I have been a New York Yankee fan since before I can remember.
My youth was spent dreaming that I would play for the Yankees, as so many other young boys have. I can remember sitting with my grandfather and watching games on his little black-and-white (and fuzzy) screen.
My dad was an Army lifer, and I lived on Army bases until I was fifteen years old. Then he retired, and we returned to the mountains of East Tennessee where my extended family lived.
I went away to college and have lived in Kentucky for more than thirty-seven years now.
But no matter where I lived, no matter who was playing for the Yankees, no matter whether they were World Champs or in the second division, I was a Yankee fan.
The game room in our house is a “Yankee” room with Yankee pennants, pictures of Yankee greats from Ruth to Jeter, championship teams and a framed set of tickets from a Yankees-White Sox game we saw in Chicago. My wife, who got us the tickets to the game, also got some autographs on a plain piece of white paper.
We have subscribed to satellite television, Extra Innings and the YES network for as many years as they have been around just to see as many Yankee games as possible.
But, before that, I remember lying on my bed after dark trying to tune in a New York radio station so I could hear the Yankee games. I would hear about fifteen words of commentary every three minutes between static.
But it was the Yankees.
I vividly remember wallpaper on the walls in an apartment where I lived on October 14, 1976 when Chris Chambliss led off the bottom of the ninth with a long home run to give the Yanks the pennant for the first time in twelve years.
And I can remember details of a middle school class room where I taught and where I stayed to watch a one game playoff at Fenway Park in 1978 when Bucky Dent hit a home run and the Yankees beat Boston to return to the Series for the third year in a row.
I can remember what the trees looked like on a rural road in 1979 when I heard on the car radio that our captain, Thurman Munson, had died in a plane crash.
I recall staying awake in a Bed and Breakfast in Williamsburg, Virginia in 2003 when Aaron Boone found a Wakefield knuckle ball and sent into the dark night over the left field wall in Yankee Stadium, beating the Sox again.
But through all those memories, and despite making trips to Chicago and Cincinnati to see the Yankees play, I had never been to New York City to see them play in "The House That Ruth Built".
Sometime in 2006, my wife and I eventually realized that a new stadium was being built for the Yankees, and that there were only two more years left at "The Shrine". We made a vow to each other right then, that sometime in those two years, we would get to a game.
But in 2007, we were completing the construction of a new house and trying to get everything done that you have to do with a new home. So the year passed and we didn’t get to New York.
So, during the winter of 2007-2008, we knew it was then or never. I can remember going on line and trying to figure out when single game tickets would go on sale. I don’t remember the exact date now, but it was early February, and I could not wait.
I have always lived either in a small town, or an Army base, so the idea of trying to plan this trip to New York City was rather daunting.
And, I heard for years that the area around Yankee Stadium was not a very safe place to travel, so I worked the schedule for a time when we could go to day games.
I found two games against the Royals to be played on Sunday and Monday afternoons. I bought the tickets for my wife, our 12-year-old daughter and I, and we began to finalize our plans.
We took vacation time beginning June 5, and booked flights out of the closest city with an airport. The cost of three roundtrip airlines tickets to LaGuardia—$1,500.
We got the cheapeast hotel room we could find in what we thought was a safe area. The hotel was on 57th and Lexington Avenue, and the cabbie couldn’t even find it.
For our four nights there, it was about $1000.
But we were only two blocks from a subway station, and very quickly we learned how to use the trains. That is, after I got us lost on our first subway venture.
But we found New York to be a wonderful place filled with very nice and helpful people, including the young ladies who taught me how to get out of the subway using the turnstiles.
Like I said, I’m a small town guy.
Sunday morning was a beautiful day, and after getting some good food at a deli, we made our way to Central Park to eat. We were almost immediately overwhelmed that we were in the middle of Puerto Rican Day, but it turned out to be great fun.
We were so anxious to get to the stadium that we made our way to a subway before 10:00 a.m. I understood that the gates at Yankee Stadium would open at 11:00 and we wanted to be sure we got there plenty early.
We took the No. 4 train, and we knew that it would stop at the stadium at 161st Street and River Avenue, but having never been there, we had no idea what to expect.
But there we were, baseball gloves and shirts and hats. Obviously we were Yankee fans, and obviously we were from out of town.
The train ride to Yankee Stadium that morning was great. No matter what I had heard and what I had expected in New York City, I was delighted with the wonderful people we met and the entire experience.
We got off the train on the elevated platform that sits almost exactly between both the old Yankee Stadium and the new one. There were not very many people getting off the train at 10:10 on Sunday morning, so we made our way down to the street, and began walking down along the outside of the stadium.
