Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Farewell to History. . .

I know, I know. This, by name and for the most part by intent, is a hockey blog. And will continue to be. But....every so not very often, I feel the need to write something about another sport, like baseball. And given the final game at Yankee Stadium Sunday night and the final game at Shea quickly approaching around the corner, I wanted to write about my last experiences in these New York ballparks.
My first trip to Shea Stadium happened on a freezing cold and wet April day in 2002 where I went on an excursion to see not the Mets, but Tino Martinez as a Cardinal. I drove across the Whitestone, with two friends, and we sat, ice water freezing on our jeans and eye lashes. If they had 6,000 people in the stadium that day I'd be shocked. But they were great seats, and the ever nice employees at Shea made sure to brush off the rain before we sat. I remember more the experience of screaming for Tino and freezing with my two friends than the game, but it was a nice memory.
On September 10, 2008, I went to my final game. It was only my fourth trip, but easily my favorite. Even though I was never (unless you can count the crush on Keith Hernandez when I was 5) a Mets fan, I always said that I liked Shea Stadium. I've never sat in the upper sections. I've only sat in very good seats. But I always found the people to be courteous. And it was no different on that night. I sat there, David Wright shirt proudly displayed, and cheered for the Mets. Fan or not, it was refreshing to be able to just cheer, without really caring for the result. And after a back and forth game the Mets did win, on a David Wright homer. I wanted so badly to see the Shea "Apple" one more time. And I did. As a bonus, Jose Reyes, who for the record (and Mets fans might have their own opinion as he hits or doesn't hit) is my kind of lead-off hitter, stole two bases and became the all-time leader for steals in Mets history.
My first trip to Yankees Stadium happened on a warm summer day in July of 1994. I won tickets. Ironically I wasn't trying to win tickets to the "baseball" game. I was trying to win tickets to the celebrity game that was happening before the baseball game. (Shows you where my head was at in the early 90s). But I won tickets, and got to go to the game. We sat in the upper deck, not far from the lights. My father joked we could offer to change them if we wanted to, we were so close. But, from the high distance, I still saw my first professional baseball game. Jim Abbott, a guy who I read a story about in my literature book that year, pitched. A guy named Don Mattingly was at first. Wade Boggs was at 3rd. Paul O'Neill and Bernie Willams were there too, as were Polonia, Tartabull, and Paul Kelly. The Yankees beat Cleveland 6-5. I was hooked.
Not many people can say they became fans of baseball after the strike of 1994. Baseball lost many of it's fans that year. But because of my timing, baseball hadn't had time to insult me yet, and I became a fan that year and in the year that followed. I got to see Don Mattingly. Wade Boggs and he became my favorites. I knew the Yankees before Derek Jeter, which seems hard to believe. My set-up to closer relationship of choice was Rivera to John Wetteland. Joe Torre was not even manager yet; Buck Showalter had the helm.
I was a Yankees fan from 1995-1999, but I was an obsessed fan from 2000-2002. 2001, despite the loss, was my favorite season. I remember almost every little detail about that playoff run. At that time, it was more a passion than hockey, which is both surprising and somewhat hurtful to admit. From 2003-present, I've been a passive baseball observer. There were seasons in there I missed going to games entirely. I believe one year I didn't watch a single game. I got burnt out. I lost that feeling. Whatever I felt in the early 2000s, I just didn't feel anymore. Sad, and to many people, beyond understanding, but I just didn't feel like a baseball fan anymore.
I truly believe it was burnout. In the last few years I've slowly crawled my way back to being at least slightly knowledgeable about what is going on. I've averaged going to 3-4 games a season for the last few, not all in New York. I'll watch a few on TV if they are good matchups. I'll listen on the radio if I'm bored in the car. I guess it came down to that I much rather enjoyed going to the games, rather that devoting over three hours to watching or listening to them.
I find it unnecessary to go into my whole sob story of why I'm not really a "fan" anymore. There are many reasons. But to be honest, it really has nothing to do with the Yankees not winning. You are talking to a person who is a Rangers fan (and will be forever, because some loves, my friends, they never die), and who maybe saw them win once in all the times she went to the Garden growing up. It has nothing to do with them winning or not. In fact, honestly, by 2000 I was tired of them winning. I could no longer remember who caught final outs, who won the MVPs, who they even beat to win the World Series. I mean sure, I wanted them to win in 2001. It would have been picture perfect and ideal. And maybe party of me died that night as a fan, but you know what, it's still my favorite run, so I wouldn't change it for anything.
But in all honestly, the game changed. The fans changed. When I went in 1994 to see what was a quite good Yankee team, the stands were empty. You could breathe. Watch. Enjoy. Win or lose. Now, trips to the Bronx or trips to Camden Yards to see the Yankees, bring sold out capacity crowds, with yelling and bitterness and greed. I'm all for cheering, but Yankees fans now feel so entitled. Because their team buys the best to be the best. I'm sorry, but I've said before, the best they ever had in my generation was a bunch of worker types like O'Neill, Martinez, and Brosius, who will never be the "best" of any category, but saved their best for big moments.
I'm not a huge fan of any of the Yankees now. I've never been a Jeter lover, but I respect the guy. I like Mo Rivera, but I'm not pretending he's a god because I actually know he wouldn't want to be referred to as one. The last good guys on that team for me are Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina. And the guy who I am most happy to see succeed is a guy who I hated with every fiber of my being 7 years ago. Jason Giambi. (I'll explain that one another day). I've joked that I'll be a Yankees fan when A-Rod is no longer a Yankee. I have, what, nine more years to go. But, sadly, I'll never be able to un-see and un-remember all that the Yankees were when he was here. I wish no ill will to any of these guys and obviously I'm near the last person that should have an opinion about a team I've made it quite clear I haven't followed on a regular basis in six years, but I don't feel it. I don't feel the magic. I hope it returns someday, but. . . you never know.
My last game at Yankees Stadium was September 16th, 2008. I waited for hours to get into Monument Park only to be shutout. I spent most of the game taking pictures. Silly random pictures. I watched the game. Cheered when Derek Jeter got a hit in his first at bat to pull ahead of Lou Gehrig for most all time at the Stadium, which is the moment, decades later, I'll remember if anyone asks me about my last trip to the Stadium. I kept my souvenir glasses, took a final picture with my friend, and left before the game was over, which I rarely if ever do. I touched the wall as I was leaving the Stadium, but I guess I had already said goodbye a long time ago.
A lot of people mourned the loss of the Stadium last night. The end of an era. The closing of one building that brought so much pride and tradition for 85 years.
I said goodbye. And it was bittersweet. But I mourned the loss of an era 7 years ago that long ago November night in the desert. And as far as I'm concerned, the loss of the mystique and aura that were Yankees Stadium left three nights earlier with a single to right field by Alfonso Soriano in game five.

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