The grass was green, the infield slightly pebbly. I had been staring at that field for weeks. I had run onto to it to play first base, but I had never run around the bases. Not even to one.
I was eight years old and I was still waiting for my first hit in little league. In the third game, I finally put wood on the ball and lined it over the second baseman’s head. It rolled past the center fielder and by the time he picked it up I was a good way to second. I slid into the base, even though it was not necessary and stood up grinning. It was my first hit. I hit eight doubles that year, and nothing else.
Now, I go back and wonder how I did not hit eight homeruns. The field looks so small, the bases so close I could spit a watermelon seed past one.
In Japan, outside the majors, they play on all dirt fields and use a synthetic rubber ball. I thought it would fly off the bat and bounce higher than a skyscraper, but that is not true. It acts exactly like a real ball, except that on those all dirt fields it can roll for eternity.
Our team’s baseball field was built into the side of a mountain, so that a homer to right field hit the side of the mountain. A homer to left though was all about the roll. My last game in Japan, our portliest player, who ran like an arthritic elephant, hit a ball over the left fielder’s head. It was comic to watch him chug around the bases, barely sliding into third ahead of the tag. All of us on the bench were rolling with laughter, because for any other player it would have been a trot to home plate.
Even after the game, over beer and Japanese BBQ, we chortled about his slide and his grin.
Little league fields and Japanese stadiums are one thing, Yankee Stadium is something else entirely. When I was twelve, I signed up for a subscription of Yankee Magazine because it came with two free tickets to a Yankee game. The magazine sounded interesting, but it was the tickets I wanted.
I do not remember much of the game, but I do remember trying to get back to the hotel after the game. My father did not want to wait in traffic, so we took a shortcut, which involved lots of dead ends heaped with trash and dark alleys straight out of a horror film. My father was constantly and nervously looking out the window to make sure no one was approaching our car, a light blue Geo that I remember seemed to be made of Styrofoam. That is why we got 56 mpg. But it was also a car that could have been stopped with one strong hand of someone intent on robbing the stupid tourists.
Another time we went to Yankee Stadium during David Cone’s nightmare season. The previous year he had pitched a perfect game, an incredible achievement. But after that, it seemed he could not buy a win. He had a record of 5-16 or something gruesomely similar. But that sunny afternoon we went to see one of our all time favorite players and he pitched well enough to win. When he walked off the mound that day, everyone in the stadium game him a standing ovation. My dad and I grinned at each other the whole way home, hoping our hero would be able to turn it around the rest of the year.
And this year is the last year of Yankee Stadium, the house that Ruth built, and one of the most storied stadiums ever. The Yankee season has been one long send-off, from hosting the All-Star game to Upper Deck’s limited edition baseball card set of every game ever played there, to what is shaping up to be a final play-off dash and possible world series run.
My dad and I had to go to one more game. We took a long bus ride down for an afternoon game. We had great seats, with a panoramic view of the whole stadium, as well as the new stadium being built across the street. Before we left, I made sure we had our picture taken against the backdrop of the stadium. And the Yankees won. Still, it was with some sadness, that I bid farewell to Yankee stadium.
In my life, there are so many memories linked to a location. And tearing them down leaves nothing but the memory, something that every year becomes less and less substantial and more and more a figment of my imagination. It something like the divorced man who comes home to find his wife gone and all he has left are pleasant memories made bittersweet by her absence. And each coming home to an empty house reminds him he can make no more memories, only remember what once was.
© Seth Crossman