Friday, September 19, 2008

Memories of Yankee Stadium

Today's column is about Yankee Stadium.. but we will start with a trivia question about Shea. The answer is at the end of the column.

Back in 2006 when Endy Chavez made "The Catch"... what advertisement was on the fence right in front of where he leaned over to take away that home run. That sign was actually discussed in a column in this very blog 2 yrs ago.

Stadiums fascinate me. They are almost like a rock musician's ego booster. Here in New Jersey we are a bit spoiled... being the home state of the immensely talented Bruce Springsteen and the not quite as talented Jon Bon Jovi. (Good thing Trophy Wife never reads my blog - she wouldn't be thrilled with that comment, so we will keep this our little secret..:) Rock stars take to the stage at the big staduims and proclaim...."Look at me... I'm so popular I can sell out a stadium!". Other musical acts who are not quite as popular perform in arenas while others take their act to smaller venues.

I actually live near the new and improved Rutgers Stadium and it is pretty cool to drive past it during a game. The stands are positioned so that the fans appear to jut out almost on to River Road and as I drive by I see the fans cheering (well maybe not this season) and I can almost imagine them saying... "Great driving job Nate!... Great footwork on the gas pedal!"

This past Wednesday, I celebrated another birthday, and once again Trophy Wife was absolutely wonderful giving me a day filled with surprises. I was told to be home at 5pm at which point we departed for parts unknown. We first went to dinner at the most famous restaurant in New Brunswick and had an absolutely incredible meal. I'm not really a good food writer... but I will say that the meal was fantastic and well worth the price tag. After that I was led through the streets of New Brunswick... and right into the State Theater whose marquee did not display what show was on for that night. Trophy Wife picked up the tickets at the will call window, and held on to them and it was quite amusing that here I was in a lobby filled with people just minutes away from the curtain and I was the only person there who had no clue what I was about to see. Could it be the road show of Mamma Mia with another Pierce Brosnan musical performance?

Actually, it was the road show for NBC's Last Comic Standing featuring 5 comedians who had appeared on the show. The show was quite entertaining and you have to give stand up comics credit who perform in that type of setting since comedy clubs' ever flowing liquor gives the audience beer goggles that make the jokes funnier. The sobriety of Wednesday Night's audience forced the performers to work that much harder. After the show, I looked at the program and discovered that the show was co sponsored by The Stress Factory Comedy Club which meant that this tour had gotten so big - it had now graduated from comedy club to theater. Would an arena be next? Or a stadium in the future?

When I was growing up in the 1970s, it was interesting to watch as baseball teams opened new stadiums that were built to be filled by crowds of 50,000+ paying customers. The stadiums were "multi purpose"... which means they could also host NFL teams. However, now that we are 30 years past the 70s it seems as if the NFL's popularity has soared... while baseball has decided that the 70s style stadiums were designed in such a way that the fans felt "too distant" from the action, and the response has been a 21st century building of smaller more intimate baseball only stadiums. Sunday we will say goodbye to Yankee Stadium... and if the Mets make the post season, that tacky ol' Shea will close for good sometime in October. And if the Mets don't make the playoffs, they will close it on September 28th.

Today I will present some of my memories of Yankee Stadium. You will note that I have dates for most of the games, yet I did not keep the stubs nor did I keep a scoreboard. However I have discovered that if you have a good memory of certain events at a game, you can actually find the details of that day's game by utilizing a couple of excellent websites. I also noticed that I went to the Stadium a lot during my college years when my buddies were Yankee fans.. but I stopped going after graduating. I resumed in the late 90s when interleague play started... and then stopped going after I got married in 2004.

I believe my first game was actually a road trip organized by my former synagogue. Back in the 70s they used to have all kinds of youth group activities and I remember going there as a young kid although I remember nothing about the game except for the fact that we were way out there in the outfield and I really wasn't paying attention to what was going on. I also recall a Yankee Blue Jays game in 1998 that was organized by a buddy of mine and about 100 of his closest friends. He was dating a woman at the time who I met that day, and we are still friends to this very day! One of the girls there was drooling over the nice Jewish Blue Jay outfielder Shawn Green. As I recall, we were supposed to meet near the big bat, and that was the year Chuck Schumer was running for the US Senate. He was campaigning right near the bat, and some wiseguy got him a little flummoxed when he said... "Hey... your name is Chuck? What's that short for?"

