New York Yankees fan shares his passion with sons

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Ralph Walton
Special to the Post
I have been a New York Yankees fan since I was little. I grew up with Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and all the other Yankees of the 1950s, and had all the baseball cards I could get with the money I earned mowing yards and running errands.
And, yes, my mother threw them all away while I was away in college.
But I was still a Yankee fan in college, and a group of us traveled to Baltimore on weekends several times to see them play in the early ’60s. I remember seeing both Mantle and Roger Maris hit home runs in the same game. I also got to see Barry Moore pitch for the Yankees.
Years went by, and when my two boys, Clark and Thad, became Yankee fans, we were able to go to Yankee Stadium and Baltimore’s Camden Yards to see them play.
I remember once we were eating barbecue sandwiches at Camden Yards when a home run hit by Yankee Darryl Strawberry landed next to us. It is still one of the longest home runs ever hit there.
On another trip, in 1996, we went behind Camden Yards after a game and were able to get several autographs of Oriole players as they left. But the highlight that night was when I saw Yankee manager Joe Torre leaving by himself going to a car. There was no crowd and Mr. Torre was nice enough to stop and autograph a baseball for Clark.
Last spring the boys planned a trip to see the last game at Yankee Stadium in October. The boys flew up for the game as they had to work, but I am like John Madden ó I do not fly ó and I took the train up from Salisbury. We stayed at a Holiday Inn in Manhattan near the subway. It wasn’t the cheapest hotel, but with all the crowds, it was definitely worth it.
The game was to start at 8 p.m., but the stadium was to open at 1 p.m. to allow fans to see Monument Park and walk on the field for the last time. We got to the stadium a few minutes past 1 and got in line to see the park. What we didn’t know was they were allowing the “in crowd” in line ahead of us.
At 3 p.m., I went to my seat, but the boys were determined. A little after 4 p.m., they gave up, too, and went to get hot dogs. There were shows and videos on the big screen in the ballpark which took up the extra time. Every old Yankee who could still walk, including both Berra and Ford, was introduced and walked out before the game. The last pitch was thrown by Yankee Mariano Rivera at 11:43 p.m., but we didn’t leave the stadium until well after midnight as we had to see the closing ceremony with about 50 mounted police parading on the field and the Yankee team talking and walking around the field for the last time. It was a trip to remember! And, oh yes, the Yankees won, so the crowd sang Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” one last time.
Then at Christmas, Clark gave me a ticket for opening day at the new Yankee stadium. This time, Thad was not able to go, as work and law school were taking too much of his time. We stayed at the same hotel, but this time we got to the stadium about one hour before it opened and asked where we could go to improve our chances of getting into the new Monument Park in centerfield. Our plan worked, and we were about the 25th people allowed in the park, just after a group of West Point cadets who were going to carry a large American flag for the National Anthem. It was nice to be among the first to walk around and see the plaques honoring Mantle, Ford, Berra and the other Yankees playing when I grew up.
When we left Monument Park, we walked around the new stadium and were amazed at the size of the entrance ways and walkways. Everything is first rate and opens up to the baseball field. There is food everywhere, but it is certainly not cheap. A hot dog with catsup and mustard alone is $5. Chicken fingers and fries cost $12. A bottle of soft drink is $5. Beer is $9, but a tip of $1 is sort of expected, so the cost is actually $10.
There is a museum on the second floor of the stadium with lots of memorabilia, including half a dozen or so World Series trophies in cases. The middle of the room is taken up by a huge display with baseballs signed by every person who ever played for the Yankees (which comes to well over 700 baseballs).
Our tickets were in the upper level, but it was an easy trip. We found one of 12 large elevators to take us 4 levels up to another very open area with all the same foods as the lower level.
Most of the old Yankees marched out on the field again as last fall, and every speaker emphasized bringing “all the tradition from across the street” over to the new Yankee Stadium. The West Point Band played and the other cadets unfurled a huge flag. Kelly Clarkson sang the “Star-Spangled Banner” as a formation of F-16 jets roared over the stadium.
I am sure there are many folks who were at both the last game last fall and opening day this spring, but I feel fortunate to have been there and shared the time with my boys. With all our problems in the world, it is nice to have some unique times to remember.