Monday, September 22, 2008

Yankee Stadium

This piece about Yankee Stadium almost brought me to tears.
Some of those who are no longer here were represented by family members. During the pregame ceremony, with the full-throated tribute of the crowd, David Mantle trotted to center field, where he was joined by Kay Murcer, the widow of Yankee great Bobby Murcer, who died two months ago of brain cancer at 62. The fans understood that this was a moment when they could show a grieving family how much it was loved. It began to chant "Bob-by Mur-cer," over and over, louder and louder, until the old ballpark was shaking. David Mantle pulled Kay close and the two hugged. The crowd went nuts.

As the first pitch approached, everyone was emotional. Yogi Berra, wearing his old flannel uniform, seemed to tear up. He's one of the few left. Mantle's gone. Drank himself to death. Billy Martin died in a pickup truck crash. DiMaggio's dead. Maris is, too. So many of Yogi's friends are. This was a place where he could commune with them. Now that's gone, too.

"I'm sorry to see it go," he says. "I really do."

The woman who threw out that first pitch perhaps summed up the mood best. Julia Ruth Stevens is 92 years old, and a hip broken several years ago keeps her in a wheelchair a lot of the time. But she walked out to the field and bounced one to Jorge Posada, connecting with one throw the breadth of Yankee history. To her, Babe Ruth wasn't a fictional character or the genesis of an adjective. To her, he was Dad, and even now, she misses him. Seeing this ballpark torn down is personal to her but, after nine decades, she understands a thing or two about mortality. Nothing lasts forever.
A have a strong connection to the place, too. When I was 8 or 9, my father and grandfather took me to see a ballgame. I saw Mickey Mantle get a hit that day in his final season. I remember my Dad turning to me and saying, "So you saw the Mick get a hit."

In my early twenties my Dad was given tickets for the Stadium Club, an exclusive restaurant inside. He took Mom, me, and my girlfriend Suzy. She later became my wife, and then, tragically, my late wife. Dad died a couple years before Suzy, Mom a couple months after. I have at home a picture of the four of us at Yankee Stadium - up until yesterday, the Stadium and I were the lone survivors of that picture. Now, it is only me.

In September 2001 after Suzy's aunt died, we went to see the Yanks play the Devil Rays. After the terrorists attacks, nobody was going to games, and we had front row seats along the leftfield line. The fellow sitting next to me was a classic New Yorker, and he harrassed the Rays leftfielder mercilessly. Late in the game, the leftfielder caught the last out of the inning and gave this guy the ball, a big grin across his face.

That same game, Derek Jeter came to the plate and Suzy yelled, "C'mon you Taco Dog!" The New York dude next to me turned and looked quizically, and I explained that Suzy thought Jeter looked like the Taco Bell chihuahua. He started laughing, then put his face in his hands, shaking his head. Suzy grinned from ear to ear, quite pleased with herself.

I saw games with friends, and went to many games alone. I banged Frying Pan Freddy's pot. One Memorial Day weekend I saw Roger Clemens dual Pedro Martinez for eight scoreless innings, only to lose on a Trot Nixon homer in the ninth. ESPN dubbed that game an "Instant Classic."

And last year, I took my then girlfriend from New Mexico to a game. There was a gentle-looking college boy there in a t-shirt with "3.14159" etcetera printed on the back - Pi to about 100 places. A math shirt. At a Yankee game. Predictably, some nearby wise-asses (from their accents, they sounded like "bridge and tunnel" guys) saw him and taunted him unmercifully for several innings. When he finally left, they yelled in unison, "By Pi!" Laurel thought it was hilarious. She is now my wife, and I am so glad I got to take her there.

I'm gonna miss that place.


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