This morning I rifled through my old emails and started to delete them when I came across an old one from my aunt after she attended the final game played at Yankee Stadium last September:
Wanted to know your thoughts about the ‘stadium’ closing? I went to the final game. It would have been better if this was October and the last game, but it was still a very special night. Unfortunately I was delusional to think that I was going to walk on the field. I got there early, but not early enough. So after three hours, and walking the whole stadium three times from top to bottom, and still on the top level I said ‘uncle’. Settled into my seat and just enjoyed the entire day/evening/night. It was great, talking to different people hearing their memories, and recanting my own. Here’s to the next chapter, and hopefully #27.
I was so involved in other projects at the time that I never had the opportunity to reply. But, in retrospect, I didn’t respond because I never had a chance to sit down and think about what the old Yankee Stadium had meant to me throughout the course of my life. I had been to so many games, spent so much of my life there and even when I moved away, I made the time and effort to take my children to Yankee Stadium annually to see a game.
Yankee Stadium was a special place. Whenever I handed the gate attendant my ticket and cascaded through the turnstiles, I was immediately overcome with an aura of magic and greatness that emanated throughout the skeleton of the building. As I walked through the inner sanctum of the hallways that connected the outside world to the majestic palace that Ruth built, I could feel the history of the stadium rise up and envelope me. It was hallowed ground.
But nothing will ever replace the goose bumps that rose up on my skin and the tingle of excitement that ran down my spine whenever I walked out of the tunnel and saw the field. It was like being transported to another time and place. A time when baseball meant so much more to the people of the United States than it does today and to a place where everyone, regardless of age, could feel like a kid again. And without warning, the scent in the air of the freshly cut grass, the sight of the manicured infield, the pop of the ball in the glove, the crack of the bat and the folklore of the pinstripes that donned the players as they took the field reminded me that this was a truly historic place in the world.
I made my first trip to the Bronx sometime in 1975 when I was six years old. I rooted for guys named Nettles and Randolph while I watched guys named Jackson and Chambliss hit long towering balls into the farthest reaches of the upper deck in right field. I was hooked and the pinstripes ran through my veins. I was eight years old when the Yankees won the first World Series Championship of my lifetime.
After the back-to-back Championships of the late 1970s, I traveled the roller coaster ride through the standings during the 1980s but my loyalty to the Bronx Bombers never wavered. And as the decade changed, I found a new and unique way to show my NY Yankees pride in the early 1990s as the team floundered. But the most cherished time for me at the old ballpark happened in a seven year span from 1987 to 1994 when I would go to the stadium thirty to forty times a year because tickets for games were affordable.
I would wake up early and take the train to Grand Central Station. I would quickly jump on the subway and head out to Yankee Stadium just to be early enough to stand in line for bleacher seats. Bleacher creatures could buy tickets for six dollars. And when the Boston Red Sox came to town, the stadium was packed full of fans from both teams. My friends and I would inevitably end up sitting next to a bus load of Red Sox fans who had chartered a bus to the Bronx for the game and the rivalry would play out over nine innings just beyond the outfield wall.
One of the greatest nights I personally had at Yankee Stadium was a night back in April of 1994 when Stephanie and I decided to catch the train after work and head into New York to start my birthday weekend in style. We walked up to the box office window and asked for two of the best seats in the house. We paid for our tickets and took our seats a few rows behind home plate and one seat behind Mrs. Showalter while Jim Abbott warmed up on the mound. The Yankees won and the stories I heard from the manager’s wife throughout the game were worth the price of admission.
By the time the 1996 season was in full swing, I had moved to Boston to start a new job. Stephanie and I were newlyweds and the only Yankee fans in our apartment complex when the New York Yankees clinched a spot in the World Series for the first time in eighteen years. I was ecstatic. And I didn’t miss an inning of any of the games as I sat on the edge of my seat through one of the most gut wrenching World Series classics ever! I was elated when the New York Yankees clinched their first title since I was in grade school. And the titles kept on piling up, year after year, for the rest of the decade!
When we bought our current home, Stephanie immediately decorated the door to the finished basement with the Wall of Champions. Within a year, she had pinstriped my basement walls, my coffee table and my CD cabinet. Yankee banners adorned the walls and my children have been indoctrinated into the Yankee tradition. A few years ago, I took Joshua to his first Yankee game and I have taken my children to Yankee Stadium every year since. Last summer, our final trip to the Stadium was a rain soaked affair against the Boston Red Sox. The memories of that day and every game I have spent inside the confines of the House that Ruth built will live with me for the rest of my life.
I guess I had a hard time responding to my aunt last September because I didn’t want to face the inevitable truth. I was unable to attend the final game and I knew that for as long as I live, I will never walk through those turnstiles again. I was closing the book on a large chapter of my life, but to me it was more than that because Yankee Stadium was more than a ballpark; it was my home away from home and now that it is gone, I will miss it.