Farewell, Yankee Stadium

Today is the last day of life for Yankee Stadium. Although I have not gone to a Yankee game in years -- my love of baseball has dwindled to weak tolerance in the past few years -- I'm still saddened at the thought of this iconic building being torn down.  I spent a lot of time at the stadium; whether they were glorious wins or dejecting losses, going to those games was always a mystical sort of experience for me. No matter how much the Yankees sucked (1990 comes to mind), I never lost that breathtaking feeling of walking into the ballpark and looking out at the glorious field before me.

Of all the memories I have of being at the Stadium, one experience stands out in my mind. This is the one I will tell my grandkids some day.

It was the summer of '86. I had gone back to college the previous spring after an extended hiatus. Twenty-one credits crammed into one semester after not being in school for a while was exhausting, so I passed on taking any summer classes. I was working nights at the time and thought I would spend my summer days sleeping until noon and lounging around the house. And then my dean made me an offer I couldn't refuse -- a summer job that would entail driving to the Bronx every morning, not getting home until midnight most nights, and working most weekends -- all for no pay except a few college credits.

I almost laughed at him until he explained who I would be working for. The New York Yankees. Not as a hot dog vendor or ticket-taker. I would be working inside the vaunted walls of Yankee Stadium. Hell, I would have paid them to let me have that job.

I was to spend my days as an editorial assistant for Yankee Magazine, cropping pictures, proofreading stories, and doing advertising layout for the magazine. If the Yankees were on a homestand, I would stay for the games and run errands, or just watch the game as a guest of the Yankees.

I spent a lot of time that humid summer in the cool confines of the archives room, poring through photos of Yogi Berra and Joe DiMaggio, reading scorecards from games played long ago and generally living in a baseball time warp. The room was stuffed with trophies and plaques and mementos of the greatest baseball team that ever existed. Here was all this history, all this fame right at my fingertips. Ticket stubs, game programs, yellowed articles, and dusty photographs were my companions that summer. Each time I left the room -- usually after a futile search for whatever memorabilia or picture I was sent for -- my fingers would be coated with the dust and grime of the legacy of legends. I cherished every moment spent in that room, mingling with the ghosts of Yankees past.

I watched plenty of games from the press box. Sometimes I helped keep the scorecard; sometimes I just chatted with reporters or players who were on the injured list and joined the press to watch the game. I ate lunch in the third base seats, legs stretched out, sun beating down, and Yankee Stadium seemingly to myself. I parked in the player's lot, sometimes walking in with the players themselves. I was the original George Costanza.

Late that August the pennant race was heating up and the summer nights were cooling down. I knew my days as a part of the New York Yankees staff were drawing to a close. In a way, I was relieved that I wouldn't have to make that miserable morning drive on the Grand Central anymore. But I hated to give up the perks of a job where I mingled with Don Mattingly and had my name in the Yankee Magazine.

It was close to my last night there when I was invited to watch a game from the general manager's office. There I was, in this huge office full of baseball impresarios, sharing drinks and glad-handing each other. I stood quietly in the corner, too overwhelmed by the presence of baseball greats to move out of the spot.

I stood with a co-worker at the huge window that overlooked the playing field of Yankee Stadium. I was watching the game from an office behind home plate, surveying the game as if I owned the team. I looked at the outfield bleachers where I had sat so many times before. I was mesmerized.

The co-worker excused himself to go get a drink and I stayed at the window, watching the game in awe.

Then a voice from beside me:  "Great view, isn't it?"

I looked up to see Mickey Mantle standing next to me, grinning. I nodded, unable to speak.

Me and Mickey, watching a Yankee game from the office above home plate.

Farewell, Yankee Stadium. Thanks for the memories.