It was the final year of the house that Ruth built (1923-2008).
It was a warm Saturday in April, 2008 for the opening weekend at Yankee Stadium. The Bronx Bombers were starting the final year at the iconic landmark that not only had been the home to the greatest sports franchise in the world but the inspiration for dreams for nine decades. With the spirits of Ruth, Dimaggio, Mantle, Maris, Howard, Dickey, Mercer, Martin, Rizzuto and so many more in the air, a game at the Stadium was so much more than nine innings of entertainment; it was a testimony the the purity of competition, family, patriotism and legend.
As my father and I spend entered the subway in Manhattan after spending the morning with my brother, we could feel the anticipation as we moved quickly from the underground passageway to that famous above ground stop adjacent to the stadium in the Bronx on East 161st Street. The staleness in the air was subsided by the vision of men and women with Yankee Jerseys cheering and talking as the journey for one final World Series at Yankee Stadium was underway.
As we funneled out of the subway and set eyes on that vision, one can only feel a sense of honor. I know there are seven wonders of the world but if you grew up in the tri-state area, this was one of them. For my father who was a New Yorker, born and raised, this had to mean much more. This is a man who rarely misses a game. 162 up and 162 down. It could be TV or radio but he is there for his Bronx Bombers.
Vendors selling programs, the smell of hot pretzels and beer and one hour to game time. We finally got in and trekked up the ramp to our seats behind home plate. The grass never looked greener. Monument park was a vision with permanent etchings of the achievements of the greatest players in team history and Sam Shepard’s voice over the speakers.
Just a few years earlier we had taken a tour of the stadium, bowing to the immortal words of Joe D as we entered. We walked on the outfield grass, viewed monument park, stood in the radio booth and just absorbed history as we sat in the locker room seeing Jeter next to Ruth and A-Rod next to Gehrig. Words cannot properly express the feelings that rushed through my head (and I grew up a Mets fan). This family commitment has also led us to Legends Field in Tampa, Florida for spring training for a number of games under the sun. This is indeed a family affair.
I remember the game vividly. We browsed through the calendar that each of us received at the front gate and glued ourselves to each pitch knowing that in seven months, on one undermined day, the final game ever would be played in Yankee Stadium. It was not until two years later that the stadium was finally taken down, but when the final pitch came, that was the end. That was our goodbye.
We even got a free subway ride back to Manhattan. What a bonus.
Buildings, stadiums and landmarks come and go. Change is part of life and we must accept that life moves forward. What we take with us are the memories. This wasn’t as dramatic as losing the Brooklyn Dodgers to California as my mother would say, but losing the stadium was losing a piece of my childhood and innocence. As a child, we look to our heroes to help us define who we are and who we want to be. I still remember meeting Bucky Dent at a mall in Jersey, pretending I was Dave Winfield or Willie Randolph while playing at the park and collecting baseball cards til I turned blue.
Baseball is America’s past time. It is also a foundation for family. It has and continues to bring fathers and son’s together uniting on Saturday afternoons to cheer on our teams. Last year, I got a call that I got approved to take on a new challenge at work, one that I was so proud of and worked very hard to develop and justify. Where was I at the time I received the call? I was at the Yogi Berra Museum and Historical Center with my Dad watching the history of baseball evolve before our eyes.
It doesn’t take much to create a lifetime memory between a father and son. Some are meaningful and some are forever stored in the memory bank of our minds. On one warm Saturday afternoon in 2008, my father and I sat together overlooking a wonder of all sport and shared a moment that we will both remember always.
From my very first bike ride in the snow getting the original pack of baseball cards that started my childhood obsession and flipping cards to see what my brother and I would end up with to smelling the grass while the young stars warm up, baseball continues to be a very important part of my life and no thought of baseball ever goes by without the thought of sharing it with my dad.
Thank you Dad for the memories secure in my thoughts and the ones to come in the future..