Thanks for the memories Yankee Stadium

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

It's going to be strange watching the baseball playoffs without the New York Yankees. For the first time in 13 years the lights at Yankees Stadium will be off in October as the team failed to make the playoffs. That's not a bad run for any team. But this is the Yankees we're talking about. They're supposed to be there. I think what makes it hard for me to take is the fact that the hated Red Sox will have another shot at the World Series. I'm sure it seems strange to a lot of you that I could root for the Yankees. I am, after all, from Massachusetts. But the fact is, I hate the Red Sox. I always have and I always will. My grandfather raised me a Yankees fan. He followed the team since the days of Babe Ruth. There wasn't a night that went by when he didn't have the game on TV. We used to watch the games together whenever I would spend the night at their house. There is no better rivalry in sports than the Yankees and the Red Sox. Before the days of the wild card, I never thought I would ever see the Yankees make it to the World Series. The 1980s weren't the best years for the Yankees. And I certainly never thought I'd see the Red Sox win one either. The closest they ever came was 1986 until Bill Buckner let the ball go through his legs. I never got to go to Yankee Stadium with my grandfather to actually watch a game. But I've been a few times. I first saw the House that Ruth built in July 1985. Ironically, it was a Red Sox fan who took me. I used to deliver newspapers when I was a boy. I would pick them up at Rowley Fuel and used to go inside and talk to Mr. Rowley and his son "Timmo." He's what you call a die hard Red Sox fan. He had taken me to my first major league game earlier that year at Fenway Park. I remember my friend Bud and I browsing the vendors' tables on the sidewalk near the entrance looking at baseball cards and wondering who Ted Williams was or why anyone would want to buy a baseball card with his likeness on it. If only we had known. That was when you could actually afford to buy a Ted Williams card. Anyway, I had tickets to Old Timers Day and Timmo agreed to take me and my friend Shawn, who also rooted for the Yankees, to the game. New York City and Yankee Stadium is about the same distance from where I grew up as it is to Boston and Fenway Park. I'll never forget seeing Yankee Stadium for the first time. It was like Dorothy opening the door and seeing Oz in color. The field was so green and the famous fašade a bright white. Our seats were in the upper deck. The view was great but those steps were steep. I was almost scared to get out of my seat. After a few innings Shawn and I went to see if we could find some empty seats somewhere closer to the action. We found them in the second deck and stayed there for the rest of the game. We actually saw Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio coming out of the elevator. The Yankees didn't win that day but it was a thrill to get to go. I got to go back in 1996 when I worked at a radio station in Pittsfield. The station was a Yankees affiliate and aired all of the games. I arranged for press passes and four tickets and took my neighbor Bernie Lavigne and two other neighbors along. We got to walk on the field and meet some of the players. That was the year that Derek Jeter was a rookie. He signed a couple of baseballs for us. Former Red Sox star third baseman Wade Boggs, who I used to root against, was a Yankee by then. We also saw Darryl Strawberry in the dugout. If you were a baseball fan in the 1980s, Strawberry was a big deal. The best part for me though, was sitting in the press box. I got to meet Phil Rizzuto. The "Scooter" was the voice of the Yankees. He used to announce the games along with Bill White on WPIX. Red Sox fans always hated Rizzuto. But I adored the guy and used to love it when he'd say "Holy Cow" after a Yankees home run or some amazing play. He was just so much fun to listen to. He signed a baseball for me after the seventh inning when he would leave early to beat the traffic home. What a thrill that was. I still have the ball. The Yankees would go on to win their first of four World Series titles that year. I watched every game and loved every minute of it. I went back to Yankee Stadium in 1998 with some college friends from Syracuse. We paid $75 which was face value for the tickets for seats near the right field foul pole. They played the Minnesota Twins that day. We missed seeing history made by one day. The very next day David Wells tossed a no-hitter. I haven't been back to Yankee Stadium since then. The team is going to be moving in to a new stadium across the street next year. It's hard to imagine that the House that Ruth built will be torn down. Hopefully though, I'll get to go back to the new one and make some new memories in that special place called Yankee Stadium.