Tuesday, the Yankees will host the last major league all-star game ever to be played in Yankee Stadium. When the season ends, the wrecking ball will come crashing down on the House That Ruth Built. Gone forever, the hollowed ground that Yankee fans everywhere have revered for 85 years. Somewhere beneath the rubble will be my childhood dream of ever seeing first hand that storied place. Lost will be my chance to see, to hear, to smell the place that to me is baseball. It was baseball before color TV, before instant replay, before spandex and maple bats. It was baseball when guys named Dizzy and Pee Wee called the games on Saturday mornings. It was baseball before asterisks in the record books, labor strikes, agents and collective bargaining. It was just baseball.
Now, when they move Monument Park to a new center field across the street, it will be more like business as usual. The names on the monuments, Huggins, Gehrig, Ruth, DiMaggio and Mantle, will be the same. But somehow, the game will never be the same. I think what I will miss, more than the opportunity to visit that historic field, is the game as I knew it. It was a game that little kids played in dirt fields on hot summer days while they pretended to be big kids named Mickey, Whitey and Yogi.
I'll live through this disappointment as I have others because I'm not one to dwell on the negative. I have my memories, Mantle's blast hitting the right field facade, Dizzy and Yogi mangling the English language, Maris hitting 61. They will have to keep me, such as they are.
And I really can't complain. I got to see the Yankees play once. It was 1966, the first year the Angels were playing in their new stadium, The Big A, down in Anaheim. Out of the blue Pop asked if I wanted to go to a ball game. What fourteen year old boy would pass that up? Not this one. What a day. Before the game we went down behind home plate to watch the Yanks take batting practice. Pop took a bunch of pictures and I just watched in numb amazement. They were all there-Mantle, Maris, Yogi, Whitey, Richardson, Kubek, Pepitone, Boyer, in their pinstripes, bigger than life. I don't even remember who won the game. I didn't care.
I'll never forget that day. It was the best day of my life till then. I had loved those guys since I was old enough to know what baseball was. And there they were-right in front of me. I don't think I ever thanked my dad enough for taking me to that game. I know he knew how much it meant to me but I never told him. I wish he were here now so I could just hug him and tell him thanks for giving me something I will never forget. Mom found some of those pictures a few years ago, a half dozen or so Pop took from where we sat down the left field line, but none of the ones from behind home plate. It's OK though. I've still got them, in my heart.