They’ve played the last game at Yankee Stadium folks; I know, it’s hard to believe and still sinking in. It was called “The House That Ruth Built”–soon to be reduced to a pile of rubble while a new greed-fueled edifice begins to grace the skyline just a few feet away. Ah, but they can’t haul away the many memories of a place that was MORE than just a stadium to many of us. It was a shrine, a landmark, simply THE BALLPARK to be in–and regardless of when the land beneath all the piled rubble becomes visible again, it will always be considered sacred ground. A few thoughts/memories:
* I remember my first game–my Dad taking me on a bus trip to the Bronx to see the Yanks play the White Sox; must have been 1967 or ’68. We pulled up to the desired destination–this great big building with flags flying around it–and just as we approached the stadium entrance, I clearly remembering asking Dad, “Hey, Pop–I thought they played baseball OUTDOORS!” Yes, the naivete of the young. And as we reached our seats, I remember the strong aroma of hot dogs and how GREEN the grass was; I already couldn’t wait to come back again.
* While in high school, a childhood buddy of mine and I actually gave NOTICE to our teachers that we were skipping school to catch a Yankee game one afternoon. I remember how surprised/shocked we were when we found out that our “superiors” truly didn’t mind as they were all keenly aware of our intense passion for baseball; I guess it didn’t hurt that we were exceptional students, too.
* I recall my years at Fordham from 1978-82 and how my college experience began in such a spectacular way during my freshman year as I was able to gain entrance to Game 3 of the Fall Classic between NY and LA. How lucky I was to see the “Graig Nettles Show” that evening–the gifted third baseman’s fielding magic propelling the home team to victory. On each magnificent play, the crowd roar was deafening–and I can still hear it today whenever I see a diving stop by anyone playing the “hot corner.” A magical evening for a wide-eyed teen from CT, for sure.
* I surely took advantage of my time living in the Bronx. While a few of my roommates were pre-med majors and rarely had time to take in games, this journalism student would happily make the 30-block trip via subway alone to almost EVERY home game while school was in session; it reached the point where I felt guilty when I’d be back home in CT and missed a game–maybe on a weekend when I was home visiting my parents. Why the guilt? I don’t know–maybe because I loved baseball so much–along with the bothersome thought of missing out on another truly AFFORDABLE evening at the ballpark. Yeah, I’d take a ten-dollar bill with me each night which would MORE than cover a bleacher seat, round-trip subway fare, a pretzel and a soda. I know–who was luckier than me, huh? My frustration these days regarding the lack of affordability at sporting events remains dwarfed by those special days that I DID have while in college. I miss those days.
* When I graduated, I couldn’t stay away. One year after leaving Fordham, a family friend graciously gave me a ticket to the July 4, 1983 game vs. Boston. Sitting behind home plate in stifling heat, I watched Dave Righetti pitch the game of his life; when his no-hitter was complete after striking out Wade Boggs, the deafening sound of the raucous crowd rivaled the “Nettles crowd” that I was part of just a few years before. To this day, it’s the lone ticket stub (out of THOUSANDS accumulated) that I’ve chosen to save.
Ah, so many more personal memories of the “Big Ball Park in the Bronx”, i.e. the anticipatory rides down “The Hutch” with friends, Bob Sheppard (the “voice of God”), the countless batting practices we spent watching before games, and Mickey Rivers throwing balls in the stands while shagging in the outfield. I recently asked my “Monday Night Sports Talk” co-host Tony DeAngelo–who grew up in Stamford–for a few of his own fond memories: “I remember 1968 when I saved three books of S&H Green Stamps to get three seats in the upper deck for Bat Day–Yanks vs. Indians,” he told me. “Tiant pitched a one-hit shutout that day. The only hit was by Mantle–on one-leg–beating out a bunt. I also remember the Yankees/Twins Old-Timers Day that year, driving down in Charlie Moulketis’s ’61 Comet–black with red leather seats, no AC, hot as heck outside. Mickey Mantle hit a couple of ‘bleeder’ home runs off Jim Merritt. And after the game, as we were standing where the Twins bus would leave from, Bob Allison of Minnesota actually stepped on my friend’s foot! I also recall the night when Mantle homered off Earl Wilson to tie Ted Williams on the all-time list, a night when there were only around 12,000 in the park! Finally, I’d often see Yankees executive Mike Burke walking in the upper deck talking to fans–giving them the peace sign. Just so many things I’ll never forget.”
Me too, Tony. I’ve only referenced remembrances by two individuals in this column; part of my future enjoyment of baseball in general will be hearing from many others about their own recollections of Yankee Stadium–yes, the OLD one. And as time goes by, those few, select memories mentioned above may have to be compressed a bit in order to make room for so many more that will surely surface–thanks to an unforgettable building that will soon have a date with a wrecking ball. One thing’s for sure, though: our fond thoughts/memories of such a special place will always remain intact.