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Yankee Stadium: A love story


This post is about Yankee Stadium, which yesterday saw its last ever Yankees game. But it’s also about memory, youth, and love.

I was born and grew up just a few blocks from Yankee Stadium. I can still remember being awakened as a small boy at night by the roar of the crowd when DiMaggio or some other home town hero hit one out of the park. (In those days, nobody in The Bronx could afford air conditioning, so on hot summer nights we kept the windows open.) When I was 6 or 7, my father enrolled me in the Stadium Little League, of which he was head umpire. We played in a park in the shadows of the House that Ruth Built, and my team, the Ravens’, uniforms had pinstripes.

Yankee Stadium. The low brown building at center is the Concourse Plaza Hotel

Many of the Yankees lived modestly in the Concourse Plaza Hotel (today, it’s welfare housing, I believe), which was 3 blocks from the Stadium. They weren’t the multi-millionaires modern ballplayers are, just working guys whose jobs happened to be baseball. I’d run into Mickey Mantle or Roger Maris in the streets, or standing in line to buy something at the candy store or bakery. Mantle had a mixed reputation among us kids. If he was in a good mood, you could ask for his autograph and he’d happily give it to you. If he was in a bad mood (for example, if he’d struck out 3 times in a game), look out. One time, he shoved me so hard, I fell down. Can you imagine if Derek Jeter shoved a 7-year old kid? He’d lose his job and probably end up in court.

I practically lived in the Stadium during the summer months, when my friends and I would buy bleacher seats (for 25 cents; the grandstand was 75 cents), then maybe go to the movies afterward at the old Earl Theatre, just half a block up 161st Street. Autographs were a big part of my life then. One day, I went down to the player’s exit. The cops had set up saw horses on either side, so the players could proceed to their waiting bus without being hassled by the fans, mostly us kids. One of the cops took pity on me — I was a cute little blond urchin — and asked if I wanted to go on the bus. I can still see the envious stares the other kids sent my way. I worked that bus for 15 minutes, getting pretty much the entire team: Whitey Ford, Don Larsen, Billy Martin, Phil Rizzuto, Bill Skowron, Hank Bauer, Elston Howard, Gil McDougald, Yogi Berra and, for about the sixth time, Mantle. When I walked home, I tucked that album deep into my crotch. There were kids who would have beat me to a pulp to steal it.

The 1950s was a great time to be a Yankees fan because they seemed to win the pennant or the World Series every year. My father, who was a Giants fan, didn’t like the Yankees, but then, the Giants played at the old Polo Grounds, just across the 155th Street bridge from Yankee Stadium at Coogan’s Bluff, so I spent a lot of time there, too. When the Giants moved to San Francisco, he was broken hearted, but never could root for the Yankees because he was a National League guy. So he transferred his affections to the Mets.

I’m glad I won’t be there to witness them tearing down the old ballpark. It would hurt, like having a wrecking ball smash through your dreams. I’d rather cherish my memories, where Yankee Stadium will always stand, and small boys will always play baseball.

  1. That’s a wonderful story. Particularly touching for me because I grew up without baseball or any sport that captivated me in this way. (The latter was due to my preference for burying my nose in books as a kid).

    It’s interesting how when something (building, place or thing) has so much of our emotions and memories vested in it, we make it somehow “ours” and have trouble letting go of it or moving away from it.

  2. Morton Leslie says:

    Steve, I know how important those memories are to you. To me Yankee Stadium and Wrigley are both shrines to baseball. Soon there will only be one. It will leave a big void that will be hard for me to get over. It’s always been a business, so maybe it’s just I am older and wiser, but it has lost the magic it had when I was a kid.

    I grew up in a town with only minor league teams, but thanks to TV your Yankees were my idols. In little league I batted both ways just to be like Mickey, but I held the bat like Steve Bilko, the star of the minor league Angels. After school it would be the bottom of the ninth, the team was depending on me, I (Mickey) would come to the plate, I’d toss the ball in the air and hit it across the 1/2 acre of lawn in our back yard (in my mind it nearly went out of Yankee Stadium), my dog would chase it while I circled the bases. Then with a gooey baseball in hand, it would be the bottom of the ninth again, the Yankee stadium crowd would be cheering, and again, the team would be depending on me.

    Then the Dodgers moved to town and I decided to become a hard throwing side-arm right hander and learned to hate those damn Yankees.

  3. Great post, Steve. Had no idea you’re a fellow (ex) New Yorker – no way to hear your accent via email. I have fond memories of the stadium too – of sitting in the right field seats and rushing to try and get a home run ball, my father pulling me back at the last second before I would have been crushed by the hordes ready to do the same. The bat day sometime in the 70’s when we left with the Yanks losing 9-0 only to have them come back and win the game, which we heard on the radio stuck in traffic. Crying when Thurman Munson died.

    But my funniest memory is parking next to the stadium where the building above it was a jail or mental hospital where the people in the windows would scream curses down on us, something that never failed to make my friends and I crack up.

    Thanks for taking me back…

  4. I hated the Yankees ever since the 61 Series, it made my second of life extremely stressful. Great read though. I remember as a kid how much more accessible the players were. I remember getting most of the Giants autographs and have guys like Gaylord Perry showing up at our PAL league games, but I suppose they could thank their drinking buddy/sportswriter friends for not sharing all the details. Ball Four changed that forever.

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