Sunday, September 21, 2008

Almost forty-seven years later...

One of my favorite authors, Ken Dryden (I wrote an early blog about him and his books) once was interviewed about the closing of Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto after something like 70 years of tradition, and what it would be like to head for the new Air Canada Centre down the street. He started by saying that endings were always a little sad, and beginnings were always a little scary.

Dryden always was smarter than the average goalie.

This is the obvious day to think about endings in American sports, as one of the cathedrals, Yankee Stadium, is closing tonight. Plenty of trees have fallen to be turned into paper to pay tribute to this Grande Dame and the events that have taken place there in the past few months.

Mike Harrington wrote a charming piece in The Buffalo News today about his experiences today. That got me to thinking about the few times I've been in the building. And a light bulb went on.

Remember Roger Maris' 61st homer in 1961 that broke Babe Ruth's legendary record for homers in a season? I was there. And it's very possible that it was the first time I was even in the building.

My family moved down from Massachusetts to New Jersey in the middle of 1961. My parents were raising me correctly, teaching me character by rooting for the Red Sox of that era. (I never converted to the Yankees in that time while living in N.J., although I did pick up an affection for the hapless Mets of that decade.) In early October, the Red Sox were hopelessly out of the playoff race, and from what my mother recalls we literally decided that weekend to go into New York and see the Red Sox play the Yankees on the final day of the regular season. Walked right up and bought tickets.

The Red Sox lost that game, 1-0. It wasn't close to being sold out. The record wasn't a big deal as the commissioner had ruled Maris wouldn't get credit for the record unless he did it in 154 games instead of in the newly expanded 162-game schedule. (Ford Frick, the commissioner in question, by the way was Babe Ruth's biographer. No conflict of interest there.) So even though the most famous record in the game was about to fall, and even though the Yankees were involved in a pennant race throughout the season, the stadium was less than half-full.

I made a few other trips to Yankee Stadium during my years in New Jersey, including an old-timers day trip around 1964. I think Joe DiMaggio was in center field. But I can't be sure if that October day in 1961 was my first trip to Yankee Stadium. No one in the family would remember that detail at this point, and at a few weeks short of age 6 I wasn't taking notes.

But if that was my first game there, it was a tough act to follow.


John Fraissinet said...

And, a sportswriter was born.

Anonymous said...

I went to Yankee Stadium just one time, but it was certainly memorable. I had gone from the Greater Boston area to an Amnesty Int'l Concert at Giants Stadium in June 1986, and my friend and I realized that the Red Sox were playing at Yankee Stadium the next day.

Roger Clemens (eventually would finish 24-4 and win Cy Young #1) was scheduled to pitch against Ron Guidry. We got into the Stadium a bit late and entered into the very top deck area where we could finally see the field of play from way above the 1st base dugout. As we emerged the Red Sox had a runner trying to go to from 1st to 3rd on a single. Way below us, Dave Winfield fired a strike from right field to gun down the runner at 3rd, and the huge crowd spread around and below us erupted into a roar that still echoes in my ears when I remember it.

We made our way around the top deck to seats high up on the 3rd base side where we quietly settled in among many local fans. I had my Sox cap on, and cheered decidedly for the Sox to the chagrin of many around me, but they mostly contented themselves with harassing me and the Sox (while the Sox built up a heady lead in the game).

There was, however, a particularly vociferous Sox fan with full sportswear regalia and accessories a bit below us in the upper deck. As Yankee fans got more frustrated (and inebriated) with the score (Sox won 10-1), and as the Sox fan got more vocal, the Yankee fans decided to take action. Piece by piece they removed Sox accessories and articles of clothing, and threw them to seats below. Fans below would pick them up and continue to throw them downwards, and many eventually made it all the way down to the lowest section of fans.

Ultimately the Bosox fan was left with just his shoes socks, pants, beer, and little else, but he happily went along with the process, repeatedly yelling "Go Sawx" and "look at the scoreboard!" Very funny....