As far as I’m concerned, The Yankee Stadium, the one with all that rich tradition, has been gone ever since they renovated it in 1974. So, when someone asks me, knowing I grew up in New Jersey and had been to Yankee Stadium on numerous occasions as a youngster, if I regret the landmark shrine being torn down, I say no, because it hasn’t been the same since ’74 anyway.
I can vividly recall going to see the Yankees with my father (who was a huge Yankees fan, while I was a Dodgers’ fanatic, “brainwashed” – according to him – by my mother’s side of the family who were all from Brooklyn and had taken me to Ebbets Field at the age of four). Still, I fully realized how great the Yankees were. One reason was all the neighbors (including my best friend and his two brothers) were NYY supporters and another was I was very knowledgeable, as most New York and New Jersey kids were, about baseball statistics. It was hard to argue the dominance of the Bronx Bombers (which, however, never stopped me, Dodger loyalist and pre-teen that I was).
When my father and I would make the trip to The Stadium as it was known (for people old enough to remember, it didn’t matter how much of a Dodger or Giants fan you were, Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds just didn’t qualify as stadiums, more like band boxes -which, in all honesty, they were), I stood in awe of the structure that held (it seemed), the World Series every year. I remember, most of all, center field and the monuments (which as a kid, I thought were tombstones, under which the Yankee greats were buried – even though some of them were still alive). Any ball hit to that part of the stadium was a guaranteed inside-the-park home run, but the players still had to futively chase the ball down, just like in the fields we played that didn’t have fences. Nobody ever thought about hitting a ball into the bleachers in dead center, although my friends secretly hoped “the Mick” would do it, so they’d have more ammunition for their argument about why Mantle was better than Duke Snider, something I’d never admit (until I got to be in my twenties, lost most of my passion in Major League Baseball – and gained some sense).
One game, we got to the park about an hour early (watching batting practice was as much fun as keeping score in the program my dad would buy) and I went down to the Yankees dugout (although our seats were about twenty rows – and a deck – higher). Back in those days, no one ever stopped a kid from trying to get autographs (of course, we weren’t trying to sell them, either) and I yelled out for some players to come out and sign my program, promising them that if they’d sign, they’d have a great game. A couple of guys emerged. It was a “pick-up line” I used every time we went to a major league game (we’d go to two or three games a year from my eighth birthday to my twelfth or thirteenth) and I found it worked for many players. After a career in athletics (coaching, not playing), I came to realize some guys are so superstitious, they’ll do almost anything to help out their game, especially if they’re in a slump. One game, in particular, I remember one of the guys who gave me an autograph hit a grand slam home run. I can’t for the life of me remember who it was, but it was a game the Yankees slaughtered their opponent (as if that narrows it down much) and Mickey Mantle had two homers.
I understand now why the ball park has to be replaced, but as a kid, I’d be front and center in any demonstration to “save the old ball yard.” It’s all about economics – which kids don’t understand – and don’t care to. It was the same reason I was stunned, betrayed and hurt when the Dodgers and Giants (more the Dodgers) left in 1958 (when I was ten) to go out west. But, as Ann Landers remarked (although it probably had zero to do with baseball when she said it):
“Maturity is the ability to live in peace with that which we cannot change.”