What it meant to be there

Mauer: I'm 'not feeling great'
Sherman: Yankees concerned Joba was too comfortable

On July 4, 1983, my parents were listening to the radio with their three-month-old son. It was a Monday afternoon, and Dave Righetti was on the mound for the Yanks. For nine innings, he dazzled the Sox, and his final line — 9 innings, no hits — was one for the ages. I don’t remember it, but that’s the day I became a baseball fan.

I started going to games when I was three or four and remember bits and pieces of my early years of baseball fandom. I loved going into Stan’s to get a new team hat. I collected yearbooks and learned how to keep score when I was six. I saw Bo Jackson break his bat and heard the news when George Steinbrenner was suspended. I watched the Yankees finish seventh in the AL East and followed the exploits of Wade Taylor, Scott Kamieniecki and Jeff Johnson as though they were actually good.

At some point in the mid-1990s, baseball stopped being something I enjoyed as a kid and began to be something akin to a religion. I soaked up games, stats, insight into baseball. I lived and died with the Yankees. A victory would brighten my mood until the next day while a loss would be heartbreaking. I still live and die through the Yanks that way.

In 1996, everything started going our way. After the crushing defeat in the 1995 ALDS, the Yankees began a magical run in Joe Torre’s first year at the helm and Derek Jeter‘s first year at short. After a hiccup in 1997, the Yankees simply never lost in October. They ran through the Padres, the Braves, the Mets, the Rangers, the A’s, the Mariners, the Indians. Nothing — until Luis Gonzalez hit a perfectly placed ball past a drawn-in infield — could stop them.

As Gonzalez’s ball landed, the spell broke. Mystique and Aura would return for a night in October in 2003 when the Yankees rallied against Pedro Martinez and Aaron Boone became the next unlikely star amidst a series of frustrating postseasons. We know how 2004 turned out, how 2005 ended with a collision in center field, how 2006 was just ugly, how 2007 bugged us and how 2008? Well, last year, there was no October.

This year, though, the team stormed into the postseason with 103 wins, and when I had a chance to buy a ticket for Friday’s game, I leaped. Even though the ticket was a standing-row only spot behind section 229 down the third base line, I took the chance. I hadn’t seen a post-season game in person since Mike Mussina lost to Justin Verlander. It was time to get to the stadium.

The electricity coursed through the crowd on Friday from the start. Reggie received a warm welcome for the first pitch, and by 6:07 p.m., Yankee Stadium was stuffed to the gills. We roared at A.J. Burnett‘s first-pitch strike and hung on every pitch. When A.J. threw a strike, the crowd went nuts. When a Yankee batter drew a ball, the crowd went nuts. 50,006 fans — the largest crowd at Yankee Stadium this year — came expecting a win.

For 11 innings, the Yankees made it tough. The Twins had runners on in every inning, and every Yankee reliever gave up a hit or a walk. We kept waiting with nervous anticipation for the Twins to get that big hit, but it never came. Meanwhile, the Yanks mustered nothing against Nick Blackburn.

After the steady Phil Hughes and the great Mariano Rivera faltered a bit in the 8th, the crowd noticeably deflated. Ten minutes later, the energy was back. Mark Teixeira ripped a single, and we wanted A-Rod. Alex delivered with a booming home run, 433 feet into the night. The crowd was bouncing; the stadium was shaking; and I high-fived people I had never seen before.

As the extra innings battle waged, the atmosphere grew tense. The Twins had bases loaded, no body out, and David Robertson, two weeks removed from an injury, was pitching for our lives. I paced back and forth, discovering that standing room certainly had that advantage over the tight seats of the tier. A line drive, and my heart dropped. But Teixeira snared it for an out. A ground ball, but Teixeira came home for an out. A fly ball, but right into the mitt of Brett Gardner. I had never been so nervous at a game, and somehow, the Yanks were alive.

Mark Teixeira made it all better. With one swing of the bat, one twirl of the umpire’s hand, one ball into the left field stands, the tense emotion of watching the game unfold disappeared. I leaped; I took a few deep breathed; and I just stood there to watch. I couldn’t move as the Yanks celebrated at the plate. I didn’t leave until Frank finished two verses, until the highlights played on the big screen and A.J. delivered the customary pie.

After suffering through the heart attack 11th inning, Teixeira brought upon a baseball euphoria that made it all worth it. Tears of joy were streaming down fans’ faces, and I started walking out of the stadium after one of — if not the — best games I had ever seen in person. This was October. This was baseball.

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Mauer: I'm 'not feeling great'
Sherman: Yankees concerned Joba was too comfortable
  • thurdonpaul

    it may have been the best game i was ever at in my 30 something years of going to the stadium, im looking forward to seeing donnie in 2 an a half weeks, to bad for him that he will be on the losing end

  • http://www.puristbleedspinstripes.com Rebecca-Optimist Prime

    I had been to playoff games in other sports before, but I had never, ever seen a Stadium do that.

