Mickey, Rizzuto and My Birthday: How We Share the Bittersweet Day
Way back in 1907, the first taxi cab ever was introduced to the soon to be congested streets of New York City. In 1926, the world welcomed one of the world’s most famous revolutionaries, when Fidel Castro was born. And in 1987, President Ronald Reagan woke up and took the heat for the embarrassing Iran-Contra scandal.
So, what do these all have in common? Well, they all occurred on August 13th. Oh, almost forgot one delicate minutia, I was born on that day in 1980 as well.
As you can see above, even in my earliest stages I was bred to gaze at the stars of Yankee pinstripes. Under the tutelage of my father, there was the option of rooting for the Yankees. Second options needed not apply.
But long before they annually hovered around the top of the standings, they were a travesty of an organization. In the 1980s, the team was reduced to a professional sideshow with an overzealous (putting it nicely) owner in George Steinbrenner leading the carnival. These were the teams I grew up with. An uglier version of the Bronx Zoo manned the 1980s with the likes of Steve Balboni, Alvaro Espinoza and even that rolling stone Pasqual Perez.
As the years passed, I became resigned to the fact that this was, for better or worse, my team—A historic franchise that now resides in baseball’s lonely gutter. That’s the team I root for.
Yet, as I entered my teenage years, the team had steadily gotten better and in 1994 were neck and neck for the best record in baseball with the unexpected Montreal Expos. So where did I want to go on my birthday? Obviously, the big ballpark in the Bronx was my only wish.
Unfortunately, it did not work out that way. It turns out that baseball players and baseball owners are really greedy people. Apparently, these men were so greedy that they would cancel the rest of a season and the playoffs to prove their dedication to the almighty dollar. In fact, it was the first time since 1904 that a work stoppage had prevented the World Series from taking place.
It all went down on August 12th, 1994. That’s right. One day before I was to attend the Yankee game on my 14th birthday.
Eventually, many of us forgave the game that had given so much to us and when its doors opened again, the diehards flooded back.
Not to be denied, my parents again sealed the deal a year after for a birthday extravaganza, courtesy of the New York Yankees. Yes, the game would be played this time, but the circumstances were not like those surrounding that of a jovial day at the park.
As I celebrated my 15th birthday on August 13, 1995, the Yankee family was saying goodbye to one of their most cherished members. Earlier that day, after abusing his body for decades, Mickey Mantle had passed away at the age of 63. Never had I been to a game that had such a downtrodden undertone to it. Before my eyes stood grown men with No. 7 tattoos, crying uncontrollably for a man that provided the core of their childhood. It was a surreal experience to say the least.
I wish I could say I still have the ticket stub in a protected case, but in return for half off admission to Great Adventure, I handed it over to Six Flags.
So young and stupid.
After these back-to-back involvements in pinstriped misfortunes, one would think I’d stay away from the team when it was time to blow out the candles. Just separate my date of birth with the Yankees like church and state. But, apparently the Yankee grim reaper, known as Brian Buckley, was not done.
Earlier in 2007, I had attended the annual Yankees Old Timer’s Day, which in reality is only interesting when the crowd acknowledges a former great as he trots onto the field. Watching overweight stars of yesteryear waddle around on the diamond in their 40s and 50s is mildly uncomfortable and awkward.
When the announcements were done, I realized that one name was missing. Before I could say it out loud, a message from Phil Rizzuto appeared on the screen, instead of his attendance. Not long after, it was revealed he had been moved to a private rehab center due to failing health.
So as my birthday neared and a trip to the stadium was dangled in my future, I prayed I had not done it again. Don’t let the Scooter’s big exit coincide with my big day. Like Rizzuto’s teammate Yogi Berra once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
On August 13, 2007, at the age of 89, Phil Rizzuto passed away before the Yankees faced the Rays. It was difficult to think that the voice that I grew up listening to on WPIX with Bill White and Tom Seaver was honestly gone. His combination of Andy Griffin and Grandpa Simpson got me through many nights, when I internally questioned why my father had groomed me to root for this team.
So at the game, I tried my best to make the switch from the somber mood to something else. So like many Yankee fans in 2007, I booed Kyle Farnsworth. Strangely enough, he never even entered the game. Go figure.
For whatever reason, the stars have aligned to make my usually joyous birthday synonymous with Yankee sorrow. Maybe I did something bad in a past life or maybe God is punishing me for spitting on my hands in the postgame Little League line. Whatever the case may be, I can assure Yankee fans of one thing to calm their anxiety.
I won’t be at the game tonight. Sleep easy Yogi.
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