Interviews | Bald Vinny
There are 5 degrees of Yankee fans.
1st Degree: Chicks rocking pink Yankee hats that make it out to the Stadium every time one of their girlfriends has a bachelor party. When asked to list the starting lineup they can’t get much farther than Jeter and A-Rod. When the turning point of the game happens, they will be mid-text.
2nd Degree: Dudes in the luxury box, wearing sweater vests, that put down their plastic cups of Johnny Walker just long enough to take an out away from Mark Teixeira. They can impress their lady friends with faux knowledge about the Bombers: ‘We just need to get the ball to Mariano. Lights out.’ Thanks for that in-depth analysis, buddy. Ask them about a Yankee that they haven’t seen on a billboard in the last year and they have trouble saying anything of substance: ‘Nova? Didn’t we trade him?’
3rd Degree: True fans. They wear the lucky jersey at the Stadium and on the couch at home. They know to buy the hot dogs on the way into and out of the Stadium from the nice lady sitting outside of the parking lot, never inside. They manage the game from the cheap seats: ‘Tex! The shift is on! The 3rd baseman is on 2nd. BUNT!‘ They show up early for batting practice, get goosebumps when they hear Bob Sheppard’s recording announce Derek Jeter, and sing “New York, New York” on their way out, but only after a win.
4th Degree: The Bleacher Creatures. For them the Yankees are not just something they are obsessed about. It is life. They are the heartbeat of Yankee Stadium. Without them the new digs would become a plastic, corporate, cathedral of branding. They carry over the magic and passion of the original ballpark and infuse the new one with life.
5th Degree: Bald Vinny.
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Vinny Milano, affectionately known as “Bald Vinny” to Yankee fans, began sitting in the famed Section 39 of the old Yankee Stadium after graduating from the University of Hartford in 1997. Row B, Seat 18 became his designated perch for roughly 75 games a year every year since. Over that span he has become an indispensable part of the Bleacher Creatures, most notably leading the renowned Roll Call every game. When the team moved across the street in 2009, Vinny and the Creatures found a new home in Section 203.
During his time as a fixture in right field, he began making and selling Creature-themed t-shirts and other apparel that can be found on River Avenue during the season and at section203.com any time. He was cool enough to chat with me today, taking time away from his busy job as a husband and father.
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This is not an easy thing for you to do, but can you ballpark how many Yankee games you’ve been to?
1,200 and change. I don’t know the exact number, but it’s definitely north of 1,200.
Ali Ramirez is credited with igniting the Bleacher Creatures. Did you know him personally?
No, he passed away before I ever got there, but the fact that we get a lot of attention from the media is because of the guys that came before us, like Ali. They were the reason I came. They were fun, that’s why I went. Back then it was rough in the Bronx, you know? [Laughs]. We’d ring the bell and sing songs so that no one realized a Red Sox fan was getting his ass beaten. [Laughs].
How did you rise to through the ranks and become the Roll Call leader?
I started making t-shirts in ’99 or 2000 because I was always into that. I made them for our crew. Then I got laid off from my job and it gave me an excuse to go to 81 games and be there every day, selling my shirts. It paid the bills.
What’s the biggest difference between Section 39 and Section 203?
The biggest difference is that we were penned off in the old place. That was good and bad. We had one choice for food and drink and had to go to left field just to get ice cream, but it was good because it was just us. Now we get people who come just for the Roll Call. People I know come to games and sit all over the Stadium, but we sneak them in for Roll Call then hustle them out.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen in the bleachers?
One of the best things was my 22nd birthday. In the old place you could see people walking up from the tunnel. We’re sitting there and it’s the 3rd or 4th inning, and I see some dude in section 37 in a gorilla suit with a sash that says ‘Happy Birthday.’ The first thing that pops into my head was, ‘Please let it be a stripper,’ but it was one of my drunk buddies. But I’ve seen everything you can imagine out there, people getting beat up for all sorts of stuff.
Justice Sotomayor, David Cone, Paul O’Neill–so many notable people have made their way out to right field over the years. What has been the coolest cameo?
Personally, [Brian] Cashman, [Jack] Curry, Michael Kay, guys that I follow and that I’m huge fans of. I’m honored that others have come out, but I look up to those guys I’m fans of. A lot of that is set up by the Yankees, like Sotomayor, there were huge guys all around her with guns, but I’ve made connections over the years too. Anytime [Nick] Swisher’s wife or D Rob’s [David Robertson‘s] wife comes to town they come sit with us.
You’ve been to so many games, so this is tough, but what’s been your favorite moment at the Stadium?
The one I always go back to is [Aaron] Boone’s home run because it was just such an emotional ride. We were down, our heads were in our hands, then he hit it out. The next thing I go to is the 2001 World Series because it was so exciting and it came at such a tough time for the city. But, I’ve seen two perfect games, A-Rod’s 400th, 500th, and 600th home runs, and #4oo was in Milwaukee. I met A-Rod this summer and told him that and he said, ‘400? Wasn’t that in Milwaukee?’ But you never know what’s going to happen when you go to a game, which is what makes it so exciting.
What has been your favorite name to call over the years?
It all starts with Bernie. He was the man and always will be the man. We always started with him. He was a plain guy, never did anything extraordinary, except once. It was Bernie Williams Bobblehead Day. We chant his name, he turns to us, puts both arms at his side, and starts bobbling his head! [Laughs]
The next one is [Johnny] Damon who was the first one to do a custom Roll Call sign, going down to one knee and pointing at us, and that evolved into what Melky [Cabrera] and [Brett] Gardner and Swisher did.
So, what’s gonna happen to all those “F Youk” shirts on section203.com?
[Laughs] They’re selling!
Yes! Yanks fans still hate that guy. They were on sale for $5, but now they’re back up to $15. I moved more the day of the trade than in the last 6 months! The real question is, do I make it in pinstripes now? [Laughs]
I’d buy one.
I know! A lot of people have said the same thing.
What do you think about the Youk deal?
I think it’s definitely a good thing. Of the prospects we had he was the best available. I think he’s a good pickup. Our biggest concern is replacing Swish. He had so much production.
It was reported on River Ave Blues that last season you weren’t returning to the bleachers as much.
Well, the year prior it rained a lot and that hurts my business. I’m looking to grow past where I am. Early in 2011 I invited Cashman out to the bleachers and he came with his son. At the end of the game he gave me his number and told me to call him. I met with him the following week and laid everything out, my plans, my goals, and that’s when guests started coming out. I’m a small business owner, a mom and pop operation, and mom hates it and dad loves it. [Laughs] It’s hard to make it through the winter, but you do what you can.
Well, I hope you make it, man. You mean a lot to Yankee fans and I think you represent us really well.
Thanks, man. Come and sit with us sometime.
You got it.