Where Have You Gone?
I remember the grass.
I don’t remember approaching the Stadium, or winding my way through the labyrinthine tunnels of the “old” ballpark, or even the gleaming facade, but I remember emerging from the cool darkness of the tunnel, being saturated by the July sun, and seeing that perfect, cross-cut swath of Kentucky bluegrass.
It was Old-Timers’ Day–I remember that–but the significance of the event was completely lost on me. As I dust off the memory by peering at the glossy 5x7s in my photo album, I see the gray head of Joe DiMaggio and Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra in their baggy uniforms, but I have no memory of them assembled on the first base line with dozens of other pinstripe-clad Yankee greats. I’m glad I can tell my kids that I once saw Joltin’ Joe, yet my 12-year-old brain did not find that as important to latch onto as, say, the mini batting helmet filled with ice cream dad bought my brother and I. I can see the rainbow sprinkles, but I cannot draw forth a memory of seeing the most elegant player to ever grace a ball field.
I don’t remember Reggie Jackson cracking a home run in the Old-Timers’ game. I don’t recall Derek Jeter going 2-for-5, nor do I remember Luis Sojo tripling (though of all the things I saw that day I wish I could remember that), or David Cone‘s 10-strikeout performance, or Mariano Rivera‘s 11-pitch save. I don’t recollect Bob Sheppard’s voice from that day or Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” blaring over the loudspeakers after the 6-2 win. I cannot visualize any of the things I would later appreciate as I returned to the Stadium dozens of times: the sound of the elevated train on River Avenue, the roll call, the organ music, the undulating sounds of the crowd, the slap of a ball against the catcher’s mitt.
But I remember the grass, and every time I imagine seeing that emerald green lawn a dormant chapter of my life is stirred. As I write this it is 32° outside and a thin sheet of snow entombs the ground, but thoughts of that afternoon flood my living room with mid-summer warmth. Perhaps that feeling, above everything else that I saw that day, is the most satisfying thing I can recall from that day. Not Whitey, or Reggie, or Yogi, or even the Clipper, but a pure summer day, watching a ballgame with my father. I can’t resurrect Conie rearing back, or Jeet gliding around the fringe of the outfield, or Mo coldly assassinating the final two batters, but I remember a time when athletes truly were heroic, when summers were free, when the game was pure. In the words of Seamus Heaney they are “something else the tide won’t wash away.”
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Postscript: Thoughts on my first Yankee game on July 12, 1997. This story also appeared on EephusLeague.com. Check it out here.