The LuLac Edition #578, Sept. 21st, 2008
PHOTO INDEX: A PAPAL MONUMENT COMMEMORATING POPE BENEDICT XVI'S MASS IN APRIL OF THIS YEAR, THIS WAS ONE OF THREE PAPAL MASSES AT YANKEE STADIUM, THE BEST PHOTO I EVER TOOK IN MY LIFE, THE LATE MICKEY MANTLE MOTORING ON TO THE FIELD AT THE STADIUM DURING THE OLD TIMER'S GAME IN JUNE OF 1980, POLITICIANS FREQUENTED YANKEE STADIUM ESPECIALLY ON OPENING DAY, FROM 1981 GOVERNOR HUGH CAREY (LEFT) TALKING TO NEW YORK CITY MAYOR ED KOCH (RIGHT IN TAN RAINCOAT), DIANE MUNSON AND HER CHILDREN LESS THAN A YEAR AFTER THURMAN'S DEATH WITH ROBERT MERRILL IN THE BACKGROUND, MY FIRST GAME EVER AT YANKEE STADIUM, SEPT. 16TH 1979, "CATFISH HUNTER DAY", THE PHOTO WAS TAKEN FROM THE VANTAGE POINT OF OUR SEATS, AND THE LATE DODGER AND ABC BROADCASTER DON DRYSDALE BEING INTERVIEWED AT 161RST STREET AND RIVER AVENUE, THAT MOST FAMOUS SPORTS ADDRESS, YANKEE STADIUM.
YANKEE STADIUM MEMORIES
Today the big ball park in the Bronx closes. It has been a source of fascination for me since I was a child. My love of baseball came from watching the Yankee games on TV, seeing Mantle, Maris and my favorite Yankee, Clete Boyer play on those great teams. Ironically, I never was a Yankee fan. My teams back then were the Indians (still) and the Phillies (not anymore-1964 fixed that!) But my father always said that if you lived on the east coast, you had to follow the New York teams. That went for football, basketball and baseball. My uncles were a rich resource of Yankee history telling me about the days of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and others. As a child, I never got to Yankee Stadium like other kids in my school. It wasn’t for lack of trying. We had tried to go twice on a bus trip but it rained both days and then when my father got his old job back on the railroad, his being on call during weekends made a trip to the Bronx moot. No matter, I still had the TV with the grainy black and white images and the radio too. After the game, I’d take my glove and bounce a ball against the front steps mimicking the plays. In neighborhood pickup games, I’d haul out my white tee shirt with the laundry marker imprinted homemade number 6 on it and proceeded to become Clete Boyer whenever we hit the ball around. When I began college and a broadcasting career, I followed baseball on the periphery but it was never far from my full attention. I was doing an all night classical show on WVIA FM the night Chris Chambliss hit his game winning home run over the Royals to get the Yanks in the playoffs. Then I began to gravitate back toward watching those tumultuous teams of the 70s. From 1976 through 1979, my dad and I would sit and watch those games. He died before the 1980 season began and there has been a void for me in baseball watching ever since.
My first ever trip to Yankee Stadium was on September 16th, 1979, “Catfish Hunter Day”. A guy I worked with, Butch Bianconi ran a trip from Mercy Hospital and it was an event. Like Billy Crystal said, “When I walked out of that runway, all I saw was green”. It was majestic and something to behold. The seats were in the box area and the day was magnificent. A year later, in 1980, months after my father’s death, I began to write a sports column for a local paper. I received a press pass to the Yankee games and it was a very experience to see the players up close. It was incredible to walk on that field where Ruth and all the other legends walked. That never got old for me.
On old Timer’s Day 1980, I rode a Martz Bus to the ballpark. Our bus made a detour to pick up some passengers from another bus that was Stadium bound but broke down. It was that fateful day that I met Mr. Frank Martin. On the field that day, I took the best photos of my life-- Mickey Mantle running onto the grass, Don Drysdale in the dugout and the widow Munson and her children. During the 80s, I traveled to the Stadium many times, conducting interviews, snapping photos and just drinking in the scenes. My biggest regret however was seeing Richard Nixon and not approaching him. One of the fascinating political figures of my lifetime, I grew up seeing his furrowed brow and sullen expression. Nixon, at this one game was beatific in his enjoyment and I thought, “Why bother the son of gun!” How ironic that as a kid I never got to that Stadium but now as an adult I was practically living there.
