The Total Eclipse Of McCain

Aquarian Weekly 9/24/08 REALITY CHECK

ADDIO STADIABronx Boy Bids Farewell To The Haunts Of Youth

One need not be a chamber to be haunted; One need not be a house; The brain has corridors surpassing Material place. – Emily DickinsonTime and Eternity

Maybe, if you’re lucky, there are a few places you can say you’ve frequented for a lifetime; places experienced through the eyes of a child to young adult to adulthood and so on. For someone, such as myself, who has called numerous and Yankee Stadiumvaried locales home and lived several lives throughout, those places are fleeting. When pressed, I could always recall two: Radio City Music Hall and two stadiums – Yankee and Shea. In a few weeks the latter two will go dark and be torn down to make way for new state-of-the-art 21st Century models. One in Queens and one in the Bronx, one closes 44 years and the other 84. One a symbol of the modern metropolis, erected in the wake of America’s excessive post-war boom, the other a monolithic outpost at the dawn of the Jazz age; both institutions going where most institutions in the greatest city in the world go, into the past to make way for profit of progress.

Yankee Stadium is hallowed sports ground. It has been called a cathedral, the home office for the most successful and renowned franchise in the history of team competition, whose prominent members have one time or another held or currently hold every pertinent regular season, post season, or career baseball record known. It has also hosted Popes, championship bouts, and what is still called The Greatest Game Ever Played by pro football historians, the 1958 NFL Championship.

Shea Stadium is the home of miracles, begun by Joe Willie Namath and the upstart AFL Jets in the winter of 1968 and completed by the unbelievable summer of ’69 when the lovable loser Mets became lovable champions. Then again seventeen years later when one of the most improbable victories in World Series history rolled through the legs of a hobbled firstbagger from Beantown. Oh, and along the way, there were the Beatles, the Stones, The Who, and most recently, Long Islander, Billy Joel.

But all of that means little for me. I humbly wish to bid farewell to the structures that housed those magical days and nights spent beside my dad, my family, my friends, and my media colleagues. I bid farewell to the wonders of youthful revelry at the end of those long trips of anticipation and drudgery into the realm of pressured deadlines and effusive ovations – the psychic manifestation of collective memory born in the shadow of brick and mortar surrounding a few hundred yards of dirt and grass. I bid farewell to a measure of my identity.

The first time I entered Yankee Stadium, I am told, it was in the belly of my mother; who is always happy to recount in one of the many stories used to illustrate my father’s obsession with what she dubs People Running Around With Numbers On Their Backs, a tale of sitting in the bleachers six-months pregnant. By then my father had been twenty years into a love affair with the place, begun in late afternoons when his school chum, the Yankees batboy, would sneak them into games after the sixth inning.

I was born soon thereafter in Northern Manhattan during a Red Sox/Yankees double-header in the Bronx, the same year New York got their National League team back; the year the Mets were simultaneously the most putrid and beloved team of a generation. Two years after that they christened their own stadium near Flushing Meadows during the World’s Fair, which I proudly attended by way of stroller. Two years after the Beatles showed up too.

By the time I was old enough to breath, eat, and even walk on my own, I entered both places during two disparate seasons; one awash in the glow of summer, the other beneath the frigid gale of winter. Through the imposing Yankee Stadium gates I strode, clutching eagerly to my father’s hand, up the dark tunnel into an explosion of greens, blues and the incredible white of the famed façade. For a city kid, it had the pastoral grandeur of Dorothy emerging from her black and white farmhouse into the glaringly multihued trip of Oz. Then it was onto the clamor and pomp of an AFL Sunday in the windswept cavern dressed as a miniature Nanook sweating with the anticipation of seeing the great Namath warm up.

There were the raucous Yankee Stadium trips of my pre-teen years when my family moved from the Bronx to New Jersey, Bat Day and Cap Day and sitting up in the left field upper deck sort-of near my idol Roy White. Then behind the dugout the time my Uncle Johnny scored the rare box seat and my cousin Michelle dumped a beverage on an unsuspecting patron who was merrily doused during a key Thurman Munson late-inning double to beat Boston.

The two Campion boys, just a couple of neighborhood kids visiting the Grand Old Lady one last time. We scored the game. Shared some stories. Cheered the home team. Said good-bye.

Onto my teenaged years with my friends, Roland, Bob, Chris and my little brother PJ sitting in the Stadium bleachers getting ripped on watered down beer and screeching obscenities at multi-million dollar athletes as we endured the squelching heat of endless double-headers. Across town we hatched the bright idea to parade around the entirety of Shea, a community replete with banners of all shapes and sizes, with a blank one. There is something abjectly satisfying in proudly displaying a completely stark sign to scores of dumbfounded fans as Dave Kingman uncorks one of his patented moonshots.

And then into my twenties and early thirties when I worked the stadia press boxes and clubhouses culling interviews for rat-faced producers, penning columns for fun loving sports editors, and phoning in reports to Westchester radio stations. I met my journalistic and broadcasting heroes, smoked my first cigar, picked the brains of grizzled pen-jockeys and veteran photogs, and stomped the terra with my pal, Mike, the best cameraman I have ever known.

From balmy late-summer evenings amidst eight thousand disgruntled fans to crisp autumn nights basking in the din of 56 thousand bellowing hordes cheering pennant winners. Waltzing through the grumpy army of press geeks with my dear friend and colleague, Rob during the World Series, fending off the jeers of beat lifers as we wrestled over boxed dinners during stifling press conferences. I watched from the main press box as the ball settled into the left fielder’s glove to win the last game of the 20th century and give the Yanks the 25th of their incredible 26 titles, jotting into my scorecard “For Vinnie” my great uncle, who had seen the Babe and Gehrig and DiMaggio there, before passing away only a few months before. Later, squeezing among the showering champagne celebrants, I was accosted into a bear hug by the general manager of the best team on the planet, who’d become my friend during the summer of my marriage.

The last time I saw Shea, it was from the darkened parking lot on a misty autumn evening during the late innings of Game 4 of the Subway Series in 2000; the roar of the crowd causing me to turn my head and peer through the opening in right-centerfield. The lights of October illuminated my solitary stroll to file my report.

I would spend only one more day at Yankee Stadium as a reporter; opening day 2001. Soon after I left sports reporting as a profession, but not as a passion. I had before, during since spent many games in the company of cherished friends during countless games and finally an annual trip with my wife, who last season sat next to me with my daughter in her belly.

Earlier this month I took her grandpa, returning a 40-plus year favor. The two Campion boys, just a couple of neighborhood kids visiting the Grand Old Lady one last time. We scored the game. Shared some stories. Cheered the home team. Said good-bye.

There’s always Radio City.


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