Trying To Get To You

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Some Reflections On Yankee Stadium

Music has been and remains an obsessive love in my life. But before music, there was baseball. Specifically, my obsession was the New York Yankees. I’ve been a Yankee fan for over thirty years, and last week, walking into Yankee Stadium for what I believe will be the last time, I couldn’t help but reflect a little on a place that has been one of the constants of my life.

I went to my first game in June of 1977. I was six years old and had just moved to New Jersey from Connecticut with my Dad in April. My Mom had had died in March and between that and starting a new school, I was in a very quiet state of shock. Baseball was my one love that kept me tethered to something else besides all the sadness I was experiencing. I had been a huge baseball fan before, but at some point that spring, I invested my rather intense emotions into a team – and for whatever reason (I think it was because I loved their uniforms more than the Mets), I chose the Yankees.

Each morning that spring and summer, I would run downstairs and grab the New York Times sports section to see how they did the previous day. If they won, I was thrilled. If they lost, I was crushed, even to the point of tears. I took it all like a matter of life and death. The Yankees made for great drama that year – it was Bronx Zoo turmoil just about every day, with characters like Reggie Jackson (who I loved), Billy Martin (who I couldn’t stand), Thurman Munson (who I adored so much I named the scar I had recently gotten after him), Sparky Lyle, Graig Nettles and more – and they were competing furiously for first place with both the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox, who my father, being from Boston, rooted for.

So sometime in June of ‘77, my Dad and I trekked in from New Jersey to see my heroes play the Minnesota Twins. What I remember most from the day is walking out of the tunnel and seeing, for the first time, that enormous expanse of green field. It seemed like it went on forever - the biggest thing I had ever seen in my life. I was in awe. It was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen and the players seemed like Gods. I was utterly enraptured with the place. Do I remember the game? No. I do remember that the Yankees won, so I went home happy.

That was the beginning of a thirty-one year relationship for me with Yankee Stadium. I’ve seen some incredible games there; Old Timer’s Day 1978, where a recently fired Billy Martin was brought back to a standing ovation, and an announcement that he’d be managing the Yankees in 1980 (I was devastated and the crowd was thrilled – one of my first experiences in being completely at odds with the crowd, not to be the last); a thrilling September 1978 game against the Red Sox, with Ron Guidry pitching a two hit shutout and the Yankees winning 4-0 (I was cheering and my Dad was cursing in the seat next to me); Game 2 of the Divisional Series against the Mariners in 1995; Aaron Boone’s pennant-winning homerun against the Red Sox in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. I’ve been lucky to see some incredible games and amazing ballplayers. It’s a privilege to witness greatness, no matter what the medium.

But walking into the Stadium last week, I felt no great sense of sadness, or even nostalgia. It’s a ballpark, not holy ground (despite what anyone says), and to be honest, they screwed up the place when they renovated it in the mid-70’s. (The original Yankee Stadium - now THAT was grand.) But most of all, I realized that I’m not a kid anymore, and that while I still love baseball (and the Yankees), it is, after all, just a game.

Next year, there will be a new Yankee Stadium, modern, with all of the amenities, and tickets will be outrageously expensive. I look forward to going. But it’s not life or death anymore. I guess that’s growin’ up.

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