Here are some other memories:

GAME 1 2000 WORLD SERIES - I include Game 1 of the 2000 World Series for Honorable Mention even though I was not there. It was the Jewish Holiday Simchas Torah and I trekked into the City for my annual tradition of attending services at Bnai Jeshurun. That year, I also went to the Carlebach Synagogue, where they were partying like it was 1999. As usual, they went to the wee hours of the morning. I hadn't been watching the time as well as I should have, and with the last train back to NJ leaving at 1:40 AM I had to forego taking a subway to find a cabbie that would get me down to Penn Station in time. As luck would have it, I could not find a cab anywhere although it was about 1:20 on a Saturday Night. Ultimately I found a cabbie who got me to Penn at exactly the time the train was set to depart. I ran like a maniac down the stairs to the departure board, found my track and ran like hell praying that the train would not leave without me because if it did, I was going to have to sleep in the waiting room with the bums. As I got down those steps, the train was there... and it was not pulling away! It had not left yet.. and it actually sat there for about another hour because thanks to Armando Benitez's blown save, the Met Yankee game went extra innings and the last train was not going to leave until all the fans were back from the game. The game went 12 innings and got the ball rolling for the Mets in the wrong direction. To this day I have never missed the last train, but that night was a close call, and if the Mets had better pitching than Benitez, this story and that World Series may have had a different ending.

RICKEYS FIRST GAME - APRIL 23, 1985. This was another extra inning affair that went 11 innings. I was in college and they were sponsoring a trip to the game so I hopped on a bus and figured, hey maybe I'll pretend to care about the Yankees and hook up with some hot babes. No such luck as far as I recall. It was Rickey Henderson's first game in NY after he had been aquired in the offseason by Oakland. He had missed the first few weeks due to an injury but that was the night he made his debut. He went 1 for 6 in a game that dragged on for 11 innings and I don't even remember if the bus left at a specified time or waited for the game to end.

THE "H" GEORGE STEINBRENNER INCIDENT - JULY 29, 1987. My buddy (I'll call him "H" in honor of the upcoming season premiere of CSI: Miami) got tickets to a Yankees Royals day game. We took his little sister and her young friend along with us... and off we went to a matinee game. H went to get a hot dog as soon as we got there, and the long lines and the scoreless duel that ensued found us in the 6th inning of a scoreless tie. And H still was not back! Where the heck could he have disappeared to for 6 innings? He finally came back nonchalantly with his food and was surprised how much of the game he had missed but he really didnt seem upset about it. The Yankees scored 1 in the 7th and 3 more in the 8th on Mike Easler's bases loaded double to win the game 4-0.

A few months later that summer a few of us took a road trip to Action Park aka Traction Park along with H. If you recall the water park, they gave you little lockers to store your dry clothing and each visitor was issued a little key to open the aforementioned locker. H's key appeared to not be working correctly, and he couldn't seem to open his locker. I could see he was getting very frustrated over the stupid little key and at one point he just kicked the locker and said..."God damn... that f'ing George Steinbrenner". Another buddy of mine who was with me looked towards me with the same puzzled look and in this moment of frustration over a malfunctioning key H finally came clean that he had been quite ticked off all this time at how poorly Yankee Stadium's concessions were run that he missed most of the game a few months earlier. All it took was a silly key to get down to the bottom of this.

CLEMENS STREAK ENDS - June 6, 1999. This was the first Met Yankee game I attended at Yankee Stadium... and I later decided I would not attend any of these game at Shea or Citi Field because I do not enjoy seeing my team booed at their home ball park. However, I did not find anything wrong with booing the Yankees at the Stadium. Clemens got the start for this one and came into the game with an incredible 20 game winning streak. But on that Sunday night's ESPN game, Nate booed and Clemens tasted defeat as The Mets knocked Roger out in the 3rd inning as they built a 7-0 lead en route to a 7-2 win. Piazza also homered off Clemens... perhaps that planted a seed in Clemens mind to retaliate. Too bad Action Park had closed down - I would have rather he threw a baseball at a locker instead of at Piazza's head!

THE MET YANKEE DOUBLE HEADER FEATURING THE CLEMENS BEANING OF PIAZZA - JULY 8, 2000. This was the first of what has now been three 2 stadium same day double headers. I went to both games that fateful July day with two seperate sets of friends! The first game was at Shea and the Yankees took former Met Dwight Gooden off the scrap heap to beat the Mets. Then it was off to the subway and a leisurely trip to Yankee Stadium. This was of course the infamous episode where Roger Clemens hit Mike Piazza in the head with a wayward fastball. This was before our cell phones had internet access, so we didnt really know how bad the injury was, and the buzz in the stadium was that Piazza was hurt so badly that he would be out for the season. As it turned out, Piazza was not quite that badly injured, but that game started the spark that led to Met fans anti-Clemens sentiment that carried on into the World Series and probably still continues to this day.

