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Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #4
2008-09-11 11:02
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

By Ed Randall

Though I grew up only three-and-a-half miles away, I was never a Yankee fan. Still, I anticipate a profound sadness that the stadium I grew up in is soon to exist never more.

Yet, I might have more of a connection, a predisposition, to the franchise than I ever care to admit. My father's birthday was September 10th, the same as Roger Maris'; mine is October 20th, the same as Mickey Mantle's.

The stadium cast a long and continuing shadow on my life.

I went to grammar and high school for 12 years in the same building at All Hallows just three blocks away and took the subway behind the center field fence. I threw snowballs from the platform near pedestrians below while waiting for the northbound train (in making that stark admission, I trust the statute of limitations has expired).

I saw my first game there and have very vague memories of being fascinated by the TV cameras in the outdoor photo box.

Perhaps another sign foreshadowing my career calling.

I recall standing near a ramp leading to the box seats as a child when a door swung open and there stood Johnny Blanchard in all his Yankee pinstriped splendor and his shiny black spikes that clicked when he took a step. It was breathtaking. Today, ironically, Johnny Blanchard, fellow prostate cancer survivor, sits on the Advisory Board of my charity, Ed Randall's Bat for the Cure.

Back then, patrons in the lower level--which we could rarely afford--exited the park by walking on the field! Imagine slowly making your way along the warning track up the left field line, turning right past the visiting bullpen and auxiliary scoreboard and then, the best part, past the monuments. More than once did I walk out onto River Avenue through the Yankee bullpen where countless home runs came to rest and where everyone from Joe Page onward warmed up. Somehow, even then I knew the importance of what I was experiencing.

That ritual made me want to do one thing: genuflect.

I pitched on weekends at Babe Ruth Field, obliterated to make way for the new stadium. I also threw at Macombs Dam Park, bordering the left field line. You couldn't think about the fact that you could stand on the mound, turn slightly to your right and throw a baseball and hit the Stadium wall. Then again, how do you ignore Yankee Stadium? Many years later, in a corporate outing, I pitched in Yankee Stadium, lined a single through the shortstop hole and had a large bucket of ice water dumped on me by Rusty Staub and Jay Johnstone.

I was playing intramural softball freshman year in high school the day of the Yankees home opener in '67. All afternoon, it was strangely quiet inside. Then, late in the game, there was one tremendous roar. Elston Howard had broken up the no-hit bid of Boston's rookie lefty, Billy Rohr.

The September before, I was running on the track on a miserable, drizzly day. As Robert Palmer sang many years later in Addicted to Love: "The lights were one and no one's home" as the Yankees played a midweek day game against Chicago. There was no noise as the game was played, none. How could there be? Only 413 were in the House That Ruth Built, capacity in excess of 62,000. It was the game that helped get Red Barber fired.

When I took driver's ed in the spring of my senior year in high school, Mr. Zaretsky had us learn how to shift gears and back up on what then was the flat parking lots across from first base, long before there was a multi-tiered lot and a really, really tall bat.

For two seasons, I sold hot dogs in a concession stand there and still have my badge from canteen corporation! I did it for the Giants, not the Yankees.

You see, I would get fired if I worked baseball because I know all I would do is watch the game and move very little product. In fact, in 1972, I showed up just one time, to work a night game against the White Sox. It was the night I first saw a young, hard-throwing pitcher named Goose Gossage. No earnings that night.

One Saturday night against the Chicago Bears, I was an ice cream vendor. Hmmm...ice cream at a football game. Working on commission, I think I went home with three bucks in my pocket. Cue the hot dogs!

I was behind the counter in the bleachers--you can't imagine the dampness on your feet out there when reporting for duty at 10AM on a December morning--listening on my transistor radio as Steve Blass of the Pirates completed a comeback from three-games-to-one-down to beat Baltimore in '71 (bet I was the only one in the house that day doing that). To this day, every time I think of Steve Blass or talk to him, I think of the bleachers in Yankee Stadium. Crazy, right?

I was the host of home game pre and post shows on SportsChannel in 1988. In May, after Mickey left the booth after completing six innings of color commentary for SportsChannel, I replaced him and did the final three innings of play-by-play. The adrenalin rush of sitting in his chair and looking out and seeing that subway station made me broadcast at approximately the same speed Secretariat raced Belmont.

I was there for the last game in '73, the first game in '76, for Whitey's last home start, a 14-0 loss to Palmer and the Orioles, when Vida Blue pitched his first game at Yankee Stadium in '71, for Chambliss and Reggie, for Boone and Cone and Wells, for Tino and Brosius, when Leyritz homered in the ALDS against Seattle in the drizzle at one in the morning and everyone sang "New York, New York" and no one wanted to go home and when Randy Velarde completed an unassisted triple play one afternoon for Oakland against them.

But after completing my pre-game duties on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, I left Yankee Stadium before Jim Abbott, my all-time favorite athlete, took the mound.

Don't get me started.

I asked my wife to marry me while standing on home plate. I wrote my mother's eulogy on a typewriter in the offices of Yankees Magazine for a memorial Mass that night in the church at Fordham University.

Before a little weekly Sunday morning radio show on WFAN intervened in 2003, I would attend Mass in the auxiliary locker room where Bob Sheppard himself would serve as lector. I couldn't believe it! I convinced myself people attended that service as much to hear Bob speak in person as they did to satisfy their weekly obligation.

After the Mass would end, I would walk out to the outfield, leave the Stadium, buy my Sunday papers on River Avenue and return, sitting in the bleachers behind Monument Park hours before game time in the stillness, gazing at the magnificence of this world-famous structure erected in less than a year and speechless at the distance to home plate for players of another era and feeling small.

All the moments, large and small I have spent in Yankee Stadium, culminated in my receiving the singular honor of joining one of the smallest clubs in this country: public address announcer, this past August, for a weekend of games against the Los Angeles Angels.

Sitting in Bob Sheppard's chair was akin to cleaning the table after The Last Supper.

That's my life in that building, never to be the same.

Ed Randall is the host of "Ed Randall's Talking Baseball" on WFAN-Radio and is a host/correspondent for MLB.com.

Comments
2008-09-11 19:34:17
1.   williamnyy23
Excellent recollection...the first from which I really learned a thing or two. I am glad you reached out to Randall because he is definitley one who has a passion for baseball.

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