My friendship with Frank Martin grew through the 80s. He became a member of my wedding party and turned out to be one of my most loyal friends. One day in the late 80s, an event changed both of our lives. Frank’s long time landlord was suffering a heart attack. Frank took him to CMC and essentially saved his life. When the man’s daughter in law found out about his heroism, she offered Frank a new car, a few thousand bucks, a vacation trip and even free rent for a time. Frank turned her down. In exasperation, she said, “What do you want?” And Frank said, knowing the woman was a secretary for IBM in Manhattan, “If you could get me those IBM seats for Old Timer’s Game this year, that would be great”. The seats were slightly to the left of home plate and 14 rows back. Her one year commitment turned into 12 years. During that time period, Frank had access to 4 seats every Old Timer’s Game. Every year, a different duo went with the two of us. He spread the wealth around and everybody who was important in his life, got to see a game in one of those seats. Mrs. LuLac has the distinction of being the only female to achieve such lofty status. The day began in Scranton, then detoured to Beacon New York to pick up Mike Nott, then on to the Stadium Club for a great meal and then the game. The You Tube video at the end of this edition will give you a flavor for the zaniness of the day. It was 1998 and the end of the line for the Old Timer’s Games tickets. Frank’s landlord died and his daughter-in-law retired from IBM. In this last trip, you’ll see four grown men turn into little boys right before your eyes. More about that later.
Fathers’ Day 1999 was the last time I ever went to a game at Yankee Stadium. My church, Sts. Peter and Paul in Plains was running a trip and our pastor Father Joe Greskiewich was in charge of it. Now had I known Father Joe was such an avid sports fan, I might have invited him along on one of our IBM trips but you learn little sometimes from the altar about a priest’s sports passions. On the way to the Bronx, Father Joe shared his memories of being a baseball fan and was puzzled, as was half of the bus that my friend David Dellarte was an Angels fan. “Were you born in California?” “No”. “Relatives in California?” “No”. “Ever been to California?” “No”. The game turned out to be a nail biter with the Angels prevailing and the seats, though not IBM variety, still provided an expansive vista of the hallowed grounds of Yankee Stadium.
After my accident in 1999, my trips to the Stadium were curtailed. But I made one last journey in April of 2008 to see Pope Benedict XVIth say a Papal Mass. Many of my friends were shocked because for whatever reason, I have this certain pull toward this particular Pope. Still, I got to see him in person, got multiple blessings that day and even though I was at the time sick with cancer, (sometimes not knowing something can give you energy you thought you didn’t have) it was one of the top experiences of my life. Today Yankee Stadium closes. I’ll be watching it with millions on TV. But my friend Frank Martin will be there tonight. He has been offered thousands of dollars for his ticket, but turned all comers down. He was there when they closed the original Yankee Stadium for remodeling, was back when they opened it up again in 1976. Predictably he is enthused beyond reason about the new stadium. When I see it, I most likely will share that feeling. But tonight, in this year of 2008 which for me personally has been one of loss and challenge, the closing of the big ball park in the Bronx is the final nail in the coffin of my youth. The Stadium may close, but my memories will always be open for business.
THE LAST VOYAGE
In 1998, realizing that this was going to be our final time at Yankee Stadium with the IBM seats, Frank and I decided to have it videotaped. Our friend Benny Cortez from the Mid Valley did the honors. A few points of reference:
1. This is the first time Frank ever wore shorts to the Stadium.
2. Frank had on this huge Mickey Mantle shirt that attracted attention.
3. Frank, a long time devotee of Mickey Mantle, as a matter of fact his nickname is “Mick Man” was debating whether he should stand and clap for Joe DiMaggio at Old Timer’s Day. DiMaggio had not been to Mickey Mantle’s funeral and Frank never forgave him for it, until Old Timer’s Game 1998.
4. This would be DiMaggio’s last Old Timer’s Game.
5. We’d pick out a decent looking woman in the crowd and dare each other to go and take her picture. No one had the guts to do it until 1998. You’ll see who it was who took “the photo challenge” in the video.
6. Watching the video is bittersweet for me because it was the last time I would be walking unassisted.
7. Now from YOU TUBE: Yankee Stadium.