    I think we met up after the game because we had to process it–and I think part of what made it so powerful was that we knew we were sharing this moment with so many others we had shared the entire season with, so many others who understood that A-Rod’s home run meant so much more than just tying the game, and that Teixeira’s home run was more than just a game winner.

    I’ve spent all day watching replays and highlights, but to truly get to what the Stadium sounded like, you have to go to Youtube and look for the videos from the fans. The TBS cameras mute the crowd, but that place was really shaking.

    When I woke up this (okay, yesterday) morning, it actually hurt to talk because I had been screaming so long.

    I was getting texts from everyone, especially after A-Rod’s home run. Sheer joy.

    And you know what?

    It’s moments like those that made the old Yankee Stadium what it was.

    It’s really, really, really fucking awesome to know that the Yankees haven’t wasted any time in giving us moments to remember about the new Stadium.

    I’ll be telling my kids about this one.

    • Salty Buggah

      Yea, I saw several Youtube videos with low volume but they were still VERY loud. I got chills each time.

  • Thomas A. Anderson

    Let us all never take making the playoffs for granted ever again.

    In a year in which we had a ridiculous number of walk off hits and come from behind wins, this game ranks right up there with any of them.

    • mustang

      “Let us all never take making the playoffs for granted ever again.”

      That’s the point I made last year when so many people seem so carefree about not making the playoffs. Last time I took it for granted I had to wait 14 years to see them there again.

      • whozat

        yes, your incessant bashing of management, the organization and half the players really helped get them back on track for another post-season run. Thank goodness you weren’t nonchalant about the Yankees missing the playoffs once in fifteen years.

        • mustang

          First what the HELL are you talking about. Have you somehow read every one of my comments so you can label me so easily? If you have you would realize how far off base you are.
          In 1981 when they lost to Dodgers I though they would just come back next year and next year turn into 1996. It can happen that easily with all the planning in the world and that’s the point I was trying to make.
          Don’t turn this nice thread by Ben into something ugly you really don’t need to go there.

  • handtius

    Any other day, I would be envious of you, but I was at a very close couples wedding and it was amazing. Everyone was off their rocker and a decent, more then decent, amount of us were Yankee fans. Through out the night we would run to the parking lot to listen after seeing on our phones, that Posada hit, that single in extras, we were huddled around one car, screaming into the night, willing the team to win. After that we retreated back in and while, or course, Journey, “Don’t stop Believing” is blaring out of the DJs speakers, the music was cut and we heard, courtesy of J. Sterling, YAKEESSSS WINNNNNN!!!! a TEX MESSAGE FROM TEXIERA!!!!!! That was an amazing night.

  • mustang

    I’m happy for you Ben been there for a few moments myself at the old stadium and it’s something for true fan that is priceless.

    Here is to moments that are yet to come one can almost see them happening.

  • http://twitter.com/themanchine Bruno (The Manchine)

    Reading that reminded me of what it was like in the RF bleachers during Game 6 of the ’96 Series.

  • Salty Buggah

    Awesomely written piece.

    Do we get rid of the “New” Stadium label now? I think with that game and this year so far, this stadium has been baptized as THE Stadium now.

  • Steve S

    I was there too and this captures everything perfectly. All I can say is that it when it ended, it seemed like no wanted to go home. Absolutely amazing.

  • http://www.theyankeeuniverse.com/ The Artist

    My first memory as a Yankee fan was October 14th, 1976. When Chris Chambliss hit the HR that put the Yanks in the WS for the first time in over a decade. I’m sure you’ve seen the video, the fans flooded the field and Chambliss ran to the dugout as if for his very life.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VK5Tz4pipUA

    I was a 7 year old kid and became instantly fascinated at what could cause such a furor. My parents were Mets fans and old Brooklyn Dodger fans when they were kids. I started following the Yanks thereafter, saw them win in 1977 and 1978 and became a lifelong Griag Nettles fan after he saved Guidry’s ass with 3 terrific plays in the 78 WS.

    • Andy in Sunny Daytona

      Could you imagine if that scenario of fans storming the field happened again? Cops would be tazering and shooting people. It would be ugly.

      • Tank the Frank

        Yeah, those were the days. It’s great seeing the old clips of the Chambliss HR. I wish we could still do that stuff personally, only in HUGE moments like that. But, you’re right, it would be raining tear gas if that happened in this day and age.

        The terrorists won.

        • http://www.theyankeeuniverse.com/ The Artist

          Actually, the Police have been lining the field with horses long before Sept 11th. I’m sure you remember Wade Boggs jumping on on of them and circling the stands, thanking the fans.

