Friday, July 24, 2015
Today’s MOZEN: More Than A Ball
It sits on my window sill among my nick-knacks, do-dads, and other oddities. If one takes the time to really look at this eclectic mix of collectibles, you can garner a pretty good idea of how my brain works — lots going on there. But unlike most of the objects, which are a matter of mere whimsy, this one has very special significance. In all the years and all the games I have attended at Yankee Stadium, it is the one and only baseball I have managed to take away from the field of play. In my father’s handwriting, it carries the date; July 24th, 1962 and the final score: Boston 2 Yankees 5. What made this moment truly special and Zen-like is that, despite passing it virtually every day, I very rarely stop to read it. It’s just, well, there. However, for some unknown reason, I decided to stop today. When I did read it, a great big smile broke across my face — it just happened to be the 53rd anniversary of having gotten it! It’s showing it’s age, but you can still clearly make out my father’s handwriting. It made me reminisce about my father and the wonderful way we secured that rare trophy.
I was only seven, but I have such a clear recollection of that day. It was hot and beautiful, much like it is today.Excitement enveloped the stadium even before we entered it. The barkers were selling programs. Long lines of fans shuffled into their respective entrance gates. As we entered, the sound changed. The blare of the streets outside gave way to the more muffled, swirling roar of the crowd filing in. It was just my father and me (my brother was only four and too young). Filled with a combination of fear, awe, and excitement, I held tightly to his hand. We seemed to climb forever inside the dark catacombs of the stadium’s bowels. Occasionally, I would catch a glimpse of the stadium’s glaring innards through one of the many entrance portals we passed. The contrast between the bright light of the field contrasted with the gloomy darkness of the stadium hallways increased my excitement to find our seats.
Checking out our ticket stubs, my father finally indicated that the portal ahead would lead us to our seats. I remember the euphoria of exiting the dark hallway to become absolutely bathed in the golden sunshine that was pouring down onto the field. I don’t think that I had ever seen anything as green as the playing field that was spreading out before us. We had emerged from concrete corridors to find a lush paradise! At that moment, I understood the true meaning of the word ball park.
My father showed the attendant our stubs and he led us to our seats. Wearing a mop-like glove, he cleaned one and then the other. My father tipped him, and we finally sat down. I was instantly mesmerized by the aura of the game. It was just more colorful than I imagined. In 1962, we were lucky to have a TV at all, much less a color one. So, whatever games we did watch at home were in good ol’ black-and-white. We had to rely on magazines like Sport and Sports Illustrated to see our favorite teams in color. But, no matter how good the photography may have been, it was nothing like seeing those colors LIVE!
I don’t remember the specifics of the game, but it must have been about the seventh inning when the Yankees decided to pinch hit for the starting pitcher (this was in the days before the designated hitter). At that time, the Yankees had one of the best pinch hitters in the game — Hector Lopez. I remember hearing legendary announcer Bob Sheppard call Lopez into the game:
Now, pinch hitting, #11 Hector Lopez. #11!
I must be honest, I don’t remember the count, but, suddenly, Lopez fouled off a pitch and it came screaming right towards us! My father jumped up with the rest of the crowed to see if he could snare it. In fact, my father did get a hand on it. But, it was traveling so hard and fast that it glanced off his thumb and rolled away. This created a mad dash for the loose ball. There were two young guys sitting next to us. They must have been nineteen or twenty and they were drawing a bead on it! Suddenly a hand clutching the ball appeared out of the scrum. It was one of our neighbors. Triumphantly, with pats of congratulations on his back, he returned to his seat. I started to cry — dad, you were so close! My father tried to console me but to no avail. My grief could not be assuaged or concealed. The young man who captured the ball saw me and leaned over extending his arm. In his hand was the coveted prize. He dropped it in my lap and said: Here kid. Don’t cry. Your father touched it first anyway. I couldn’t believe it! No one had asked him to do that. And, we KNOW how rare it is to actually catch a foul ball. So, why? I was too young to ask and he never offered an explanation. My father thanked him and we watched the remainder of the game together, prize clutched firmly in my hand.
I have never forgotten the kindness of that young man. And, I never tire of telling that story. It has to be good karma for him. And as for that fateful baseball, obviously, I still have it. As I wrote above, it’s starting to show it’s age- as am I. My father is long gone. Perhaps, the young man who gave it back to us is, too. I’ll never know. It’s not important — because even if that baseball fades, the memory of that day never will.