Season Finale

My father and I took a bus from Springfield to Yankee Stadium for the last home game of the season.

Carrying bags of sandwiches and sodas we took our seats and watched the grimy walls of downtown pass by as we headed for the Bronx. We talked of baseball present and past all through Connecticut. The talk tailed off until rekindled by the worn dignity of the Bronx busting through the bus windows.

Years earlier we had taken a fall pilgrimage by car, train and subway to the Stadium for an afternoon Giants-Yankees World Series game - me skipping school for the day. It was and still is one of the greatest days of my life. That day in 1962, surrounded by the immaculate, sun-burnished Stadium façade resounding with the subway’s roar, the place seemed more like a place of worship than a ballpark. Behind the short fence in our field level right-field seats I sat in petrified excitement, as I watched what to that point had only been imaginary figures: Mantle, Maris, Berra, Ford, McCovey, Marichal, Cepeda (who we saw after the game with a beautiful woman outside the Stadium where he autographed my ticket stub), and my hero, the incomparable, the Great Willie Mays. Now real and in the flesh, they strode the field during batting practice just yards away. My state of awe and respect was amplified as they came within feet of me to shag balls or sit on the fence right in front of me to take a rest. 

Now, 45 years later we exited the bus and took a slow walk three chaotic blocks from the parking lot to the Stadium. Emerging from a dank maze of stairs and ramps we took our seats in the sparkling excitement of a Stadium September Sunday. I never saw a place where people were as genuinely happy as Yankee Stadium before the start of a baseball game. The vestiges of that 1960’s facade loomed in a less formidable attitude and we anticipated beautiful baseball shrouded in God’s green and Yankee blue. We took pictures and got settled. It was Phil Rizzuto Day, in honor of the recently passed Yankee icon, and in usual polished Yankee style the pre-game ceremony came off with New York class and the necessary sentimentality. Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore” accompanied a video of Rizzuto. We saw Phil as a youth in Queens and as a Yankee making double play throws while being flipped like a rodeo bull rider by opposing runners. Of course we got a sample of his lovable broadcasting shenanigans as well. Reggie Jackson said a few words including the following: “Phil loved God, his family, the Yankees, and his country.” The comment brought a tear to my old man's eyes and I knew it was because he too was a man from Queens who loved God, his family, the Yankees and his country. I think he saw the tribute to Rizzuto as one to all the guys who grew up poor in the big city and got to live a life better than they ever imagined. It struck me that my old man was a most grateful and thankful man. I doubt he doesn't often remember where he came from and take time to thank God for being able to have all the things he never dreamed possible and then some. The ceremony ended with Phil’s family and the other dignitaries riding golf carts filled with flowers to Rizzuto's plaque in center field. A Navy color guard occupied center field and an old friend of Rizzuto’s sang the Anthem as my father's eyes moistened again.

That day the weather, the people, and the Yankees (winning 7-5) all behaved wonderfully. During the seventh inning  stretch and “honoring of America” I was struck by a young couple with piercings and tattoos singing along with Kate Smith’s dated version of “God Bless America” with heartfelt gusto. It felt like a family reunion. It was what it must have been like in the good old days on a Sunday afternoon in New York, everyone respectful, everyone united, everyone satisfied with the simplicity, all understanding the perfection of being in the moment.

On our slow walk back to the bus, my father held onto my arm and I thought about the cycle of things; the man who long ago guided me into the wonder of that mythic Bronx afternoon now needed a hand himself to get back to the bus. We departed and rumbled through traffic and as the early autumn sun ran down behind the flinty Bronx skyscape he pointed to a ball field jammed tight between the highway and the Stadium “I used to play softball on that field…. for Western Electric,” he said. I nodded, not having a ready response. And then as the Stadium, the softball field, and our glorious afternoon baseball tableau receded into rear view, to no one in particular, he added, “It was an industrial league, about 1947.”

This story was written by Chris Gregor, freelance copywriter. Take a look at my other work (the stuff I get paid for) and learn more about my copywriting capabilities and experience/backgroundContact me at Gregor & Co. 413 528-4763 or chris@gregorwriting.com

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