Friday September 26, 2008 The Blogster has received a number of inquiries, from within and without Connecticut’s political firmament, about what it was like going to that third-to-last game at Yankee Stadium on Friday,September 19.
Since I’m up in the air about ever going to the new stadium, maybe writing down some of the events will frame the past and forge a path to the future, which I imagine will include a chance for Manny Ramirez, Washington Heights’ baseball savant, to finally meet his pin-striped destiny.This story starts and ends with the thick five-by-eight-inch“Baseball Writers Association of America Official Scorebook,” which someone (former CT Post Sports Editor Mark Faller? Post sportscolumnist Chris Elsberry?) bought for me from Jack Lang of The Daily News, then the association president, in 1988.
The once-white cover is stained from years of pencil mostly. In a couple pages there are telltale mustard marks.One of those early pages, back when I was still naive enough to use pen, has the smear on the Dodger lineup from the October 9, 1988 NLCS game at the big Shea, from when Gary Libow, a former CT Post and Hartford Courant reporter, made a lame lunge at a foul ball that was no where near us, knocking over my beer.It was the night Kirk Gibson hit that homer over the Charles Chips sign in the 12th and the Mets wasted back-to-back homers by Strawberry and McReynolds. Richard M. Nixon sat behind the LA dugout that night, the scorebook notes say. Dwight Gooden ran out of gas in the ninth and gave up a game-tying two-run homer to Mike Scioscia.That was the 13th game in the scorebook.
The first was a May 27,1988 game the Mets lost to the Padres that I attended with my highschool buddy Allen Glucksman. The scorebook is up to 152 games now,with room for about another 30.It now includes page after page of attendance pools, folks who went to the various games, locations we sat, notes on special defensive plays and weird marginalia, such as the night I first heard someone in the bleachers call out to Minnesota Twins’ Hall of Famer KirbyPucket that he looked like “Spuds McKenzie” the former canine beer hawker.On April 25, 1992, the anniversary of Babe Ruth’s first appearance asa Yankee in 1922, our seats in Main Box 272 were $14.50 each. The attendance was 15,949 and McGraw Hill editor John Kosowatz won our pool. The Japanese cherry tree at the monuments to Yankee greats was flowering bright pink that day.
The day after Jerry Garcia died, August 10, 1995, I was in the bleachers with Kosowatz, Faller and Joe Militano when Yankees catcher Mike Stanley hit three consecutive homers against the Indians,including a 430-foot grand slam, but John Wetteland lost it in the ninth and the Yanks went down 10-9. Mickey Mantle was on his deathbed then and three days later, he died.It was a nice day so they played two, but the Tribe won both.
In the second game, Daryl Strawberry hit his first Yankee homer and Bernie Williams ended the game by taking a called third strike.
The guiltiest I ever felt, as a borderline Bleacher Creature waybefore the early game “Rollcall” was invented, was one time when Williams, who must have hit a homer (I can’t find the game right now) doffed his cap to us. I noticed he had a freshly shaved head and I stupidly yelled “nice haircut” and he sheepishly, sensitively put the cap backon.
There are little stories that can be dredged up from nearly all the games I’ve seen over the years where the scorebook has gone: the last three games in Cleveland before the demolition of Municipal Stadium;the occasional journey to Shea; my only trip to the Orioles old stadium; the couple games I saw at the old Tigers Stadium.
Anyway,as we say when we can’t think of a transition paragraph,last Friday I took a day off from covering the state Capitol and drove down to the Bronx. I didn’t have a seat and was daunted,noting a seemingly endless string of 55,000 crowds even though theYanks were going to miss the playoffs for the first time since 1993.I couldn’t break a record going back to 1976, of attending at leastone game each year at Yankee Stadium
.I got off the Major Deegan at Fordham Road, drove east a couple blocks and parked in a 24-hour lot ($10) to avoid the horrible post-game getaway that exists now around the Stadium. I walked a couple more blocks, then up to the elevated platform for the 4 train,which about six stops later, let me off at 161st St.
The first thing I saw was the new stadium, a doppelganger of an edifice, literally across the street from left field, where a crew was hoisting the blue “YANKEE STADIUM” at that very moment on the roof.
I walked down to the quiet, late-morning sidewalk outside centerfield. Stan’s Sports Bar – called Stan’s Sportsman way back when we started frequenting it in the late-1970s– was shuttered, along with the row of souvenir shops that would bustle with commerce five short hours later.I walked around to the Yankee box office located in the vicinity of the Yankee dugout. There were maybe 10 people in the pedestrian concourse. A 60ish loiterer asked it I wanted to buy two tickets. I was flying solo, with about $150 in my pocket and declined.I figured the THIRD to last game would be a lot easier to get into than the final two, but still, the signs in front of the two windows said that night’s game was sold out.
I read the bad news, spun on my heel, walked a few steps away, then figured it never hurts to ask.“I can read the sign,” I told the young man behind the window, “but I’d like to know if you have any returned tickets for tonight.” He said yes, how much did I want to spend? “Ah, 40 bucks,” I replied.He clicked his keyboard for about 30 seconds, then replied that I could have a seat for $100. I gulped and asked where.
He pointed to a main box, section 211, gate three, practically behind home plate, the best seat I have ever paid for. I said okay, and gave him the Amex card. The grey ticket had a tan logo of the front of the stadium with the numbers 1923-2008 on it.I jammed it in my wallet, put the wallet into a front pocket of my black jeans, and got back on the subway for Manhattan, where I spent the afternoon among Louise Bourgeois’s sculptures in the Guggenheim Museum.
About 4:30, I walked back to the 86th Street subway stop, but first paid a sentimental journey to Papaya King, for a 16-oz papaya and two hotdogs for $5.49.It was rush hour and the train was packed, with a fair number of people in various types of Yankees garb scattered throughout the car.
A few minutes later, I extracted myself and backed out onto the 161st Street platform.The sidewalks were now jammed with people browsing for all-thingsYankee. I headed for Stan’s, which was hopping and ordered a 24-ounce St. Pauli Girl, which cost $12. I took a swig, then pulled my 30-year-old wool pro-model Yankee hat from my little bag and put it on.
The bartenders were a little greyer but they were the same guys who’ve been there for years. For that matter, every patron over 40 looked familiar, too.
I flashed back to the late 1980s and early to mid-1990s, when our location of choice was the centerfield-most part of the rightfield bleachers, where we’d see the same people sitting in the same seats every game. It was way before assigned seats and even SEASON TICKETS for the bleachers.
The blogster got to his seat as the Orioles were in the middle of their batting practice. In front of the RF bleachers was a sign: “AIGThe Strength to be There.” Behind the bleachers was a big Bank of America sign.
In the row in front of me was the gorgeous wife of Ivan Rodriquez,the late-season addition to the lineup from the Tigers, a 13-time Gold Glove catcher,filling in for wounded Jorge Posada.
Next to me was the wife of homeplate umpire Daryl Cousins. I was in the family section. A rookie named Brett Gardner probably saved the game for pitcher Carl Pavano in the top of the 4th, when he ran into centerfield the wall and stole a Luke Scott shot that was heading over the fence.
Out over left field, where the AL East flags were arranged in order –in front of where the moon rose around 9:55 – the third-place Yanks’flag was the only one wrapped around the pole and obscured from identification.
In the top of the ninth, Derek Jeter made a run into the hole for a lead-off grounder and unleashed a patented leaping throw for the out, 6-3.Everyone stood as Mariano Rivera gained his 37th save. The Yanks won3-2, in their 6,578th game at Yankee Stadium.