I have so many memories of Yankee Stadium that it is hard to narrow it down to just one to write about today. My earliest memory of the Stadium is of a Bobby Murcer grand slam, which thanks to Retrosheet I now know was August 2, 1974, when I was five years old. I learned to keep a scorecard there. I learned what the word "sucks" refers to there. My 13th birthday party was at the Stadium. I was there for Dave Righetti's no-hitter in 1983. I've been there for half a dozen opening days, about as many Old Timers Days, and for a pile of playoff games (though still no World Series). I've been there on the forgettable "Liza" days and for walk-off wins. I was there for the Home Run Derby and All-Star game this past season.
Pick one, he says. Pick one.
Then there are all the times I've been there professionally. A photoshoot in Monument Park. Sitting in the press box for my first game. My first time in Joe Torre's office. Sitting in the dugout during batting practice. Listening to Mike Mussina tell a story during team stretch about getting his wisdom teeth out.
Pick just one to write about?
I can't. I'm going to remember so many things about the Stadium that are only going to mean something to me. Like how my little brother Julian and I were somehow convinced that Eddie Layton, the organist, had a booth out beyond center field to watch the game from. We used to take binoculars and try to locate him. I have no idea why we thought the organ was behind the black batters eye. Maybe because the lone sound tower at the Stadium was out there? I wasn't really convinced otherwise until I was in my 30s and took a tour of the Stadium that included the press box and scoreboard operations.
There's that gap between the bleachers and the grandstand in right field, where you can see the train go by. The elevated track is at just the right height and in the 1970s, we used to see the cars go past festooned with graffiti. When the games got boring (which they did sometimes), Julian and I would play a game where if the next train went right to left I would win, and if it went left to right, he would win. And we'd stare at that grand white limestone edifice, the courthouse, which always looked like a long home run might be able to hit it.
I'll never forget the thrill of coming out of the dank, dark concrete tunnel into the upper deck, into the wide open brightly lit field of green and blue, and having my breath taken away.
The ladies rooms in Yankee Stadium are pink. The layers of latex paint are so thick that the walls practically feel like rubber. And the way the ones in the upper deck are shaped, there are always two stalls to the right of the door that a lot of people don't see are there. That's always where I headed. The ladies rooms have attendants, too, like they do in Broadway theaters. Will we have them in the new Stadium, I wonder?
I guess the thing I will always remember most about the Stadium is not the Stadium itself, though, but the fans. The signs, the chants, the boos. I'll remember how some ten thousand people stood in absolute silence for twenty minutes, four deep against the corridor walls and in the tunnels, while the EMTs got a heart attack victim down out of the upper deck and rushed him to an ambulance. This was on Old Timers Day 2000, and the poor fellow had keeled over in the final inning of the game. As the fans got up to leave, each would come down the tunnel into a sudden human traffic jam and ask, what's going on? And someone would say quietly, medical emergency, or EMTs, or heart attack, and that would stop people right in their tracks. No one complained, no one tried to shove through. Sadly, I read in the paper the next day that the guy died at the hospital later, but Yankees fans had done what they could.
I remember a game one steamy August which had already had two rain delays in it, when the crowd was quite thin, and in the late innings, every time a foul ball came to the upper deck, the fans would all chant "Give it to a kid! Give it to a kid!" One guy made a perfect catch and held his arms up in triumph, only to get booed roundly until he handed it to a child nearby. Then he got cheered.
I remember the old chants of "Boston sucks," back when that meant something, and I remember the origination of the two-strike clap (which it seems only happens on Saturdays now). I remember the roll call, and Freddie and the pan, and the exuberant post-911 chants of "No Game Six!" in the 2001 ALCS, the thunderous chanting of "Derek Jeter!" after he flipped into the camera pit in 2001 ALDS. I remember how the upper deck shook when Carl Everett got picked off first base by Roger Clemens in a Memorial Day weekend showdown between Clemens and Pedro. (Damn you, Trot Nixon.)
So, it's the crowd I remember. The same crowd that actually cheers for the "subway race" on the scoreboard and sings God Bless America.
The same crowd that'll be at the new stadium. See you there.