My Little League team ended their season with a trip to go see the pros in action. My parents were never ones for traveling outside our suburban city limits and so this would be my first Major League Baseball game. Growing up as a Mets fan, I was upset that my first game would be at the hated Yankee Stadium.
My dad tried to get me excited: “You could always root for the Orioles!”
“Dad, we’re sitting in the bleachers! We’ll get murdered!”
Not only was my Irish-immigrant father not a baseball fan, he knew little about the sport in general. My mother taught me baseball, a crazy New York Giant fan she grew up around games at the Polo Grounds and Ebbetts Field. Hampered by illness, she couldn’t go with me, so I was stuck with Dad.
What happened upon entering the stadium though was indeed magical. My first memory of the stadium was the blue outfield wall. The TV in our home was a black and white set, so I had never seen a game in color before now. It was a royal blue…”Mets colors.” I thought contrasting it with the Yankee navy blue. Billy Crystal talked about the same feeling in the movie City Slickers. Everything seemed to come alive in a giant kaleidoscope of baseball liveliness.
The Yankees that night were still grieving. Earlier that day they buried their starting catcher, Thurman Munson. His best friend on the club, Bobby Murcer has given the eulogy and was somehow going to play in the game.
That impressed my dad when I told him while I held his hand and waited for a hot dog with him before the game. We settled into our seats to watch the Orioles take a lead. But then Murcer took over. He hit a huge 3 run homer to narrow the score to 4-3 and then in the ninth the Yanks rallied and with two on Murcer approached the plate. If the sights of the stadium were overwhelming the sounds of the stadium at this juncture were simply chilling.
“Bob-by, Bob-by,” they chanted.
“Hit another one for Thurm!” Someone in our section shouted.
Murcer hit a line shot into left the runners raced home and a triumph like no other I have ever seen ensued. The crowd shouted, people cried openly, the atmosphere was electric. Most of all, my dad was hooked.
I went to one last game at Yankee Stadium this weekend. While my dad wasn’t able to be there, he was the first person I spoke to about them tearing down the old ballpark.
I spent many years in broadcasting covering both the Yankees and the Mets. From their World Series wins in 1996 and 1998 to Doc Gooden’s no hitter, to the time I interviewed Reggie Jackson on the field itself at an Old Timers game, I’ve spent many years in the bowels of that historic ballpark.
But the most precious memory of that hallowed Cathedral came back to me while I sat yesterday watching the Yankees beat the Orioles again of a magical night nearly 30 years ago with my dad in the cheap seats with full color and amazing sounds.