SINGLES GROUP TRIP AGAINST THE INDIANS - JUNE 3, 2001. I signed up to go to a Sunday Indians day game with a singles group that had an interesting twist. It was sort of a like a Big Brother Big Sister event where each of us singles was matched up with an under priveleged child who we would take to the game. My little brother didnt seem too interested in the game nor me for that matter and spent most of the time hanging out with his buddy, but otherwise it was a terrific event and it made the local Jewish paper too. I was actually interviewed for an article about the big brother aspect of the event, and I believe I said something along the lines of this was a great event for young kids since baseball played a big part of my youth and it was important for kids who don't have a lot of stuff to get an opportunity to get out to the ballpark so they will have happy baseball memories too. Andy Pettite who starts the finale Sunday took the loss in that game.

MY LAST TIME THERE - JUNE 27, 2003. Amazingly I haven't been back since that night when I went with Trophy Wife who is a Yankee fan and Pumpstradamus. Poor Pumpy was working in the city and they would not let him bring his work bag into the Stadium, and finding a place to leave it was quite a pain in the neck. One would think Pumpy could predict that this was going to happen. The Yankees jumped out to a 5-3 lead and held on to win 6-4. Amazingly Jose Reyes batted 8th in that game! Incidentally, I had a hard time racking my brain to get the year for that game... but luckily Trophy Wife saved the ticket stub which confirms that indeed was the last time I set foot into the Stadium. Pumpy is totally clueless about sports but we still had a good time despite the results and Trophy Wife's endless Yankee cheering. Pumpy's wife who is not a sports fan later made a terrific observation that baseball is a bunch of out of shape people eating junk food watching a game played by people in excellent shape.

MY HAPPIEST YANKEE STADIUM MEMORY - TOM SEAVER WINS 300 -AUGUST 4, 1985 - The all time best game I have ever attended! It was just a couple of months after the Rickey Henderson game. I had won tickets on WABC a few weeks earlier, and nobody at the time realized what a historical day this was going to be. I even made a banner that said "NY LoVES ToM" with the o's lined up and a 3 running vertically creating a 300. Off I went to the Stadium to cheer on Seaver... my favorite player at that time... as he went win #300 for The White Sox. It was also Phil Rizutto Day where The Scooter was knocked over by a live cow during the pre game festivities. As for the game, Tom went all the way for the win... We sat in the left field stands, but our view of the left field corner was obstructed so I actually did not see Don Baylor catch the ball to record the last out! But it was still quite a day seeing Tom Terrific win his 300th, even though it would have been nicer had he won it with the Mets.

Sunday Night will be quite a big night for the Big Ball Orchard in The South Bronx as Art Rust Jr. used to call it. A pre game ceremony will preceed the game featuring Yankee greats from the past including Bernie Williams, Reggie Jackson and Yogi. I saw on Newsday's Neil Best blog this week that 90something PA announcer Bob Sheppard will not be able to announce the game. In the Newsday interview, Sheppard said he had been sick since late last year, and that illness combined with his age has made him feel that he does not have the stamina to conduct his announcing duties. The interviewer said Sheppard sounded great on the phone. However, as we get closer to the ceremonial "first pitch", I would hope that Bob has enough energy to be driven to the game, and ride to the Yankee Stadium mound in a car and surprise the sellout crowd by emerging from the vehicle, walking up to a microphone on the mound, and announcing that Bob Shep pard Sheppard (echo effect) will throw out the first pitch. Is there anybody more deserving?

PUMPSTRADAMUS PICK OF THE WEEK - Last week Pumpie took a loss when he went against the Giants, and evened his record at 1-1. For today, we go to Yankee Stadium where The NY Giants played from 1956-1973. This week The Giants are 13 1/2 point favorites over the Bengals. Sayeth The Pump: "Since Little Pumpie is learning about animals and learned to say meow when he sees a pussycat, we will have to take The Bengals."

UNBIASED GIANTS FAN PICKS - Last week we went 2-1 to even things out at 3-3.

GIANTS 13 1/2 faves over The Bengals - I like the Giants, but the spread scares me. I think Cincy is going to cover.

GREEN BAY 3 doggies over Dallas - The NFL's incredible popularity should make for some interesting TV ratings results since this game will air opposite the Stadium finale.

Steelers 3 doggies over PHILADELPHIA - I'm going to a bbq Sunday at an Eagles fans house. Hope they don't cry on the hot dogs!

And the answer to the trivia question is - Endy Chavez caught the ball behind the AIG sign!

1 comment:

Neil said...

Sounds like Trophy Wife gave you wuite the awesome birthday. Happy birthday!