Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A last father-daughter trip to Yankee Stadium

I made my last trip ever to Yankee Stadium last night, and it brought back memories of my 25 seasons of watching baseball at the game's greatest ballpark.

It was also a night that had the potential to be a moment for a father and his daughter to share a special memory. That part was not to be - but we'll get to that.

Most New Yorkers have their own special memories of Yankee Stadium.

There's Reggie Jackson's three homers in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series.

Roger Maris' 61st home run in 1961.

Lou Gehrig's last day at Yankee Stadium and his long-remembered speech.

Also not to be forgotten are Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series, and other, more-recent, no-nos by David Wells, Dave Righetti, Doc Gooden and Jim Abbot.

But last night, in recalling my trips to Yankee Stadium while sitting in those blue seats one last time, I found that - other than Don Mattingly Day (which honored the only Yankee I ever really liked) - all of my Yankee Stadium memories are Tribe related.

The details are a little fuzzy and these are in no particular order, but my most-vivid memories of being at Yankee Stadium are quick blips of rather unremarkable occurrences, especially when compared to the huge moments that have made the stadium so rich in history.

I recall an afternoon game, for instance, sometime in the 80s after I had moved to NY from Cleveland. Brett Butler came to the plate with the go-ahead runner on base either in the 9th inning or in extra innings, put up an at-bat that had to be about 13 pitches long and then lashed a single up the middle for what would be the game-winner. The game meant little in the standings, but the memory remains fresh for me.

I remember a newly promoted Manny Ramirez, taking his first cuts as an Indian, lashing hits all over Yankee Stadium.

I can also recall going to an early-April game at the stadium in the early 90s. My parents were visiting from Cleveland and my dad and I went to the game.

My dad was already a bit frail, at too young an age.

On this night, the intermittent rain was as cold as ice. My dad's hands were shaking violently from the cold, but he insisted we stay - because he knew I wanted to.

We left midway through the game but stayed long enough to see a young Jim Thome loft one high into the upper deck in right field. About 30 seconds prior to that my dad said something like "everybody says this guy is going to be so good, but I don't like him much."

Dad - who came to his interest in baseball late in life - was not such a great judge of talent. But he was a great dad.

I can also recall, in roughly the same time period, a newly recalled Russ Branyan slam a line drive that hit the facing of the middle deck in right field at the stadium - taking about a second and a half to travel from home plate to the seats. He sure can hit, when he can hit.

I can remember some pretty majestic shots against the Tribe as well, not the least of which came off the bat of someone you would not expect.

It was a night game in 1987 - Indians and Yanks. Steve Carlton - in the getting-lit-up-every-night stage of his career - was pitching for the Tribe and was heading for trouble. The pitching coach at the time - whoever it was - came out to talk with Carlton who nodded dismissively. Seconds later, Yankee catcher Joel Skinner (yes, that Joel Skinner) launched a slop ball (probably Carlton's diminished fastball) so high and so far into the black, batter's-eye seats, that it nearly hit the back wall of the stadium in center field.

While I don't remember any single game or hit that stands out, I had the vague recollection that Brook Jacoby, the Tribe's 3B in the 80s did a lot of damage at Yankee Stadium. In looking it up, I find I was partially right - Jacoby had a .303 lifetime average against the Yanks, his highest BA against any team, But he also had an unremarkable 8 homers and 42 RBIs in 107 games lifetime against NY.

The Stadium, as we all know, has a reputation for rowdiness - well-deserved in the 70s and 80s more so than now, though it still has its moments.

One of those "moments" I happened to be there for:

Throw-Your-Yankee-Mini-Bats-At-Albert Belle Night.

That was the night the field was evacuated by the Tribe until they could be assured that that lovable left fielder could get through the rest of the game without that night's giveaway striking him repeatedly about the head.

Then there is the ever-present menace, which I have experienced in every one of my 25 years of attending ballgames at Yankee Stadium: Drunken 22-year-olds, not sober enough to even control their ability to speak, putting their nose to my face and spitting out "Cleveland sucks" just because I happened to be wearing a Tribe cap. That happened virtually every time I went to Yankee Stadium with my cap on, even when the Indians were not the opposition.

Then there was the one day that was - hands down - my single worst day at Yankee Stadium.

My town, in the northern suburbs, was sponsoring a trip to Yankee Stadium, again sometime in the 90s. The Tribe was the opposition that day and I showed up for the pre-bus-ride picnic dressed in my Tribe jersey. The folks from the town had their fun with me and we headed off to the game.

It was well into the 90s outside, and the humidity was up there too. One of the most uncomfortable weather days I can remember. That was the least of it.

Pretty much before I could down my first Coke, the Tribe was down by about 16 runs. The fans around me (not the ones I came with) were brutal - one peppering me with pieces of hot pretzel (WITH MUSTARD). About 19 and a half hours later, the game ended, the Tribe lost 20-something to 1 and I vowed never to return - a vow I kept until the next time I got my hands on some tickets.

My final trip to Yankee Stadium will be memorable to me for what didn't happen.

My 17-year-old daughter has idolized Derek Jeter for her entire baseball-watching life. They came to the Yankees together in 1995. Jeter as a rookie player and Katy as a six-year-old fan. She has been starstruck for Jeter ever since.

The first "real" book Katy read from beginning to end was Jeter's autobiography. And her room is a shrine to the Yankee SS. (Those of you with daughters in Cleveland, think Grady Sizemore.)

As you can imagine, Katy was thrilled when she learned on Sunday that Jeter had tied Lou Gehrig for most career hits by a player at Yankee Stadium. She was happy that Jeter tied the record, but thrilled that we had tickets for Monday night - the night he could (in her mind, would) break the record.

Her new digital camera in hand, my daughter snapped a shot of every single pitch thrown to Jeter last night - pitches that would result in 2 Ks, a pop out to 3B and a screaming liner that found its way into Orlando Cabrera's glove.

After the eighth-inning pop out, and with the Yanks up by two, the writing was on the wall. My daughter and Derek's brush with history was not to be. Her silence all the way home was deafening, and sad.

There are times, as a father, when you have to step in and make things right.

There are times when you know you could step in, but you also know it is better not to.

And then there are times as a dad when you just don't have the power to make it happen.

Last night was one of those times, and our shared father-daughter memory was not to be.


the moose said...

great post Ron

going off to boston this weekend for a cliff lee / john beckett matchup and my wife and I wearing indian shirts - lets see what happens

Ali said...

Brought tears to my eyes -- you need to save this one for Katy -- she will cherish it forever! She will realize one day (probably when she is around my age) that being there with Dad is more important that Jeter breaking the record...