At age nine, I was at the re-opening of the old Yankee Stadium on April 15, 1976 versus the Twins. I remember how steep the upper deck seemed and how the jewel of the Stadium's renovation -- that big "futuristic" centerfield scoreboard/screen (which was actually going to show instant replays!) -- didn't work. Dan Ford of the Twins hit a home run in the first inning. The Twins had the early lead, the Yankees came from behind and won it late. My Uncle Pat ridiculed me for peeling the cheese off his homemade sandwiches and hiding the slices under my seat.
I know I'm in the narrowest of minorities, but that 1976 opening game was the last time I was impressed by that Stadium. After attending a few hundred games there, by the time last season ended, I was more than ready to see it go. What a horrible place to see a game! Narrow rows and aisles, narrow seats (all aimed at second base), and worst of all corridors and vending areas that showed a supreme disrespect for fans. If you ventured out of your seat at that place, heading to a concession or a bathroom, you'd end up detained in dark, windowless cinderblock tunnels. Suddenly you were in Cell Block D. No fresh air, no natural light, and you couldn't see even a glimpse of the field while you served your sentence waiting for a $9 hot dog. For an open-air stadium, the place seemed to have incredibly little outdoor space.
A couple weeks ago, my wife ("S") and I went to the Friday night Yankees-Cubs exhibition game at Yankee Stadium*. It was the first baseball game played there, and it was as exciting as adulthood ever gets. The new ballpark is amazing. They did everything right. The sightlines are very good, and even in a sellout -- with everyone wearing heavy jackets -- fans don't feel packed-in like 55,000 conjoined siblings. Even though the overhanging tiers are gone (the new place opens up like a tackle box), the seats somehow feel lower, closer to the ground. But best of all: so much open space.
Behind the last row of practically every section is a handicapped-seating space and behind that... standing room. You can lean against these rails and at once be watching the game and finding food. The walkways behind the seats on every level are like plazas. You can stroll from vendor to vendor, from one concession to another, without ever losing a view of the green grass and the basepaths. And the whole time, it feels as though you're out in the open air.
Minor detail that means a lot: The outfield walls are midnight blue, matching the Yankees' caps and pinstripes. The new color makes everything look better. (Why were the walls at the old place royal blue?)
Major feature that means very little: Hard Rock Cafe. Open all year, and no view of the field. (Just like the HRC in Times Square!)
Feature that means more than you'd think: The facade/frieze that goes entirely around the structure. I shrugged my shoulders about this until I saw it. Cliché alert: It looks... majestic.
But that's not what I really wanted to write about. I didn't come here to review Yankee Stadium, as fun as that is to do.
I wanted to write about what I, personally, took away from the new ballpark that night a couple weeks ago. My first vivid memory. Like the cheese slices and the disappointing scoreboard burned in my mind from the 1976 opener, I will forever remember the April 3rd exhibition game as the night my wife and I held hands as we explored the new Stadium. The memory will be more about holding her hand than anything else.
I love being at games with S., and we've been to a lot of them together. I treasure every minute spent sitting next to her at ballgames. Camden Yards, Wrigley Field, Citizens Bank Park. We've been together since 1997, and we've had Yankees season tickets since 1999. When talking baseball, I regularly hear myself saying "S____ and I were at that game." It's important to me.
And we've seen some great ones together. A sampler:
September 10, 1999
vs. Boston Red Sox
Instead of just the two of us, this time we were a crowd: one of my future brothers-in-law, one of my future sisters-in-law, some friends of S's from work, and a handful of those others' significant others. Some of them Bosox fans. One of the best pitching performances I've ever seen, even though it went the other way. Andy Pettitte went six innings and gave up two runs. Nice enough. But Pedro, effing Pedro, was dealing. He hit the first batter he faced, Chuck Knoblauch, who immediately got himself caught stealing. In the second inning, the greatest Jamaican baseball player in MLB history, Charles Theodore "Chili" Davis hit a solo homer to right-center. Apart from those two at bats, Pedro Martinez owned the Yankees. He struck out 17. He got even better as the innings went on, fanning eight of the last 9 batters of the game. It was a complete game 1-hitter; only Knoblauch's HBP and Chili's HR foiled what might have been a perfect game for Pedro.
It was all over before 10 PM. The Red Sox, with a starting lineup of where-are-they-nows like Veras, Huskey, Buford, and Lewis, beat the Yankees 3-1.
1999 World Series
vs. Atlanta Braves
The only World Series-clinching game I've ever attended. The Yankees led by three runs for most of the game. When Roger Clemens came out of the game with two outs in the 8th, he'd given up just a run on four hits. He had gotten shelled against the Red Sox in the ALCS, so there was a lot of redemption in this effort. In my mind, it was the first time he felt like a "Yankee" to me. The strangest and most memorable moment of this night came immediately following the final out: Chad Curtis caught the fly ball that ended the game and won the World Series for the Yankees, and the players raced toward the mound to celebrate. I watched my favorite player, Paul O'Neill. He was running faster than the rest. But he never converged with the others. He was heading toward the dugout, his left hand shielding his eyes. I saw Joe Torre approach him and hug him briefly, then O'Neill bolted down the dugout steps and through the door to the clubhouse. I said to my wife (then girlfriend), "Did you see O'Neill?! He ran in. What the hell?!" We stayed at our seats watching the rest of the team celebrate on the field, near the mound. I can't remember if it was 10 minutes or 20, but after a while a message appeared on the centerfield message board reporting the death of Paul O'Neill's father early that morning.
