Monday, January 3, 2011

Feeling Nostalgic

I'm sick of talking about the Present.  I was reading an old Tom Verducci article about the closing of the old Yankee Stadium.  Every sports writer in the country found some inspiration in the death of the Cathedral of Baseball, but Verducci wrote from the point of view of the stadium.  It was an incredible piece of writing, my favorite in fact.  Now re-reading it, I am inspired to write about my own account of that day.

I wish I could tell you how many games I've been to.  The fact is, it's too many to count.  I was born and raised just a short drive or train ride from Yankee Stadium.  I've had every conceivable view of that field from the stands. I've played hooky from school to go to games, both with the permission of my parents and without.  I've sat in on double headers and waited through rain delays.  I spent so much time in that building, it quickly became a second home. 

September 21, 2008 started out like any other trip to Yankee Stadium.  I woke up early to eat a good breakfast and then donned my pinstripes.  I was going to the Game with 3 of my uncles.  Uncle Eddie (who would be driving), Uncle Ralphie, and Uncle Dante (who got us the tickets), would be picking me up shortly.  My father, Anthony, was supposed to be the fourth of the group but had passed the ticket along to me.  He said he felt I would enjoy the experience more than him.  How could I refuse? I was being handed a ticket to the last game Yankee Stadium would ever house. 

My pre-game preparations differed very slightly on this day than it would have been for just a normal game.  I pulled a Yankee t-shirt out of my drawer and put that on.  Next was the jersey selection.  I kept all of my jerseys in the closet in the spare bedroom.  Only official jerseys; if the player's name was printed on the back, it wasn't for me.  After all, you play for the name on the front, not the name on the back.  My choice today was simple.  Don Mattingly is my favorite all time Yankee, and there was no other jersey that was going to do for this occasion.  After Mattingly was resting on my shoulders, The Yankee fitted was the following step.  Also an easy choice, I always wore the same one.  I have a large collection but I only ever wear the navy blue official Yankee hat to the stadium.  It's the only one that I feel, belongs.  Finally, my Yankee pendant goes around my neck.  14 kt gold and black onyx.  Truly an Italian, Bronx guy. 

The difference today was what I did after I put on my Yankee pendant.  I went downstairs and asked my father if he would like me to wear his Yankee pendant today as well.  He liked the idea and ran to his bedroom to get it.  I don't like wearing multiple chains, but I thought it would be nice if my father's necklace could be at the last game with me.  This was like the baseball equivalent to getting a cross blessed in the Vatican. 

My Uncles picked me up around 10am and we headed up Fordham Road.  A left at the Grand Concourse and within minutes, we hit 161st Street.  We parked on the Concourse and walked down to the stadium.  161st Street is a large hill so you could see right into the upper deck from where we parked. 

It was a bright day so I stopped to buy some fake designer sunglasses and we continued on our way down from the Concourse.  Everything felt really normal about the day so far, or maybe I just wanted it to feel normal.  It just seemed like we were going to an average Sunday afternoon Yankee game.  My cousin, Jessica was working at Stan's Sports Bar that day and we were headed there first to say hello and have a couple of drinks.  We turned the corner onto River Avenue and all at once, it became real.  The truth of it was that we weren't going to an afternoon game.  That day's game wouldn't be played until after 8pm.  We were about 9 hours from first pitch and River Avenue was already a mob scene. 

We got to Stan's and I was able to do something I never had done before.  Just 19 days earlier, I celebrated my 21st Birthday.  So I bought a round for my Uncles and I.  We hung out for a while, keeping my cousin company and making friends with the other patrons.  No one seemed to talk about the elephant in the room.  No mention of the last game.  1pm eventually rolled around and we decided to venture into "the House that Ruth Built" one last time.  The normalcy of the day was gone now.  The wait to get into the stadium was about 45 minutes.  They had been letting people on the field but at this point that opportunity had eluded us.  We didn't mind, we were just happy to be there.  

