July 15, 2008
A Swan Song on Sacred Ground.
I'm the oldest eight-year-old boy in the room.
It's 85 degrees in New York today, with just enough clouds in the sky to be beautiful without being threatening, kind of the Cobie Smulders of summer skies. Everywhere you look, there's baseball talent, be it the kind that plays the game, or thinks about the game, or writes about it. Ian Kinsler lines balls around the outfield in batting practice, and Carlos Zambrano brushes by on his way to stretch, and Ken Rosenthal walks through on his way to the Fox set, and you realize that this is the center of the baseball universe.
And you're there, and for a second, it's a little hard to breathe.
This All-Star Game, this night, is personal for me. I grew up 10 minutes from this ballpark, just across the Harlem River and up Broadway, a Yankee fan in a Mets era. I remember my first game here, in 1978, a Saturday afternoon against the Twins, and even those details only come to mind because I had the program saved into my teens. I remember looking at the schedule every season, finding the doubleheader on that schedule and asking for that for my birthday. I'm still bitter about the 1979 one, when the second game was delayed by a thunderstorm long enough for my family to give up. We got home to see my uncle watching Rudy May tossing his second inning in Game Two.
This is sacred ground for me. I don't walk into any place else in the world-my home, a church, a place in nature-that makes me feel like Yankee Stadium does when I walk into it. Tonight, I was on that field, meandering around behind the plate in a cloud of baseball, seeing the scoreboards and the frieze and the black seats from an angle I'd never experienced them. It was all I could do to sustain conversations, so rapt was I with the view, with the moment, with the dirt under my feet and the dugout I'd just walked through. I can't even pretend to be cool about this; hang a hundred press passes on me, and I couldn't have pulled off the professional cool of so many here.
I love this place. I love this field. Rooting for the Yankees was a part of my identity before I knew what the word "identity" meant. Quite possibly before I knew what "the" meant. I walked in this afternoon, made a left and walked up the ramp to section 29, just outside the right-field foul pole, and I just stood there and looked for a while. I've seen this park in daytime and night, with 55,000 lunatics or 18,000 people who couldn't care less. I've seen incredibly important baseball games and meaningless late-season contests. I've cheered Hall of Famers and, well, Andre Robertson. I watched Ron Hassey win a game with an infield hit. Seeing the park nearly empty, quiet and still, the echoes of Josh Hamilton's bombs lingering in the air, sent a chill through me.
I don't know how you could ever get tired of this. I know that covering the Padres and Rockies on a 38-degree September evening in Denver isn't in my job description, and neither is 75 nights a year in various Hiltons, nor trying to glean information from the overpaid, overprivileged, and underdressed. But to stand on the field at Yankee Stadium in the summer sun, and be surrounded by all that talent, and think about a youth spent coming to this place and being thrilled and disappointed and inspired, to think about a life spent loving baseball…I don't know how you could ever get tired of it.
I'm sitting here now, thinking about my peers, known and unknown, who remember where they were when Bucky Dent went yard, who cried over Thurman Munson, who wish Mike Ferraro had held up a stop sign, and that Dave Righetti had remained a starter, and who believe that 1986 never happened. The thousands of New York kids who loved Don Mattingly, hated George Steinbrenner, and remember a time when Yankee baseball was synonymous with mistake and horror, rather than mystique and aura.
Tonight is for us. This ballpark saw so much greatness and so much frustration, and if it's time for it to go gently into that good night, let's not forget what it means to the game, and to a generation of men who have never, ever stopped being eight-year-old boys.