Saturday, September 27, 2008

Yankee Stadium Memories

The first game that I saw at Yankee Stadium was a Saturday afternoon game in April 1993. I was not even 11 years old. That Yankees team, about whom I knew almost nothing, lost to the Texas Rangers 9-0, about whom I knew even less. I attended the game with our church youth group--my first time participating in a junior high event--and sat next to Paul Wallace. This is of note because I was only a few years removed from being convinced that Paul was the starting catcher for the New York Yankees (a story for another day).

The game was not a memorable one for the home team. Jim Abbott (the one-handed pitcher) gave up six runs and didn't escape the sixth inning. I remember Margaret Wallace griping that we saw nine runs scored in the game without one of them being the result of a home run. I have vivid memories of the crowd boo-ing Jose Canseco every time he came to bat, without knowing the reason myself. Ignorance, of course, did not stop me from joining the fun and boo-ing a professional athlete for the first time in my young life (It helped that Paul Wallace did it, too). When in the Bronx...

That was by far the least informed and the least passionate state in which I ever occupied a seat at Yankee Stadium. Since taking in that first game as an impartial boy who recognized players' names only because of his collection of baseball cards, I have attended more games than I can count. Each visit has brought with it an increased sense of awe and a greater appreciation for the history that The Stadium possesses.

In his blog, Joel has amply captured a sense of what it has meant for a Pearce boy to have spent a childhood as a Yankee fan living an hour from Yankee Stadium. Many of his great memories at The Stadium are my great memories. I, too, remember the thrill that was Daryl Strawberry's 3-Home Run Game and the letdown that was Roger Clemens losing to the A's in Game 4 of the 2000 ALDS (the only playoff game I ever attended). The greatest individual performance I witnessed at The Stadium was this summer when Kyle Kennedy, Becca, and Kyle's brother, Tyler, watched Johnny Damon go 6-for-6 and deliver the game-winning hit in the bottom of the 9th!

Perhaps my favourite Yankee Stadium moment came this summer when Ben Eskow obtained four tickets to the May 23, 2008 game against the Seattle Mariners. He had told me of the ticket opportunity weeks in advance (a rarity when procuring tickets from Ben) and I had cleared my schedule. Greg Gentry and Mr. Eskow, Sr. were also invited but had to back out just hours before the game. Ben and I were left with two extra tickets and no takers from the usual crew.

After a few phone calls, Ben and I were presented with the opportunity to bring the elder Mr. and Mrs. Cruz to the game. Mr. and Mrs. Cruz are elderly and Mr. Cruz is confined to only brief trips away from the home. To bring them to the game was going to require more than a moderate amount of coordination--but hardly a more dedicated pair of Yankee fans could one ever expect to meet! I can speak to the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Cruz have watched nearly every inning of every Yankee game for the past few years.

Passing time during the drive to the Stadium, I asked Mr. Cruz how many times he had been to Yankee Stadium. When he answered that he had not been "for many years," I was thinking that perhaps he meant four or five years. After all, they have lived in New Jersey for at least that long, and, as I mentioned, he is not a casual fan. To my wonder and excitement, Mr. Cruz told us that the first and only other time that he had been in Yankee Stadium none other than Mickey Mantle played in the game! As you can imagine, this was all the priming that the pump required, as I was instantly starry-eyed and drinking up every detail of the memories of that game that gushed from Mr. Cruz.

The Yankees beat up on the Mariners that night--winning 13-2 and even scoring eight runs in an inning--but the highlight of the night was seeing the reaction of the Cruzes to each pitch, at-bat, or play in the field. They cheered loudest for their favourite players (the Puerto Rican players on the team), and without using hyperbole, I do believe that they couldn't have had a better experience.

But the same could be said about my night. I had been looking forward to seeing the game with Greg and Mr. Eskow--two of my favourite sports fans--hanging out three rows back from the left field foul line, heckling Ichiro, and pretending to know more than each other about what was best for the Yankees to do with Joba. Instead Ben and I spent at least a fair portion of the night looking after the Cruzes, arranging for a wheelchair, and helping Mrs. Cruz to and from her seat--but what an unexpected blessing! It was a thrill to see what a joy it was for them to watch their beloved Yankees in their home park. Whatever inconsequential sacrifices we made by limiting our freedom for a time were more than rewarded by serving our new favourite Yankee fans.

