Amazing what your mind will remember. Can’t remember the name of the person I met 15 minutes ago at a cocktail party, but somehow remember my kindergarten classroom and teacher like it was yesterday. We’ve all been there and I’m sure there’s a medical term for this which I really don’t need to know about right now – as I’ll probably forget it by the end of this post.
Not the least embarrassed to admit that The Yankees are my favorite sports team. Yes, because I grew up in the New York area, and No, not because they have the largest payroll in sports. To those detractors who are thinking “sure, he likes them because they win all the time and it’s easy to root for a winner” – you’ve got no clue. My love of this team started with my very first Yankee game in 1967, when the Yankees were terrible with a record under .500.
It’s funny as I was trying to organize this post I remembered a bunch of odd moments, players, home runs, events and stories of that night…and was able to confirm some of it through the wonder of the Internet. Thanks Al Gore.
The story begins around my 10th birthday in June. My father, an advertising executive at BBDO, is given tickets by an advertising sales buddy at Sports Illustrated (“SI” for those who know publishing) nicknamed the Bear, a close family friend for years. Oh, yes there’s a bunch of “the Bear” stories too, but I would need his family’s permission before sharing those! Anyway, Bear gives my father the four tickets to the Yankee Game on June 8th, 1967 vs. the Washington Senators; a couple of days before my 10th birthday and it just so happens we’re in the Sports Illustrated box!
Well, like any kid would be – I’m crazy excited, as is my younger brother Chris. We’re talking about bringing our baseball gloves to catch foul balls and eating endless hot dogs; this game is going to be great…but, there’s always a catch…
On the day of the game, my father announces that we will both need to dress up in coat & tie for the game. We’re thinking…what, it’s a baseball game? Well, it seems that these tickets included a pass to the Stadium Club where one can have a proper dinner and of course, a cocktail, therefore everybody had to be dressed appropriately. My parents, long time dry Manhattan drinkers, loved this idea because they could have a couple of “pops” pre-game (or as my kids call it now – pre-gaming), and avoid having to swallow a listless stadium draft beer – probably Ballantine.
Wonderful. No, we won’t stand out at all at ages 10 and 8 looking like Little Lord Fauntleroy’s. Figuring we looked like geeks in our blazers already, Chris and I passed on bringing our mitts to the game. Besides, they just didn’t go with our outfits.
We finished dinner at the Stadium Club (I think Chris and I still had hot dogs, but we held off the Manhattans) and headed to our seats, which were near the dugout, about 6 rows back from First Base – yeah, the base that Mickey Mantle played. It was a great night. I remember a few of the players; Joe Pepitone, Horace Clarke, Tom Tresh, Mickey…good stuff. The game turns out to be really exciting, lots of runs scored by the Yankees, and Jake Gibbs the catcher hits a home run to right field. At a moment during the game, the scoreboard announces that the “Yankees Welcome Joe Louis” to the stadium and there’s a bit of commotion around us as this enormous man stands up a row over and begins shaking hands with people. My brother and I ask – “Who’s Joe Louis?” The look on our parent’s faces is indescribable…maybe “incredulous” or “disdainful” might summarize it. Hey, look we’re only 10 and 8, we don’t watch boxing, we box each other!
The highlight of the evening however is a moment where a foul ball gets hit extremely high in the air toward the first base section. My mother screams “Wally, go catch it…”
I run down the aisle to the edge, only to be facing a very large pinstriped #7 in front of me, who catches the foul ball, ending the inning. Heart still pounding that I was that close to Mickey Mantle; I run back to the seat out of breath and floored that I’d seen my favorite player. Chris immediately asks me why I didn’t catch the ball…I pause for a moment, and then told him “I was going to catch it…but then changed my mind” and said “you take it, Mick.” You know, I think my brother bought that story for years and may still believe it today…
Have been to many more games at Yankee Stadium, both old and new, but will always remember my first visit the best…and of course my “conversation with Mantle.” We’ll never know if I really said that or not, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
By the way….here’s the box score…oddly; there was no mention of my interaction with Mickey.