Farewell Old Friend

As I am sitting here in Arizona watching the final game at Yankee Stadium (depressed that I am not there), I feel compelled to write about some of my memories of the cathedral of baseball. As a lifelong Yankee fan, I have probably been to over 500 games at Yankee Stadium since my father took me to my first game on August 3rd, 1985 where the Yankees beat the White Sox 8-4, including three World Series (and it would’ve been more but I was away in college), ten post season series and some of the most memorable moments in modern baseball history.

In that memorable game in the summer of 1985, I remember walking down the stairwell onto the field level and being amazed at how green the grass was and how big that field was. I remember demanding to climb to the very top row of the stadium and thinking it was the highest place on Earth. I was only six years old but I was in love. In that same game, my hero, Don Mattingly hit a home run in the third inning off Bill Long and Donnie Baeball had a fan for life and that six year old kid couldn’t have been happier.

A personal sidenote from that game is Oscar Gamble, a former Yankee playing for the White Sox at that time homered. Twenty two years later at the Yankees old timers dinner last year, Oscar was there and I introduced myself to him and told him that he homered at the first game I ever went to at Yankee Stadium. He looked at me and said, “Man, I wish you came to more of my games-I would’ve hit a lot more home runs!” I thought that was priceless and really made my night.

From 1985 until 1993, the Yankees were a bad team and never made the postseason. In fact, I remember going to games in the early 90’s when the Yankees actually lost over 100 games a year and the stadium had hardly anyone in it. That didn’t matter to me because I used to love sitting down the third base line near the foul pole because thats where nobody sat and it was my best chance to run down foul balls and home runs. I got four and still have each one of them and could tell you who hit each one.

In 1994, the Yankees finally turned a corner and had the best record in baseball when the strike cancelled the season and kept my beloved Yankees and my hero Don Mattingly from playing in the postseason. I was crushed, devastated and still haven’t got over my disappointment with that strike that nearly ruined baseball.

The following year, 1995, started a string of 13 consecutive playoff appearances for the Yankees, an epic streak unequalled in baseball history. They would go on to win four World Series, six pennants and numerous division titles and I was there for several of those games including a few unforgettable moments.

I was in the stadium for games four and five of the 2001 World Series against the Diamondbacks that would go down as the greatest World Series ever played. After September 11th, the city was in ruins and still coming to grips with what had happened. That 2001 postseason had some amazing memories leading up to the World Series including the infamous Derek Jeter flip game in Oakland. However, nothing could possibly compare to how the stadium shook to the core and lifted a city and a nation when the Yankees made back to back bottom of the ninth, two out, two run down comebacks with home runs on successive nights by Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius follwed by extra inning heroics by Jeter and then Alfonso Soriano. It made us all forget for a moment or two about friends lost in 9/11 and feel good again-it was incredible and very powerful and anyone who saw will never forget it. I remember after the Yankees won game five looking at Rudy Giuliani going nuts and I remember thinking it will get better for New York.

Again a personal sidenote, the night of game four of that World Series was October 31st, Halloween, and my grandfather passed away that afternoon. I decided that he would certainly want me to go the game and I am convinced to this day that he had something to do with the magic of that night and the following night. I remember walking out of the stadium with Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York blaring over and over on the loud speakers just thinking how amazing it was to have happened on back to back nights and how truly special Yankee Stadium is.

In 2003, I went to the stadium early in the day to try to scalp tickets to game seven of the ALCS against the hated Red Sox. This night was another of the greatest all time games but there is much to my memory than just the outcome. I ended up only being able to get two tickets for $250 each but it was me, my friend John and my friend Mike was coming to meet us after he got off of work. But there wasn’t another ticket to be found-anywhere. So when Mike arrived he was disappointed and just figured he’d go over to Stans and watch at the bar but I had other ideas.

We were standing outside the right field entrance where there is an outside bar that’s fenced off and it’s located right next to the concession entrance. So I grabbed a kid selling sodas and offered him $100 to borrow his uniform that my friend Mike could wear to sneak in through the concession entrance. Needless to say, it worked like a charm with the only thing left to do was find him a seat. The seats we had legitimately bought were literally seven rows off the field behind the Red Sox on deck circle and right in front of the Red Sox family section which included Nomar Garciaparras then girlfriend Mia Hamm. We snuck Mike in through all of the security and we stood cramped for the entire game but it was amazing as we taunted Hamm and the rest of the Red Sox people. Ironically, in the seat next to me I met my travel agent even to this day, Daria. The rest of that game is history as Aaron Boone hit that memorable walk off 11th inning home run off Tim Wakefield into a screaming sea of people and the Curse of the Bambino was extended for one more year.

Ironically, the only big postseason home games I’ve missed since 2000 were game six of the 2003 World Series where Josh Beckettt shut down the Yankees and the Marlins won the Series. I was miserable because I had a wedding in Philadelphia that night and my girlfriend at the time would’ve killed me if I missed it. I did manage to catch most of the game at the hotel bar and I was actually glad in the end because I would’ve been miserable if I was there.

The other game I missed was a blessing in disguise. For game seven of the 2004 ALCS against Boston, my friend Mike was given the task of scalping tickets to the game as I was at work and I had gotten the tickets the prior year. He called me and said he got tickets so I was naturally excited and he got them for only $200 which led me to ask if he was sure they were real. He assured me they were real and when I go there I took one look at them and said they were fake tickets. He disagreed, I said OK try to use them and of course they were fake. I was very unhappy and tried like hell to find other tickets but there were none. The rest of course is history as the Yankees got blitzed that night and became the first team to ever blow a 3-0 lead in a playoff series. I still blame A-Rod.

There are so many other great times, games and memories from the venerable ballpark but these have to be my top moments and I feel priviledged and extremely lucky to have been a part of them and a small part of the history of Yankee Stadium.

As I’ve gotten older, I have been fortunate to have met many of the Yankees former players and all stars at the annual old timers dinner that I have attended the last three years as my Uncle works for the Yankees now. Additionally, I’ve had friends play for and against the Yankees at the stadium and as you realize that ball players are real people and they come and go-the one constant has always been the Stadium. Each person that has ever attended a game there has their own story or memory and that’s why it’s special. I have been to many ballparks around the country and I could barely even tell you anything about them because none of them can compare to Yankee Stadium.

It is a special place with some of the best memories of my life having taken place there. As Joe Dimaggio famously stated, “I want to thank the good lord for making me a Yankee”. Tonight, we’re all Yankees and I feel like that same six year old kid back in 1985.

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  1. Very poignant, leelee.

  2. Lee, I am from the UK and was fortunate enough to attend one of those world series games in 2001 you wrote about. It was my first baseball game of any kind and I was treated to the best game ever. Your accounting of those games brought back great memories to me and I have not been back and I am glad such a big supporter such as yourself can really appreciate the same memories.

  3. great post, thanks for sharing…go Yankees!

  4. great scene last night-I was there and will never forget it.

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