The instant bond formed with the Cruzes that night is one of the greatest intangibles that Yankee Stadium was able to offer to anyone--Yankee fan or otherwise. The history that The Stadium possessed is unequalled by that of any other sports arena in America and is almost worth the price of admission. That a grandfather was able to sit in the stands with his grandson and compare the current Yankees with the players that he had once seen perform on the same outfield grass is something that only few places can offer.

Yankee Stadium was a classic. Not a blockbuster movie that thrilled you some summer weekend and was forgotten the next, but a classic that you shared with generations before and after your own. It was the Wizard of Oz of sports stadiums, the It's a Wonderful Life of ballparks. I am glad to have been able to have passed through its turnstiles so often, and during such great Yankee years as these past have been.

Start spreadin' the news...

Monday, September 15, 2008

On Being a Husband to a Pregnant Wife (Installment 1)

For myriad and obvious reasons, it has been a joy to be a husband to my wife whilst she is in the family way. Like the Grapes of Wrath character Rose of Sharon and her husband, Connie, during their first pregnancy, 'the world had grown close around them, and they were the center of it, or rather Rose of Sharon was in the center of it with Connie making a small orbit about her.' It would be hard to identify even one aspect of our life that has not been touched by Becca's fruited womb.

It has perhaps been most fun to watch Becca's brain occasionally liquefy and ooze out her ears. We are both convinced that it has to be Harold's fault and are having fun with it. Beyond the 'ricocheting emotions' so aptly described by a recent baby update email, the entertainment value of being near Becca when the circuits connecting her tongue and brain has yet to crest. Two-syllable words escape her grasp at any and every moment. Her attempts to explain otherwise inexplicable actions are priceless.

My favourite occurrence of prego brain to date took place last night at 2:00 am:

B - Honey, wake up!
S - What's the matter?
B - Do you smell that??
S - No, what are you talking about?
B - You don't smell it? It smells like garlic bread!
S - You woke me up to tell me it smells like garlic bread? (!)
B - Will you go downstairs to check it out?
S - No. Go back to sleep.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Older Brother Wins Olympic Gold in Beijing

The US men's basketball team, as expected (hoped?), won the gold medal at

the Beijing games last month. Most all red-blooded Americans still fondly recall Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and company destroying international competition at the Olympic Games of 1992, 1996, and 2000. Countries of the world fell helpless victims to the dominant skills of the round ball giants from America like so many peasants before the army of a ruthless and handsome dictator. Members of the US team waged private bets to see who could score 100 points in a game while sweating the least. Opponents were reduced to tears mere seconds after tip-off. America was enjoying our right as first-born of the world: global domination.

But without warning came a few years of complacency and an unexpected upturn in the level of international competition. Horror of horrors!--our men's teams finished 6th in the 2002 FIBA World Championship, took bronze at the 2004 Olympics, and placed third at the 2006 FIBA World Championship. These were disappointing surprises at best and lackluster efforts at worst. Major philosophical changes were implemented during the years of floundering, and it appears that the 'Redeem Team' is the product of a new and improved approach to international tournaments.

The 'Redeem Team' claimed gold in Beijing with relative ease. No rival team had been upset in an earlier round, no opposing star players missed the US game due to injury, no suspect officiating appeared to give the 2008 team any advantage. By all accounts, the United States regained a true claim to basketball dominance. The older brother won again.

The analogy is a perfect one for me. We invented the game. We perfected it. David Stern and stars like Jordan and Kobe are the only reason that some kid in Greece even cares about basketball. No matter how good at shooting blonde white kids from Croatia get, no matter how much genetic engineering the Chinese pull off to produce another Yao Ming (really, how is a seven-foot tall Chinese man not under suspicion?), the United States of America should never lose a basketball game by fewer than 20 points.

The older brother should always beat the younger brother. Always a few years older, a few years stronger, a few years wiser, Older Brother always beats Little Brother. May it be that the lapse between the gold medals of 2000 and 2008 were merely the period when Older Brother went away to college and concentrated on starting a fledgling career and marriage while Younger Brother was enjoying the last few years of his post-pubescent physical prime. Each has now reached the plateau that is Early Career/Fledgling Family, and order shall now be restored. Older Brother, rise and claim what is yours!

Now about those Yankees...