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Yankee Stadium is no more.
I have been a New York Yankees fan ever since my dad first took me to Yankee Stadium as a child. People have referred to it as “The Cathedral.” To me “The Cathedral” was St. Patrick’s on Fifth Avenue and 51st Street in Manhattan. St. Patrick’s was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976.
Yankee Stadium is a baseball stadium, where the best ballplayers of the best team played. I played football and ran track in high school across the street from the stadium at McCoombs Dam Park, and I would be in a trance just staring at “The House That Ruth Built.” As a safety, I got knocked out once in a football game by staring too long.
Yankee Stadium was just awesome to me as a kid. It was so big but also something more. Something comes over you when you walked into that site, hard to describe but very humbling.
My dad was able to get us seats behind home plate, and I wondered why everybody didn’t try to sit there. People of all ages, real fans, were yelling for their team. And they either sat quietly or sometimes booed the other team when its players came to bat. I also noticed when a great play by the other team was made, these same fans applauded. They appreciated both effort and great ball playing.
Eddie Lopat was on the mound and Yogi Berra catching. Phil Rizzuto was at short and Gil McDougal, who would later coach baseball at Fordham University in the Bronx, was at third. Joe Collins was at first and Jerry Coleman was the second baseman.
Joe DiMaggio was in center, Hank Bauer in right and some kid named Mickey Mantle was playing left field (not right).
Mantle wore No. 7, after Cliff Mapes, who originally had that number, was traded. Mantle had previously worn No. 6.
Mapes, by the way, was the outfielder who replaced DiMaggio in center field when he was benched the previous year.
I know who played where because I was writing it down with my No. 2 pencil on a piece of loose-leaf paper.
A man sitting in back of us said, “Here, kid, take this.” It was the lineup with all of the players’ names and positions. He said he was here to see his cousin Johnny Mize play, and he came all the way from Georgia to New York. I did not know where Georgia was at that time.
Later in life, I found out not all Yankee fans are from just New York. They are everywhere. And I have met quite a few who were born and raised here in North Carolina. (A few of them are starting to understand why I don’t like the Mets.)
The roar of the crowd whenDiMaggio stepped up to the plate was deafening, and I was hooked on the Yankees like never before. I adjusted my new Yankees cap just as the real ballplayers did. I decided then and there Mickey was my favorite player because Joe D. was my dad’s favorite, and I had to pick somebody else.
I liked Eddie Lopat, but he was left-handed and he did not get to hit. I actually thought all pitchers were left-handed at that time. Since then, I realized the better pitchers are left-handed.
In grammar school, we kids always argued who had the best team and best center fielder. The Giants had Mays; the Dodgers, Snider. But we all knew Mick was the best. I never saw Snider or Mays lay down a bunt for the team.
Every chance I got, I listened to the Yankees on the radio. Red Barber and Mel Allen were the announcers, and even broadcast some games on TV. Of course, I had my glove or baseball bat in hand every time.
Hey, I was the Mick.
A few years later, my friend Vinnie Pardon and I took the subway train from New York to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx without telling our parents. Back then, New York meant the city or Manhattan. Other people came from Queens or Brooklyn, and they stated that was where they were from. Long Island was, and is still, a million miles away from my New York, as is New Jersey.
Vinnie was two years older than I, and I thought he was cool.
We purchased our tickets and then went to go through the gate, but the ticket man wanted to know where our parents were. He would not let us enter.
Dejected but determined, we decided to enter with a family. Since the father usually gave the kids their own tickets to hold, the ticket man would not know of our great plan. We entered without a problem, but I do remember the ticket man grinning at us as we entered.
We went to the men’s room to gather our thoughts for our next plan, and we were so nervous you would think we had just robbed the local bank. We sat in the last row in right field, lower level, where nobody paid any attention to us. The second inning came and we got a great idea. We decided to sit behind home plate and try to find a family and start talking to them so the usher would be fooled, just like the ticket man.
It worked, and we did this for about two years, and usually three times a year.
Vinnie and I drifted apart, and I was more interested in Yankee Stadium and sports than he was. We were now in our teens, 13 and 15. Vinnie was a great basketball player but lost interest in sports. I no longer thought Vinnie was cool after the gang he was in stabbed a kid named Michael Farmer. Farmer died of those injuries. Vinnie was sentenced to a few years at Lincoln Hall, a juvenile detention center in Otisville, N.Y. A few years later, a police officer found Vinnie on a rooftop in Harlem, dead of a drug overdose.
I continued going to the stadium as often as possible and often took my two sons and daughter, who became die-hard Yankee fans.
My daughter, Karen, went to Yankee Stadium with me on Phil Rizzuto Day. It was great, and she was as excited as I was. Driving home that night to Pleasant Valley, N.Y., about 60 miles from New York City, we were listening to the Knicks’ playoff game when it was interrupted by news of police chasing a white bronco in L.A. We missed a great playoff game.
I even took my kids to a Billy Joel concert at Yankee Stadium, where the helicopter actually landed in the stadium (that’s how one of his songs begins.) I told them they could take off from school because we arrived home so late at night. They decided to go to school—so they could tell all their friends about the concert.
Last year was my final game at Yankee Stadium. I saw the Chicago White Sox and Yankees play on the next-to-last game of the year at the ballpark. I still had that unreal feeling as we entered, when it just takes your breath away. It is the same feeling you get when you go to the Grand Canyon, a very humbling feeling.
We talked to a few people that night. A cop and a firefighter. Three brothers from California who were doing a reunion, eight games in two weeks at different stadiums. A couple from Chicago.
We were playing musical chairs because of all the years I have been going to the stadium, I could never figure out the seating: rows, sections, seat, etc.
Those people also had a feeling when entering the stadium, especially the three brothers from California. I reminded them that they stole the Giants and Dodgers from our city. All expressed sadness about closing the stadium so that owner George Steinbrenner could build his own monument to himself.
I have never been a Steinbrenner fan and was annoyed at him with his throwing in Jose Rijo in the Ricky Henderson trade in 1984. The trade had already been brokered, but George had to put in his 2 cents’ worth. Rijo went on to be the 1990 World Series MVP for the Cincinnati Reds.
In 1986, Steinbreneer traded Doug Drabek to Pittsburgh, and he would win 15 games for three years. And in 1990, he would win 22 games. Nice going, George. I could not understand how he could even talk to someone from Pittsburgh after Bill Mazeroski’s homer in the 1960 World Series.
Steinbrenner’s greed has led to the destruction of baseball—I am positive of this. Free agency has made a mess of salaries and ticket prices. There is no team dedication, no player coming from the minors into its organization. It is who has the most money. And then some teams, like the Marlins, Brewers and Twins, just take the profits the Yankees give them and put it into their pockets. They don’t try to improve their minor league systems at all. The Yankees spend and spend and try to buy a World Series.
They are tearing down the park where I played sports to build the new stadium and tearing down the true Yankee Stadium. You do not see them tearing down Wrigley Field or Fenway Park, do you?
Tradition is still alive in these cities (and I hate Boston).
I cannot go back. My trip to Yankee Stadium in 2008 was it for me.
I still have the memories, still have pictures of my boys with Roger Maris, still have my daughter’s baseball card from fan appreciation day, still have my Yogi Berra bat.
So, George, go sell the seats, foul poles and even the urinals and show your greed. Is it any wonder the people from Cleveland were so glad to see you go. I will always be a Yankee fan till the day I die. I just can’t go back. The stadium has died.