I was concerned about finding our gate, taking pictures and keeping my daughter close. At the time, I didn’t think too much about the fact that I was walking on a street where literally hundreds of thousands of fans had come to see the Yankees play.
I have since thought that I was walking down a street where possibly Babe Ruth or Joe McCarthy or Phil Rizzutto had wandered at one time or another.
We walked all the way around to the area behind home plate where the big bat is, and took as many pictures as we could take. We waited near the gift shop to see if we could see any players coming in, but we had no luck.
Thinking it over since, I now realize that by the time we got there the players were already inside.
At about 10:30 a.m, we went and got in line—first in line of course, to get in Gate Six.
Our seats were down the right field foul line, actually behind the pole, but we wanted to get in early because we knew we wanted to see Monument Park.
We had not realized this was Bat Day, and it was great that we were first in line so that my daughter could get a bat commemorating our day there. We got the bat, made our way into the stadium and immediately headed over to the left field section to Monument Park.
My wife and daughter got ahead of me because I had the camera and had to stop and take pictures of this place I had dreamed about my entire life. So, I would snap and catch up, as my family went ahead toward the left field corner.
After making my way up and around the ramps to get in the queue for Monument Park, I ran into my wife and daughter coming down and jumped line to be with them. We finally got to a place where we could see the field again and then ultimately to the last steps leading down to field level and Monument Park.
There was a quiet reverence by everyone around us. I got pictures of the Ruth and Gehrig monuments, then Mickey’s and Miller Huggins. And, I took pictures of all the plaques and pin-striped signs with the retired numbers. In my utter confusion trying to leave, I completely forgot Joe Dimaggio’s monument which you pass as you exit.
We got out, we made our way back around to the right field line after buying a score card and getting some food. We were still plenty early, and no words can express the thrill we all felt to see actual Yankee players come out a few at a time to begin their final warm-ups for the game.
Seeing them stretching, jogging, playing long toss and getting these pictures was more than I could have imagined. I was actually overwhelmed and almost wish I had left the camera at home because I couldn’t enjoy the pure experience of being there for trying to save memories on the camera.
During the game, I faithfully kept score, but I also tried to soak in as much of where I was and what was going on as I possibly could. I remember how big the American Flag looked above the outfield fence. I remember the Diamond Vision screen which we could not really see because of the glare of the sun on the screen.
I also remember a group of four young New Yorkers who sat immediately behind us. They were great baseball fans, and were really into the game. And they were just great people to be with, and to share in that great moment.
A very touching part of the experience came during the seventh inning stretch when we joined in the singing of “God Bless America.” Having seen this performance almost every night on television, I was not prepared for the shared experience of being in the stadium with more than 50,000 fans who all sang along.
The game passed too quickly, and we lingered in our seats before making our way out of the stadium and back to the train platform.
The train was very crowded going back, and almost full of Yankee fans. But, they were all very polite. They were all tired, but happy to have been to the game, just as we were.
Monday, we were going back to the game but were not as hurried. We knew we would be sitting in the bleachers for the second game, and knew that from there, we couldn’t go to Monument Park again.
But we had planned for the bleacher seats in order to share the experience with the "Bleacher Creatures", and to be a part of the Roll Call that begins each game.
I have always loved ballpark food. Whether it is a crock pot hot dog at a Little League game, or a fried bologna sandwich at a minor league park, there is just something about eating this horrible stuff while you’re watching a game.
And the food at Yankee Stadium did not disappoint. Hot dogs, pretzels, Cracker Jack—we tried all of it, and even got a bag of peanuts that we didn’t open. We carried it home with us to put in our Yankee room at home.
I kept score again, and I remember at some point a fellow fan leaned over toward me and asked if I was keeping pitch counts, too. I wasn’t. But I knew that if he was concerned about pitch counts, he had to be a fan. Euphoria was with me the entire afternoon.
Nothing that I write can really express the joy I felt in physically getting to a place I had known in my heart for almost half a century. Sharing it with my wife and daughter enhanced the experience immensely. Having real baseball fans around us as we watched our pin-striped heroes made everything bigger.
To have actually been allowed to walk into a space where Mickey Mantle had once awed the masses; to sit in the same seats where fans had watched Reggie Jackson hit three home runs in one game; to keep score in a setting where others had made similar scoring notes when Lou Gehrig hit four home runs in one game.
The trip was expensive, and the moments were in some ways too fleeting, but I will forever be thankful that, before they closed Yankee Stadium I was able to go in person to the place where I had been in spirit so many times in my life.
I also have taken away from this experience real regret for so many Yankee fans who, like me for so long, followed the Yankees, and never were able to make it to this Mecca they call Yankee Stadium.