Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
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Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #36
2008-10-13 10:34
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

By Jonah Keri

My first trip to Yankee Stadium was supposed to be my second trip. A last-minute bailout the first time delayed the inaugural expedition for 12 years.

The day was August 12, 1995, the summer after second year of college. Brian, Elan, Eric and I set out on a four-day baseball road trip down the East Coast, with the first stop in the Bronx.

It took a while. The drive from Montreal takes six hours. There was also a stop at Crabtree & Evelyn to buy this girl we were staying with a gift for her hospitality. (Sales clerk at the store, inquiring about our gift choice: "Is she…earthy?). When we finally arrived at the ballpark (one of the scam-job parking lots around the park, to be precise), we were zonked. Stepping out of the car, we felt the blast out of a muggy New York evening, complete with all the smells you come to expect from a quality borough on a hot summer night.

We were expecting a shrine, a living monument commemorating Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Meacham, all the Yankees greats. Instead, we got a zoo. Swarms of people everywhere, flitting around the periphery of this monstrous structure. We were told to pick up our tickets at Gate…something, we couldn't remember. After 30 minutes of darting through the throng, shoving people aside and getting piss-off responses from fans and stadium workers alike, we finally found our ticket window. Made it to our seats in the bleachers just in time for first pitch.

Once again, it smelled. Awful. We were told that trash sometimes piled up under the bleachers, but we figured that was just an exaggeration. Um…no, it was not. Combined with the sweltering heat (89 degrees at game time), we were doing everything in our power to focus on the game, or beers…anything other than the sticky, stinky, squashed-in mess that was left field that night.

Food, that'll do it. We trudged to the hot dog stand. Line was a mile long. Pretzels weren't going to cut it after sitting in the car all day. What's left? Arby's. Arby's?! Should we? Dare we? The line was reasonable, our stomachs howled, and we were missing the game we drove nearly 400 miles to see. Roast beef it is. We'll take four.

I knew Arby's was a bad idea before I ever took a bite. The substance that claimed to be roast beef looked like a stack of gray fiberglass insulation, all of it piled high on a halved, off-white hockey puck. Didn't smell good either. But screw it, I'm 20 years old, it's a road trip, we're at Yankee Freaking Stadium…how bad could it be? Four bites later, we were back to watching Jack McDowell and former Expo Dennis Martinez (El Presidente, El Perfecto!) wage what turned to be a pretty good pitcher's duel.

At least that's what the guys told me. Ten minutes after polishing off the Arby's delight, my stomach started churning. Ten minutes after that, I had a splitting headache and was sweating profusely. The game, I was told, got exciting after a while, the Yankees giving up two in the 6th, then retaking the lead with single runs in bottom of the 6th and 7th. McDowell, I was told, was frustrating Indians batters all night. He would eventually go the distance, using a PAP-exploding 142 pitches to do it.

I never saw any of it. From the 4th inning on, I was doubled over on the bleacher bench, sweating and shaking, dizzy and in pain. My buddies kept asking me if I was all right, that they could leave and take me to a doctor. I refused. I wasn't going to screw up our big road trip, the one we'd talked about for years, planned for months. When McDowell got Manny Ramirez to fly out deep to right to end it, we shuffled our way back to the car, me all but carried there.

I'd like to say it went better. I didn't die of food poisoning. I also witnessed one of the funniest moments of my life. Brian, after two hours of driving down the basket toll-ridden Garden State Parkway, through New Jersey and into Pennsylvania, pulled up to the first toll booth in the Keystone State, grabbed a pocketful of change and flipped the coins…right at the unsuspecting toll attendant.

Generally speaking, I'm an optimistic, perpetually cheerful type. I love baseball. I love baseball games. I even, after several more outings, grew to like Yankee Stadium. I even made a point of seeking out bleacher tickets on future visits, enjoying the banter of the creatures and finding better food choices as the years went on.

But that first time at the Stadium, the one you never forget as a fan…was a disaster. If only I'd made it there 12 years earlier.

--

So what happened that first time that made me miss my first trip, you might ask.