We entered the stadium on the first base side.  We were sitting in section 18, box 274, row F.  That was the Main level on the third base side, so we took our time and slowly walked to our seats.  We walked outside so that we could take in the view of the field as much as possible.  When we got to our seats, we couldn't help but marvel.  Uncle Dante had done well for use, this was our view.

All around the stadium were signs fans had posted. One in particular, hit the nail right on the head.  The sign was posted in the upper deck, just behind home plate.  It read, "The House That Became A Home."  It had become a home alright, and it was good to generation after generation of Yankee fans.  

I was already so moved and the days events had yet to begin. In center field, the organization had put up a sign that told the crowd how many more games would be played in this magical ballpark.  On that day, the counter would not reach zero.  Michael Kay explained that because of our fond memories and because of the organization's traditions that would live on, there would always be baseball in Yankee Stadium. 
Another thrilling moment was watching them unveil the same pennant they unveiled on opening day in 1923.  But I have to say, the pre-game moment that was most amazing to me was watching Yogi Berra, all suited up, run out to his old position.   Being only 21 years old, I had never seen Yogi play, but I am a Yankee fan and I understand as well as anyone, the significance of having him back home.                                                                                                                        

The game finally started after what was the most amazing baseball ceremony I had ever witnessed.  Andy Pettitte took the mound.  He was the guy that everyone wanted out there.  But by the third inning, the Yanks were down 2-0.  They were already, missing out on the playoffs.  The stadium would go dark prematurely.  Us fans couldn't handle the idea of losing the last game played.  In the bottom half of the third, Jose Molina got aboard and so did Hideki Matsui.  Johnny Damon stepped to the plate and hit a ball to deep right field.  We lost our minds.  The ball eventually landed in the stands and the stadium was shaking.  Damon had given the Yanks a lead they would never relinquish.  In the fourth inning,  Jose Molina hit the final home run in Yankee Stadium history and some small ball in the seventh finalized the scoring for the night. Then, in the top of ninth at 11:41, Mariano Rivera threw the final pitch in the stadium's history to seal a 7-3 victory.

After the win, we watched the team take a lap around the field like the '96 team after the world series.  Then the captain took a microphone and addressed the sell-out crowd.  I remember looking at a kid who was sitting in front of me wearing a Derek Jeter jersey and as Jeter spoke, the kid began to cry.  The situation was all too much for me to handle and I began to cry just like a child. 

  Jeter said we have greatest fans in the world.  That's because we have the greatest team in the world.  

By the time we were all leaving, I was floating on a cloud.  We left through a gate that let us out directly across from the new mammoth that would replace our home.  I yelled at the top of my lungs as if it would answer, "you have huge shoes to fill!"  I parted ways with my uncles and returned to Stan's.  I wasn't ready for the night to end.  The celebration would need to continue because the next day, the stadium would be dark forever. 

Many people offered to by my ticket stub after the game but I refused to sell it.  In fact, one guy offered a trade.  I would give him my stub and $50 and he would give me what he had.

This was the liquor license for the original house that Ruth built.  I'm not sure how he got it but it was awesome to see.  I declined but asked if I could snap a picture, he agreed.  I went home early the next morning and I framed my stub. 

A little over a year later, my family's home burned down.  We lost just about everything.  When the fire fighters said it was safe to go back in, I went up to my bedroom on the top floor.  Everything was charred and soaking wet.  Nothing was salvageable from my bedroom, or so I thought.  I looked down at the floor and there seemed to be something shimmering on the ground.   It was a picture frame, shattered and smokey, but the contents unharmed.  On it read: The Final Season, The Final Game. Sunday September 21, 2008.  The ticket, for some reason, was completely unharmed.  It was dry, untouched by the fire and not so much as even creased.  That stub is what remains of the greatest day of my life and the greatest second home a kid could ask for. 

Special Thanks to Uncle Dante, Uncle Eddie and Uncle Ralphie for making that day so memorable.  It truly is a cherished memory.

And finally, a special thanks to my father.  If it wasn't for you dad, I would have never been able to go. 

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