— Days Without Shea —

YankeeStadium_080308.pngI am not ashamed to admit it - there are Yankee fans in my family.

The best Yankee fan I know is my cousin Bob (but we call him Robert). I asked him if he would write a few words of tribute to his home away from home on Yankee Stadium's last day. Here 'tis...(I even retained the caustic Shea insults because I know this is a tough day for him):

Early August 1991 Stump Merrill Cecil Fielder


Back in the Yankee Doldrums of the early 90’s I used to make a lot of spur-of-the-moment trips to The Stadium (I think we all know which NY baseball palace doesn’t need to be named).  The Yankees were awful, but on the plus side I was often able to pick up a single ticket for next to nothing.  Boss George was still on suspension, Stump Merrill was occupying the Manager’s Chair and Andy Stankowitz was the Yankee shortstop of the future. 

It was one of those miserable, humid nights in early August where you could cut cubes out of the air and use it for cheap building material.  The Yankees were playing Detroit.  Cecil Fielder was at the top of his game, he knocked in 133 runs that year.  Now if you remember Fielder, he was a hell of a hitter, but as a first basemen, well, he was a hell of a hitter.  It was probably the sixth or seventh inning, and I had managed to weasel my way into the tenth or fifteenth row right about even with first base.  One of the Yankees hit a pop-up near the bag at first that ended up landing maybe three feet into the stands.  PROBABLY not catchable, but Fielder took maybe two halfhearted steps in the direction of the seats then stopped dead.   Suddenly from a few rows behind me some guy stands up and with a voice that would have drowned out a 747 screams, “IF IT WAS A CHEESEBURGER YOU WOULD HAVE CAUGHT IT!”  Everyone in the stadium heard him, I saw at least one of his teammates laughing into his glove.  Even the umpire cracked a smile. 

 Early memories

It seems that every half a**ed writer has some kind of lyrical description of their first visit to Yankee Stadium.  As far as I’m concerned they’re all amateurs.  I can’t remember my first trip to The House that Ruth Built, it was made while I was still In Utero.  I guess the first game I actually remember had to be in 1968.  I was four years old, and Mickey Mantle was still wearing the pinstripes. 


I don’t remember anything about the game itself, other than it was an incredibly bright sunny summer day and we were sitting in the upper deck somewhere on the first base side.  I was with my father, two of my cousins and their dad.  I have no idea if the Mick was actually playing that day, but I do distinctly remember that my now deceased uncle bought his kids cotton candy, crackerjacks, soda and just about everything else that was being hawked that day.  (My dad and I subsisted on a thermos filled with hot water and franks- what can I say, we’re frugal).


Anyway about halfway through the game, Cousin #1 upchucks all the coke, cotton candy, etc. all over the seats in front of us.  Thank God the occupants were in the bathroom at the time.  This sets off his brother who doesn’t want to be left out and joins his sibling in hurling for volume AND distance.  My father and my uncle knew enough to hustle us out of there before things turned ugly and we found some empty seats on the other side of the Stadium.  After we settled in, I remember pointing out our old seats to my Dad- there was a huge round dead zone of empty seats surrounding the scene of the crime.  I thought that was incredibly funny, my dad no so much. 



1977 Reggie hits three out. 

Back in 1976, my Uncle Bill (not the one who overfed his kids) bought four season tickets at the “New and Improved” Yankee Stadium just in time for the Yanks resurgence (he always had great timing).  Every time we went to visit them in Jersey we left with a fistful of tickets and parking passes.  Needless to say I was always primed for a run across the Hudson.  Flash forward to October of 1977.  The Yankees are in their second consecutive World Series and are leading the Dodgers three games to two and are headed back into the Bronx for Game 6.  I got home from 8th grade hoping I could get my bedtime extended so I could stay up to watch the whole game.  I rehearsed my speech in my head all day, but my mother cut me off in mid-beg.  “Do you want to go the World Series tonight?  Your uncle has tickets.”  After she peeled me off the ceiling, my Dad came home from work and we headed into the Bronx.


Unfortunately, the one thing we had failed to arrange was where to meet.  Now, remember, this is 1977, long before cell phones so we pull into the Bronx hoping to find my Uncle in a crowd of 50,000 tanked up Yankee fans.  Proving that God does indeed wear pinstripes (and sounds like Bob Shepherd), as we were headed past one of the bars underneath the subway on 161st St., we spotted my uncle across the street.  After we headed to our seats, I asked my uncle for the tickets stubs.  He handed them over, and for some reason I decided to look at them before stuffing them inside my program.  “Umm, Uncle Bill?   Two of the tickets are for Game 7.”  Not only had the good Lord arranged for us to beat the odds in finding my Uncle, but the Great Yankee in the sky also arranged for us to pick a gate manned by an usher who wasn’t too interested in checking our tickets. 


I then sat down, relaxed and watched Reggie Jackson put on the greatest individual performance in the history of the World Series. 


The Foul Ball


My friend Kyle had a great ticket connection and once a year he would come down from Syracuse with some friends and four of us would hit the Stadium.  The seats were front row behind home plate, three of them behind the screen, one was out in the open.  Like every baseball fan I have always lusted for a foul ball.  When I was a kid I went to every game with my glove and my father and I would always jump up whenever anything was hit within a hundred feet of our seats.


I knew that these seats gave me a great shot at a foul ball, all I had to do was wait for a tip and lean over the edge.  The four of us took turns in the open seat, and sure enough when it was my turn, Mel Hall tipped one in my direction.  My neighbor also had a shot at the ball, but all that experience commuting by subway served me well.  I hip checked my neighbor halfway to Macombs Dam and the ball was mine.  I was ecstatic.  High fives all around.  I headed out under the stands to find a payphone to call my father and tell him that I had scored a ball, fulfilling a family fantasy that dated back to his first visits to the Stadium in the ‘40’s. 


But as fate would have it my Mother answered the phone.  As best I remember it the conversation went like this:


Me:  “Mom, you won’t believe what just happened!!  I’m at Yankee Stadium and I just got a foul ball.  Is Dad there?”


Mom:  “I’m sure you also want to wish me a Happy Birthday.”


Me:  “Uhhh, yeah, I was going to call you for that too.”

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