It was the summer of 1983. I was eight years old, traveling with my grandparents to visit my ultra-religious relatives in Brooklyn. It was a bit of a shock, especially sitting there on a Saturday—no TV, no activity, nothing to do but stare at the walls. The next day would be better, though. Field trip to the Statue of Liberty, all kinds of neat stuff for a kid. And on Monday…Yankee Stadium! THE Yankee Stadium! I could hardly wait.

When we got back from our day of sightseeing Sunday, I peppered my grandfather with questions. How would we be getting to the game? (By subway, cool!) Where were we sitting? (We didn't have tickets yet, but there were plenty available…hopefully upper deck, where foul balls glided in softly.) Who were they playing again? (The Red Sox, sweet!)

I woke up early the next day. I could barely sleep with all the excitement of the game ahead. We'd hop on the train around 12:30 and make our way up to the Bronx, plenty of time for a rare weekday 2 p.m. start time, I was told.

Then the morning started getting hotter. And hotter. By 11 the temperature had spiked above 90 degrees, with stifling humidity. Not that it bothered me. All I could think about was going to the stadium to see the game. My grandfather had other ideas.

Me: "So when are we going?"
Papa: "I don't think we can go, it's too hot."
Me: "What?! I thought you said we were going!"
Papa: "I'm sorry Jonah, it's just too hot outside. You can listen to the game here, on the radio."

My little heart was broken. Deep down, I knew my Papa would've done anything for me. He always did. But at that moment, I wanted to cry. With no TV around, I settled in on the couch of that Brooklyn walk-up to listen to the game I so badly wanted to see in person.

Both teams stayed scoreless through the first four innings. Then the Yankees scored once each in the 5th and 6th, the second run coming on a long home run by Don Baylor (I was a precocious fan, I knew Baylor was the big guy with the straight-up batting stance). The Red Sox still couldn't push across a run. Something odd was going on, though. I noticed, about four innings in, that they also didn't have a hit. They still didn't after six innings, the likes of Wade Boggs, Jim Rice and Dwight Evans all shut down by the Yankee pitcher.

The game moved along, and still no hits for Boston. As they came up to bat in the 8th, it dawned on me: Is it possible that I may end up missing a no-hitter?! One-two-three went Evans, Nichols and Stapleton. The Yankees scored two more in the bottom of the 8th, bringing their flawless lefty back to the mound for the 9th.

I didn't want this to happen. Even at eight years old, I knew how awful it would be if I came that close to seeing a no-hitter—against the Red Sox!—at Yankee Stadium!!!—only to miss it.

Newman drew a leadoff walk. OK good, the pitcher's getting tired, the Sox are going to rally. I didn't much care who won, just please, no no-hitter. But then Hoffman grounded out. So did Remy. One batter remained.

That batter was Boggs. In just his second season, he was at the height of his powers, destined to hit .361 that year. He'd gone 0-for-3 to that point in the game. He was due.

Or so I thought. The pitcher got two strikes on him. PLEASE WADE, GET A HIT! The pitcher rocked back, fired…and struck him out. I had just missed a no-hitter. Yankees-Red Sox. Yankee Stadium. ON THE 4TH OF JULY!

To this day, 25 years later, I still make sure never to break plans to go to the ballpark. To this day, I cringe whenever I see a game on July 4th, knowing that on the scoreboard they'll flash a graphic for "This Day In History", reminding me of the masterpiece I missed.

To this day, I curse the name of Dave Righetti.

Jonah Keri is a writer for ESPN.com and a zillion other publications. E-mail him at jonahkeri@gmail.com to share your most painful ballpark memories.

Comments
2008-10-13 10:51:02
1.   Josh Wilker
Great piece, Jonah. If it helps any, I was with you in agony that day in 1983.
2008-10-13 12:36:29
2.   Todd Drew
Those are both great stories, Jonah. I'm sorry you missed Righetti's no-hitter, but I'm even sorrier you missed the whole experience of coming to the ballpark that day with your grandfather.
2008-10-13 17:51:26
3.   jonahkeri
Thanks gents! Really big honor to be invited by Alex to be part of this great group.

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