          That melee was considered to be yet another black eye for the city at that time. Don’t forget the time frame. It’s 1976, the city is bankrupt, residents are fleeing for the suburbs, buildings in the Bronx are burning for insurance money, and then this shit happens. NYC was viewed around the country as being a failed mess, and incidents like this added to that perception.

    • yankeegirl49

      I was at the Chambliss game…as a 10 year old sitting in the upper deck with my step father. To this day I have not forgiven him for not allowing me to run on the field (yes, from the upper deck..lol). I was a fan before that game, but that game is what made it an obsession. I have been to other big games since that one, but none will ever mean to me what being at that game did.

    • MikeD

      God, I miss Rizzuto.

  • RCK

    Beautiful post!

    We should all be so lucky to be at the stadium some day for a game like that.

  • Andy in Sunny Daytona

    Awesome post Ben. I’m glad that you there to experience such a great game. I know how much you cared, and still care for the old stadium, so for you to enjoy a rocking NYS, it must have been special.
    It’s nice too see the ghosts find their way over for at least one post-season game.

  • Tank the Frank

    Here’s an interesting little tidbit I found from a Jerry Crasnick piece on A-Rod. He cites hittracker.com:

    “Teixeira’s game-winning homer against Mijares left the bat at 110 mph and cleared the fence in 2.88 seconds. That made it the fastest homer to leave the park in a big league game this season…”

    2.8 seconds?!?! That’s effing amazing!

    Unfortunately, the only story I can tell is how I almost went to the game. My friend works for the Yankees and called me at 4:30 saying he had some Mohegan Sun passes he could give me if I could just get down there and get a ticket to the game. I weighed the options, and seeing as how it would take me an hour-and-a-half to get even get down there, plus I would have to buy a ticket from a scalper, which is dubious to say the least. At 5pm I decided I wouldn’t go. So as A-Rod launched that HR in the 9th inning, all I could think about was that I could have been there. I’m that guy.

    • Jersey

      Wow, nice find about the hit speed! Pretty amazing that they even track that kind of thing.

  • crawdaddie

    How do you become a baseball fan at 3 months old? Good story, but come on.

    • Pasqua

      Figurative language is your friend, crawdaddie. Embrace it.

  • Reggie C.

    Arod and Teixeira could bring in a whole new generation of Yankee fans. These guys are the best 3-4 punch remaining in the playoffs and the generated runs possibilities makes this team exciting to watch. Its an over-generalization , but a i believe young (12-20) baseball fans are drawn to runs, runs, runs.

    … and they’re more apt to forgive and forget in Arod’s case.

    • Zack

      This team has been #1 for how many years now? Over the last few years i think fans have learned winning is about [starting] pitching.

      And people forgive/forget Alex because they realize that guys from every team (even you Boston) had guys doing it.

  • Zack

    Couldnt agree more, that place was crazy Friday night. You saw grown men jumping around like it was little league for Alex and Tex’s HRs, it was amazing.

  • Tony

    Ben, are you warming up to the new stadium? Did it have the same energy?

    Please advise

  • Ross

    Ben, I feel like if I wrote an article about this game, it wouldnt have been any different. Everything you said from the high fives to the pacing back and fourth (i was sitting in section 232A and somehow the two seats next to me were never sat in) to staying until all of the highlights were done, I did the exact same thing. That game was all I could talk about all night and I still felt speechless. There were two people in my row that actually decided to leave in the middle of the ninth (I dont know what they were thinking at the time), but I’m sure they regretted it if they actually left the stadium. That game was unbelievable and the new stadium definitely was rocking that night.

  • Jim

    First game i’ve been to at the new stadium, first playoff game i’ve ever been to in any sport. Living in MD makes october’s very frustrating as I’m surrounded by either sox fans, o’s fans, or fans who don’t care about baseball outside of hating the yankees.

    Being there was akin to a dream. Never, in a million years, would I have expected to witness something that amazing. I’ve never been to a stadium that electric(including Giants stadium last december against carolina). What an amazing experience.

    I agree with everything everyone’s said. You can’t overstate how fantastic this game was.

  • Todd

    Nice piece Ben. Well done!

    I remember seeing Leiritz hit a bomb against the Mariners in the rain and hugging strangers after Doc Gooden’s no-hitter (my then future wife’s first Yankee game!) There certainly is something magical about baseball, partticularly Yankee stadium. Even though I couldn’t really afford it, I flew with my 8 year old son across the country so he could attend a Yankee game in Yankee Stadium before it closed. He had a blast, was shown on the jumbotron, bought a yellow and blue Yankee hat, and banged Freddy’s pan. When Mo came out, we went crazy! “You’re about to see the greatest reliever ever son,” I said. Mo promptly blew the game. The funny thing is, that is the part of the game he remembers the least.

    There is nothing like Yankee stadium. But I have to admit, Dodger Dogs don’t exactly suck…