Barring a monumental collapse by a handful of superior teams, last night was the end for legendary Yankee Stadium — home to more than 1/6th of all World Series games.
I watched some of ESPN’s coverage of the occasion. The pregame broadcast had the distinction of being both haphazard (it ran on two different ESPN channels while overlapping with NFL Gameday, SportsCenter, and drag racing coverage) and absurd (sample Buck Showalter quote — “I think the word is etheerul”).
But not even ESPN could ruin what was undoubtedly a heartfelt goodbye to the House that Ruth Built. Old Yankee players like Reggie Jackson, Bernie Williams, and Yogi Berra had their go-rounds, and throughout the game there were dusty-eyed tributes to the ballpark.
I admit I was touched.
My parents are Yankee fans (both New York City natives, they had committed before the Mets even existed), so I spent a few afternoons at the stadium — often waiting for the rain to stop and hoping they’d get the game in. Here are three “firsts” I witnessed at the stadium:
The first time I saw pot. Back in the day, my parents weren’t the high-rolling Lexus drivers they are today. I don’t think my dad paid more than $9 for a baseball ticket until 2002, so most of my ballpark experience was from the cheap seats. During one game at Yankee Stadium, the whole family of five was perched in the nosebleeds when we all smelled something a little strange. My mother said — and this is a direct quote from at least 20 years ago — “Smells like someone’s smokin’ the funnyweed.” We looked down the row to our right and saw two guys sharing a joint. One was hispanic. The other guy was a skinny white stoner with a floppy hipster fro. You know, kind of like this guy.
The first time my brother paid a protection racket not to steal our car. I’m a little fuzzy on the details of this one. I can’t remember if the lot was in the stadium or nearby, and I can’t remember why my eldest brother had to go to the car by himself — maybe he was fetching our camera or something. But I do remember him coming back and telling my parents he’d been approached by a guy named “Ramon” (I think) who said he would make sure nothing happened to our car — for $20. My brother — 17 or so at the time — did the smart thing and paid up. New York was a little different in the 1980s.
The first time I saw a 400-pound man muscle an inside fastball 350 feet in the wrong direction. It was Tigers at Yankees, probably 1991 or 1992. Cecil Fielder was one of the most feared sluggers in baseball, and one of the fattest men to ever play professional sports. We had seats behind home plate for this game (not directly behind… more like behind and 200 feet up), and during one at-bat Fielder lumbered his giant ass up to the dish, tapped his shoes lethargically, and hit the most improbable home run I’ve ever seen. Had he refrained from swinging, the pitch may well have hit his belly button. Instead, Fielder was fooled, swung late, barely got his bat on the ball, and sent a moon-shot high into the second deck in right field. It wasn’t the greatest home run I’ve ever seen in person (that would be Mueller) or the most majestic (that would be Strawberry), but it certainly was… something.
I never visited Monument Park there. I never saw Derek Jeter play there. I never even cheered for the Yankees there. But like a lot of people, I’ll miss the place for my own reasons.
I think the word is “ethereal.”