Monday, September 22, 2008

Take Me Out to the Ballgame...

Last night Norman and I said goodbye to a old and dear friend. We didn't see her as often as we used to these last fifteen years or so and that made me a little sad last night. We try to made it down to New York City to see her at least once a year but this final year I'm sorry to say we missed saying goodbye in person.

My husband was born a Yankee fan. His dad and cousins growing up in Rochester and then later in Connecticut served as the foundation of not only his love of the Yankees but of baseball. Nothing brings Norm more pleasure than announcing to us how many days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training. Norm was there the day they honored Mickey Mantle and placed his plaque out in Monument Park. (I remember listening to that pre-game show on the radio.)

I should have been a born Yankee fan as my dad grew up in the south Bronx, just off the Grand Concourse and sold peanuts at Yankee stadium as a boy. Harry M. Stevens - the concession company that sold us mountains of peanuts, cotton candy, soda and hot dogs - there is nothing better on this earth than a hot dog at a ball park - my dad remembered working for him.

However, I grew up a Met fan. My dad may have worked at Yankee stadium, but he wasn't a big fan of the game, my mom was :-) My dad used to get tickets for the new team that played in Flushing - the Mets. I'll tell you more about them in another post because they are also saying hello to a new home next year.
But this is more about goodbyes. I used to tease people that I had a mixed marriage. I was a Met fan married to a Yankee fan and in New York, you are either one or the other. I had very little knowledge of the Yankee's when I met Norm. What I did know were distant memories of my childhood. When I was somewhere between 6 and 9 years old my dad took me to a Yankee game. We had great seats, right along the third base line, right in the first row! A friend of my dad's even gave me an autographed ball. I think Mantle played that day but he didn't do well. What I remember the most is that after the game, they let the fans walk out on to the field and cross over the outfield and walk out under the bleachers. I thought that was really cool. My only other early memory was seeing the New York Giants play in very cold weather in Yankee Stadium. Again, my mother was the Giants fan and my dad was just the ticket broker.

Fast forward to the early and mid 70's. Here I am married to this Yankee fan who says "Who?" whenever I ask what the Met score is! We managed to live in harmony through the 70's. We even went to one of the playoff games in the Reggie Jackson, Tommy John era. Norman and one of his grad school classmates drove into the Bronx just to buy tickets and a group of us trekked into the city on a cool and blustery Friday night and had 'nose bleed' seats. Last night they talked about the stadium rocking when a crowd of 60,000 get excited. Well, I can testify to that! We shook!

I had a bit of a Met's heyday in the 80's but I was coming over to the 'dark side' after 10 years married to a Yankee fan. You can get the Yankees on the radio almost anywhere in the US. "The New York Yankee Radio Network" - it's called, so for the next ten years or so, it was all Yankees all the time. The Mets became more of a fond distant memory and a lot of them migrated over to the Yankees, Tom Seaver, Doc Gooden, David Cone and many more. I began thinking of them as Yankees not Mets. Then in the late 80's early 90's we were living in New Jersey and for Norm's birthday I got him Saturday, season tickets - 13 games. We would pack a lunch or hit the deli and drive across New Jersey on Route 80, across the GWB (George Washington Bridge) down the Major Deagan and into the parking lot under the Degan and the Metro North line. We'd cross the bridge with the flutist playing the F-Troop theme (among others) with his case lying open with a buck or two of change in it.

We'd come down the stairs to the big metal bat, cross into the stadium and walk up the ramp to the greenest, most beautiful stretch of grass you'd ever want to see. The interlocking NY right behind home plate, the arched facade in the outfield and beautiful blue sky overhead.We'd attended a number of 'Old Timers' games over the years and very early in our lives they would always introduce Mrs. Lou Gehrig and Mrs. Babe Ruth. I rarely ever got a good luck at these ladies because they didn't come down to the field. They sat up in the owner's box and received the ovation their husbands would have. Last night, God bless her, Julia Ruth Stevens, Babe Ruth's 92 year old daughter threw out the ceremonial first pitch!Norm and I celebrated two very important events at Yankee Stadium. We were at a game in the summer of 1991 and after we got to our seats I got up to go the stadium store. I had something to buy. I came back and handed Norman the bag and a card. He opened the bag and found a little Yankee's onesie. He looked a little puzzled then opened the card that had a lion on the front and the sentiment inside said "Shhhh! you don't want to wake the baby!" I had chosen Yankee stadium to tell Norm that we were pregnant.

Fast forward six years. We had arrived back from China barely a month earlier, 40 days to be precise and we were back at Yankee Stadium with Alexa and my brother and sister-in-law and nephew. I managed to get this welcome request in...

It was a surprise more for Norman than Alexa. As you can see she was a little young at the time to know exactly what was going on!In the top shot she's being held by Maggie with Norman right in front and in the shot directly above she's sitting on favorite uncle Brion's lap wondering what cousin Joe and aunt Maggie have. She wasn't hugely impressed! We did manage to take Alexa to several more games over the years and even though she won't admit now, she did have a favorite player in the mid 90's - Paul O'Neill! She even flirted with an interest in Jason Giambi, but she'd deny it vehemently now.

So last night we sat there and watched the Old Guard, Yogi, Whitey, Larsen, the middle guard, Reggie, Willie Randolph, Chambliss, Nettles, Winfield, Mattingly, O'Neill, Williams and young guard, Pettite, Posada, Mariano and Jeter say goodbye to the House that Ruth built and that we have all come to think of as our home away from home. I wasn't sad until Jeter gave his thank you to the fans. I teared up a little during that. Norman, he cried through the whole thing. The pre-game honors and the post game celebration. Like Jeter said, we will carry our memories across the street next year and the fans will still do the roll call, ask for a curtain call and buy another hot dog and toast to the memories of old and the beginning of new ones.


Anonymous said...

Dear Donna,

I loved your post of tribute to Yankee Stadium's last game, and wonderful remembrances of the role the Yankees and Mets have played in your life. I am grateful for the Mets games I saw with you and your parents. And I admired the guts of Norm to wear his Yankee jacket in Red Sox territory when you came to visit in NH!

Barb in NH

Elisabeth said...

I've got an idea of how you can get out of your rut..write a book! (I'm writing this with tears in my eyes after reading your post...and it was about baseball!) I've never in my life been to a ball game, but I could just taste the hotdogs while reading this!

Chiara said...

great tribute. It is kind of sad to think of the house that Ruth built being demolished. I can't wait to get in the new citifield. I am a huge Mets fan.