End of an era

Tonight is the last ever game in Yankee Stadium.  Anyone who knows me knows I’m a baseball fanatic.  (I surpassed basic fan-dom when I went to Phillies Baseball 101 for the third time and stood in line for two hours at the Phillies Phestival.  Every year for three years.)  I like football but baseball is in my blood. 

I’m emotional by nature (if you’re going to write fiction, it helps to be able to empathize with people who are different from you), but when that thought occurred to me this afternoon, I felt like I wanted to cry.  My grandfather was 13 when Yankee Stadium was built, and my grandfather died 11 years ago.  I saw my very first baseball game at Yankee Stadium.  Ron Guidry started, and Goose Gossage came in in relief.  I watched Reggie Jackson hit a home run.   The Yankees won.  That was the day my blood turned pinstripe blue. 

I’ve been to Yankee Stadium a few times.  I had no idea what was ahead of me when I got tickets to the bleachers.  I saw Bald Vinnie and heard my first Roll Call.  (Watch this if you don’t believe me.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NCcuawqy9D0&feature=related ) I cried when two hulking men stood in the 7th inning and held up a flag between them as Kate Smith sang “God Bless America”.  On another trip, I got to see Monument Park, and I touched the Babe Ruth memorial in the same place where Roger Clemens touched it before every start.  I felt the history of the place surround me like a warm, breathing coat.  I’ve seen the Mets and Yankees fans fight each other in the stands, to the point of drawing blood and mustard.  (Don’t ask.) 

I’ve seen my husband’s name on the scoreboard when I let the staff know in advance that it was his birthday.  We went with some good friends, Chris and Leslie.  John and Chris have been friends since childhood.  Chris’ birthday is in June, John’s is in July; we were going in June.  Leslie asked me to arrange for the birthday shout-out, and I figured I’d send up John’s too.  I told John I’d gotten Chris’ name put on the board, and I told Chris I’d gotten John’s name on the board, but they each thought it was a secret for the other.  When John’s name showed up in the BIG lights, he was shocked and Chris thought he was in on a really cool surprise.  Then Chris’ name showed up and John high-fived him.  Right in front of my camera.  Fortunately Leslie got a great shot of both names, and we now have an 8×10 we’ll prize forever. 

When my youngest was being born, the Yankees were playing the Texas Rangers.  It was October 2nd, 1996, and the Yankees were behind by a run, with two outs, two men on, and Bernie Williams coming to bat.  My OB sat in on the game and I said, “If he hits a home run, I’m naming this kid Bernie.”  Guess who hit a home run to give the Yankees the lead (and they eventually won)?  He wound up being named Alex instead, but some day I’ll name a character Bernie in Bernie Williams’ honor.  That fall when the Yankees won the Series, I told both my boys, “If they win again next year, I’ll take you guys to the victory parade!”  And they won again the next year, but we didn’t get to go.  A few years ago, when the Yankees came to Philadelphia to play the Phillies–I wore a Yankees cap and a Phillies shirt–Bernie stood in right field, not far from our seats.  I told Alex the story of my promise as he was coming into the world, and then I cried. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Phillies, and if the Yankees played the Phillies in the Series, I’d have to root for the Phillies because the Yankees have 26 World Series championships (hear that, Red Sox fans?  TWENTY SIX!  Got hardware?) but the Phillies have only one, and the Phillies’ franchise is older.  But Yankee Stadium is a piece of history that nothing on earth can duplicate, not even the “new” Yankee Stadium across the street.  (I can’t fathom what parking is like in that area now.  It was difficult before but I bet now it’s impossible.)  I pray the powers that be aren’t considering tearing it down.  You can move Monument Park but you can’t move the heart of the Yankees.  There’s nothing on earth exactly like The House that Ruth Built. 

A few years ago, we got up early on a Sunday morning in March and watched as Veterans Stadium was imploded.  The Vet was a baby compared to Yankee Stadium, but it saw its share of history.  As the dust settled and blew in the morning breeze, my husband and I watched some of it drift ghost-like over to the new ballpark.  At first I thought, “No!  That’s the evil spirits of the Vet, invading our new ballpark!”  But since the Bank opened, the Phillies’ record has improved with each year.  As of right now they’re in the thick of the chase for the NL East pennant for the second year in a row.  I don’t know if it has anything to do with the new ballpark or the ghosts of the Vet making themselves at home in CBP, but I can only hope and pray that the ghost of Ruth makes himself comfortable in the New Yankee Stadium next year.

This is the first time in my sons’ lives that the Yankees didn’t get to the postseason.  Not that they care about baseball, but since they’ve been alive, they’ve never known a year when the Pinstriped Posse didn’t play in October.  It’s heartbreaking to think that today will be the end of an era.