Later, we moved down to field level for a closer look at Clemens, who was pacing the roof of the dugout and spraying fans with Champagne.
(Meanwhile, back home in my Brooklyn apartment, an engagement ring waited for our upcoming trip to Italy and my proposal in Rome.)
2000 World Series
vs. New York Mets
The first game of the first-ever Yankees-Mets Subway Series. It was a Saturday night game, and I had to work that day. Those tickets almost burned a hole in my pocket. The work was good, at least: I was shooting segments with Destiny's Child who were (in 2000) very cool, very easy-to-work with, women. Beyoncé and I got along well, and she kidded me about not taking her to the game.
The game was scoreless until the Yankees took the lead in the sixth, followed by a Mets lead in the seventh. The Yankees tied it in the 9th when O'Neill (who fouled off pitch-after-pitch before until he drew a walk) scored on a sac fly.
My wife had a short nap during the extra innings, but woke up before the Yankees won on a bases-loaded Jose Vizcaino single in the 12th.
Some wild things happened in this game. In the 4th, Todd Zeile didn't run out a foul grounder that rolled into fair territory. Scott Brosius threw him out by about 50 feet. In the 5th, Jay Payton never left the batter's box on a nubber into the dirt near home plate. Jorge Posada tagged him out where he stood. In the 6th, Zeile hit a double off the top of the left-field wall. Thinking it was a homer, Timo Perez trotted leisurely around the bases. Derek Jeter threw him out at home by about three or four steps.
I still tease S about her falling asleep for about an inning ("Who falls asleep during the extra innings of a Mets-Yankees World Series game?!"), but in her defense this was the longest game (by time) in Series history.
2001 World Series
vs. Arizona Diamondbacks
The first-ever World Series game played in November. Less than two months after the September 11th attacks, baseball was a comforting distraction. It's hard to tell, but it seemed like it meant something even to people outside of New York that there was a New York team in the Series.
When we got to the Stadium for Game 5, everyone was still talking about the previous night's game, which Jeter won with a walk-off home run in extra innings shortly after midnight. One of the guys sitting near us said, "Man, there'll never be another game like that." And then there was. We saw the Yankees shut down for eight innings. That was bad enough, but with the team losing and the final two games happening in Arizona, I knew this was the last time I'd see my favorite player in a game. O'Neill was expected to retire after the season. When the Diamondbacks made the last out in their half of the 9th, I stood up and said to S, "That's it, that was the last time we'll see O'Neill play." I was surprised when all 56,000 people stood up and chanted his name. Incredible.
Brosius came up in the bottom of the ninth with a runner on and two outs. He tied the game with a homer off the same pitcher Jeter had beaten the night before. The Yankees won it in the 12th inning with some small ball.
June 7, 2003
vs. Chicago Cubs
There was a lot of backstory for this game. The Yankees hadn't played at Wrigley Field in 65 years, since the 1938 World Series. (New York swept.) It matched up living legend Roger Clemens against Kerry Wood. Just shy of his 26th birthday, Wood was already looked upon as heir apparent to Clemens's power-K throne. He was just a rookie in 1998 when he tied Rocket's record 20 strikeouts in a game. Old guard, new guard. Teacher, student. Master, servant. It was all there. Oh, and also: Clemens was going for his career 300th win.
We had great seats, and sitting next to us was a very popular Cubs fan who took a liking to us. For much of the game, he very generously treated us to hot dogs, fries, popcorn, sodas, and beer.
In the 4th inning, Jason Giambi popped up to first, and Hee Sop Choi collided violently with Wood. The big guy was on the grass for a long time before an ambulance came to carry him off (double-click the photo).
After six-and-a-half innings, the Yanks were up 1-0. The Cubs had two hits and the Yankees just one. It was the Clemens-Wood battle I'd hoped for. Until the wheels came off in the bottom of 7th. Clemens put a couple guys on, and the Yankee relievers spent the rest of the game watching home uniforms circle the bases.
It was a memorable baseball road trip. A great city and a day game in a beautiful old ballpark, my wife and I, we were -- she was -- pregnant with twins. We'd been to the doctor that week for a check-up and he said everything looked great and "enjoy that trip to Chicago!" When we got back to our hotel after the game, S began to feel ill, so I think we skipped dinner to stay in the room and relax.
Back in New York a few days later we lost both babies to miscarriage on our third wedding anniversary.
When I look at photos from that weekend in Chicago, from a game and a trip we don't talk about anymore, I'm rocked by how young we look. We'll never thoroughly shake off the pain of that week, and the months that followed in 2003, but it was nice to see the Yankees/Cubs again all these years later, our two amazing sons comfortable at home while S and I walked hand in hand in a brand new park.
* Which many refer to as "The New Yankee Stadium." I think we should start getting used to dropping the "new."
[posted with ecto]