My set of Yankee Stadium memories is different than those of most fans my age. In 1989, I started college at the University of Southern California, finishing in the spring of 1994. After a brief stint back east, I moved back to the Los Angeles area in January of 1995, where I lived until the spring of 2007.
I missed the dynasty. I missed Mystique and Aura. I missed Charlie Hayes by the tarp and Wade Boggs on a horse and 125 wins in '98 and four titles in five years. I missed all of it. When I left, we were a national joke, the team that fired managers every few months, the one that traded away all its good young players and never made the playoffs. When I came back, we were the team for which making the playoffs wasn't good enough.
This is my first full year in New York City since 1988, and to celebrate, the Yankees are missing October for the first time since 1994 and closing down Yankee Stadium. It's enough to make a guy think about moving back to L.A.
I don't have a single memory of cold October nights spent cheering Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams or Mariano Rivera. I never saw a dogpile on the pitchers' mound, never watched a victory lap, never hugged a stranger as my favorite team in sports won a championship. All of my Yankee Stadium memories come from a different era, the 1980s, when New York was a Mets town and seasons ended in September. I went to dozens of games a season back when you could decide at 6:45 to head to the Stadium, grab a gypsy cab from Inwood for six bucks, buy a seat in Main Reserved for $12 and be in it by first pitch at 7:30.
Even that was an expensive night. Tickets were always available, it seemed. I was the kid who loved baseball, so whenever my parents' friends had extras, the tickets ended up in my lap. I'd get a call at 3 p.m. to drop by a local bar and pick them up, and be at the game that night. Looking back, I took it for granted-who knew there'd be a time when Yankee tickets would be a commodity, bartered and sold like gold bricks?-and looking back, I wonder if I wasn't just a little bit lucky to grow up in the last era when a lower-middle-class kid could get to 20 or more Yankee games a summer.
The night games were fun, but when I think about the Stadium, the sun is shining on a weekday afternoon and it feels a little bit like stealing. That was my thing; weekday day games. They're a lot more common than they used to be, but growing up, there'd be a handful each season, and I'd try and get tickets for them when single-game ducats went on sale. For each, I'd strike out around 10:30 a.m. on the M100 to the Bx13, getting there before Gate 6 opened, then rushing to the right-field wall, glove on hand, hoping to catch a ball during batting practice. If you got there right when they opened the gates, you'd catch a little bit of Yankees BP, but mostly, it was the visitors. I would stand up against the wall, beg opposing pitchers playing long toss for baseballs, hold my breath when Fred Lynn or Matt Nokes or Kent Hrbek came to the plate, and never, ever, come away with a baseball.
My favorite memory, though, is of a twi-night doubleheader in 1983. On July 21, my mom had come into possession of six tickets to that night's game against the Royals. She called me, I called.I don't completely remember, but I know at least one my cousins and my friend Jimmy Keary were there.and we traipsed off to the Stadium. Unfortunately, there was rain, so much so that the game was rained out. That actually wasn't bad; back then, it was pretty easy to use a rain check to get into the makeup doubleheader, so we headed back Friday night.
Problem was, the tickets were comps, and hole-punched to that effect. When we got to the park the next afternoon, my mom and five boys aged eight to 12, we were told we couldn't go in, that the tickets were no good other than on the day of the game. You may as well have told me I couldn't have chocolate any longer. I was distraught, and attempted to convince my mother to buy comparable tickets for the six of us. Spoiled only child, dontcha know. This was clearly not in the budget, but she did go to the ticket window and get six right-field bleacher tickets for the group, and we headed inside.
The details of the first game are fuzzy to me. I mostly remember the late-afternoon sun creating glare, and my cousins, not quite the baseball fans I was, being annoying, and the Yankees winning a dramatic contest. It was the first time I ever saw Don Mattingly, who had been called up for good four weeks prior and was scuffling for playing time at first base, in person. He was already among my favorite players, along with Chris Chambliss, Willie Randolph and Dave Righetti, the latter weeks removed from his no-hitter.
The second game, though, is memorable for its length. I already had a reputation as an extra-innings magnet, thanks in no small part to this game in 1980. Well, the second game of the doubleheader stretched past midnight, going 12 innings, and I loved every minute of it. It was a cheap thrill, at 12, being out that late at night, watching not just one game, not just a second game, but extra innings in the second game. Even better, the
game was extended when Mattingly drove in the tying run in the bottom of the ninth with a single to center. He moved past Randolph and Righetti that night, although it'd be another year or so before he lapped Chambliss.
The game stretched on, through the 10th and 11th, with both teams scoring in the 11th, the Yankees again tying it dramatically in the bottom of the inning. The bleachers were increasingly empty, my mother increasingly annoyed, but she stayed, herding her charges and waiting out the game, which ended in the 12th, a 3-2 Yankee loss. She stayed for one reason: I didn't want to leave, and even though she'd worked all day, been up for 18 hours and spent almost half of that managing five tweens, she stayed to that I could see the end of the game.
It's been 30 years since I saw my first game at the Stadium. Sunday, I'll attend my last one, and I won't even pretend to be cool about it. I'll remember birthday-present doubleheaders, and Mattingly walkoffs, and a Ron Hassey infield single to win a game.and a very long summer night in the bleachers, thanks to the woman who gave me my love of the game.