove, which doesn't usually take rezzies and opens for dinner at 5. What a great spot--really pretty, really cozy, with a huge wood-burning pizza oven right in the middle of the dining room. There are lots of great options other than pizza on the menu but the pies really were to die for. I devoured La Riccardo, a crispy crusted beauty topped with butternut squash puree, smoke mozzarella, pancetta, and basil. Noah was in utter bliss over his Patate Salsiccia e Provola, a tasty tangle of sliced potatoes, sausage, and smoked mozzarella. Glance at the menu and you will start salivating. Promise. And dinner won't put a huge dent in your wallet. Really.

And that was the day. Perfect. Weather friendly. Pretty affordable. And truly, truly a hoot. The only downside? I can't imagine doing the tour more than once every many years. So now I'll have to find some other excuse to get up to Zero Otto Nove for that butternut squash pizza.

Wanna Go? Need to Know.
Getting There: It's a snap getting up to Yankee Stadium when no games are on. Go to, click on the Stadium pull-down menu and you'll see an option for "Getting to the Stadium," which includes public/private transporation info and parking details. There are a couple of parking garages right on River Avenue, as well as some nonmetered street parking.
When to Go: You can reserve spots on the Yankees site through Ticketmaster--seems like openings are pretty scarce at this point, probably because all those baseball fanatacs are getting pumped for the season. If you can't get tickets for now, keep this trip in mind for next winter when you've all got cabin fever and can't figure out what to do with yourselves. We were able to get tickets just a day ahead of time, no problem. As for timing, try, if possible, to get a 3 PM tour time. That will get you out at just the right time to have dinner at Arthur Avenue, which is about a five or ten minute drive away. If you get out earlier, I guess you could also go for lunch or wander around and shop for cheese.
Services/Costs: Each ticket is $20. There might be a surcharge if you use Ticketmaster. There's also a kids price of $15, but it never seems to be available. I noticed that you can also bring a group of kids for a tour of the stadium--that brings the per kid price down to $8. What a concept for a birthday. You could also book an actual birthday package for $40 a head for kids 14 and under, which includes lunch, etc. at the on-premises Hard Rock Cafe, but that might be a little steep if you're bringing more than just a handful of buds.
What to Bring: If you come when it's cold out, dress warmly. If it's damp, you might even want to pack an umbrella. There's coverage from the elements for the most part, but the place is, well, an outdoor stadium.
Fear Factor: None, unless you get caught in rush hour traffic. But I'm assuming you'd be coming on a weekend, so that shouldn't be a huge problem.
In the Area: Arthur Avenue is a natural landing place after a Yankee tour--much better, I think, than overpaying for a meal at one of the chain places on premises. ( The Arthur Avenue Market ( for hours, info), if it's open, is a great place to kill time if you have it before or after your meal--it's sort of a covered bazaar with a million cheese, meat, veggie, olive oil, and god-knows-what other types of Italian vendors. There are even guys handrolling cigars in there. There are also about a zillion bakeries, cheese shops, ravioli shops, and more lining Arthur Avenue and the streets that radiate from it. Roberto's, probably the finest restaurant in the area, is a great bet--but snagging a table can be tricky and it's not exactly a cheap family dinner. There are other popular spots--Emilia's and Dominick's come to mind--but they are more along the lines of the red-sauce-and-melted cheese tourist traps you find in Manhattan's Little Italy. I think Zero Otto Novo--an offshoot of Roberto's--is a terrific option. It's less expensive and not quite as crowded as Roberto's, but the food is quite yummy. Do get there at 5 PM if you come on a Saturday and don't want to languish on a line. Line ups, after all, are for baseball teams (and criminals, I guess). For info on both restaurants: