History of Yankee Stadium felt by generations
Published: Monday, September 22, 2008
Updated: Thursday, July 12, 2012 15:07
Three years ago, I sat in Yankee Stadium and said to myself, "This is where Babe Ruth played."
The history and tradition of the legendary ballpark was not at all lost on me. And it will never be lost, but as the final out was recorded Sunday night in the Bronx, a little piece of every sports fan's heart was.
Yes, teams move all of the time. But this isn't the same as the late 90's/early 2000's trend of moving to state-of-the-art downtown ballparks. That was a good thing — that was baseball's revival from the dark days of the strike. Teams had a new identity separate from that of the football teams they were forced to share their stadiums with.
That last out just about broke my heart because it signified the end of an American institution, baseball's cathedral and an iconic venue whose walls have witnessed an extraordinary amount of history.
Sports have always played a role in my life so big that they've practically become the meaning of it. This passion came from my family, and a heritage that can all be traced back to Yankee Stadium.
It started with my dad. In 1961 he went to the Bronx to see his first Major League game. Ten years old at the time, he ventured out with his little league team on a four-hour bus ride from St. Johnsville, a tiny town in Upstate New York where there are more churches than stoplights and everyone's name ends in a vowel.
His heroes were the men in pinstripes, most notably Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. The fierce pride stemming from his Italian heritage was not unlike the pride of being a Yankee. Baseball was the love of his life.
Before him it was my Grandpa. The son of two poor Italian immigrants and a decorated World War II hero (and my hero as well), he was not the baseball fan that my dad was. He was a welterweight boxer who escaped most fights unscathed, having never been KO'd.
For years, my Grandpa drove me to gymnastics every day. Sitting in one of his mid-1970s Fords, either a Thunderbird or a Falcon, he would speak of legendary fights and the fighters who fought them.
Joe Louis was one of those fighters.
The Brown Bomber fought one of the greatest matches of all time at Yankee Stadium. When Louis defeated Germany's Max Schmeling, in a rematch at Yankee Stadium in 1938, it was a battle that reflected the political nature of the time. It gave hope that the Nazis could be defeated outside of the ring.
My Grandpa helped defeat them.
On my mom's side of the family it was my Nana and Papa that passed their love of sports, especially baseball, on to me.
My great-grandfather, Pop, was a barnstormer who came up playing with several Yankee greats, Ruth included, and counted several of them as friends. My Nana told me how Pop would go play a baseball game and if he won he got paid, and would come home with a coat full of cash.
But even though her father played with Yankee legends, my Nana was never a Yankee fan. She was a true-blue Dodger fan, ecstatic when the family moved from Buffalo, New York, to Brooklyn. But she deviated from her Dodger roots in 1948, ditching school to see Ruth's body laying in repose at Yankee Stadium
Growing up in Baltimore, my Papa excelled in many sports, running track for Johns Hopkins and playing semi-pro lacrosse well into his 30s. But his childhood hero was Yankee catcher Bill Dickey, and when he was 11 years old, he met his hero, forever cementing the Yankees as his team.
My own visit to Yankee Stadium was at a pivotal time in my life. I knew that a nagging shoulder injury was about to take me out of sports forever and I didn't know what I would do without them. I had declared my major as journalism but was still unsure of what I really wanted to do.
That night I took everything in. I sat in the bleachers with the "Bleacher Creatures" and listened to their roll call. I saw A-Rod hit a home run and Mariano Rivera get a save. I thought of how cool it would be to write about Yankee Stadium someday. Less than a month later I began following in my dad's footsteps, embarking on a career in sports writing.
Three years later I am writing about Yankee Stadium, but this isn't exactly what I pictured.
New family ties will be forged in the new Yankee Stadium, new memories will be created and new legends will be born. But no matter what, no one can ever sit inside the new Yankee Stadium and look out on the field and say, "Babe Ruth played here."