The last remnants of the old Yankee Stadium may have been cleared away, but thanks to books like the just released Lasting Yankee Stadium Memories, the old place will never be forgotten.
For those familiar with the esteemed blog Bronx Banter (and those who aren’t should be), Stadium Memories will ring a bell because it is a collection of essays mostly compiled from a series that was published on the website back in 2008. Over the course of that year, Alex Belth, the talented writer and storyteller behind Bronx Banter, culled together a random sampling of memoirs from a variety of men and women who had the privilege to walk through the gates of the old Yankee Stadium.
The force that transformed a series of blog posts into a poignant scrapbook of memories was the untimely passing of one of the contributors. The first essay in Stadium Memories was written by Todd Drew, a talented writer, social activist, local historian and, above all else, rabid Yankee fan. Drew started out as a frequent commentator at Bronx Banter, and eventually joined the blog’s team of writers, imparting a unique style that was hard to ignore. Sadly, however, Drew’s time at Bronx Banter was short. Only months after penning his Stadium memoir, he passed away at the much too young age of 41. After his death, the essay would be honored by appearing in The Best American Sports Writing 2009, but its existence as the foundation of Stadium Memories is probably the reward that Drew would have cherished most.
Stadium Memories is about more than just a recollection of great games and events from the past. Instead, the anthology is really a series personal memoirs woven around Yankee Stadium. In each account, the Stadium is always in the background, but the real stars of the show are the family members, friends and personal experiences that can make even the most mundane occurrences seem so special. Whether it is Jane Leavy explaining how she could best relate to her grandmother through the pain experienced by Mickey Mantle, or Leigh Montville “sharing” his newspaper’s press credentials with buddies from the old neighborhood, the book is filled with stories of personal relationships, which for many is what being a baseball fan is all about.
To be sure, Stadium Memories has its share of sportswriters talking shop and recollections of the many big games played within the ballpark, but ultimately what makes it a must read for any Yankee fan is that it invites the reader to reminisce and chip in with a few memories of their own.
While reading through the different essays, more than a few of my own recollections emerged. Like rushing my way through an economics exam in college so I could scurry to the Bronx and attend the first game of 1995 ALDS, the first playoff game I had ever experienced after years of dreaming about the possibility. While taking the exam, I couldn’t suppress the building excitement. By the time I made it the Stadium, however, I was experiencing a tinge of regret. You see, left behind in the class was a certain young lady whom I just started getting to know. Although I didn’t want to forfeit the time we might spend together after class, this was the playoffs. Sadly, it wouldn’t be the last time the Yankees won out over love.
I also couldn’t help remember the time I brought my young niece to Yankee Stadium, and had to spend an entire inning explaining to her how I was not like the crazy man behind us yelling each time the Yankees made an out or gave up a hit. The first game I attended with my father also came to the fore. Did we really have to park 10 blocks away in a supermarket lot?
The most striking memory, however, was one that actually never happened. Growing up, my grandfather made me a Yankee fan by sharing his passion for the team (cheering “Willie…hit one for Willie”, each time Randolph would come to the plate). In those days, my grandfather, a “professional boxer” during the depression who was mostly paid in things like watches and free meals, wasn’t very nimble on his feet. He was also a very stubborn man who could get emotional at times. As a result, my mother cringed at the idea of him taking the subway from Brooklyn to the Bronx, not to mention interacting amid a big crowd. Although she couldn’t stop him from seeing his beloved Yankees, there was no way she was going to let him take his grandson.
So, instead, he would buy two tickets and then bring me home a whole host of goodies (my grandfather would always go to the giveaways). Whether it was caps, bats, umbrellas, t-shirts or calendars (especially the calendars), I always reaped the benefits of his visits to the Stadium. Unfortunately, by the time I was old enough to take care of myself, by grandfather no longer could do the same. Sadly, I never would get the chance to go with him to see the Yankees…not at Yankee Stadium at least. In 1985, just after the mini-strike, we saw the Yankees play at Fenway Park along with family we had been visiting in Connecticut. During the game in which the Yankees routed the Sox, my grandfather raised from his seat and started to cheery lustily. Several Red Sox fans around us leered angrily in our direction, prompting my aunt to pull him back down. I guess my mother was right!
If it seems like a review of Stadium Memories has lapsed into my own trip down memory lane, well, that’s exactly the point. If you are a Yankee fan, the book might not teach you much about the team or the Stadium, but you’ll definitely come away learning something about yourself.