I vividly remember the feeling I got the first time I entered the stadium with my grandfather and father and how the colors and sights of the green grass and blue outfield fences burned into my mind as I walked up the runway leading from the concourse to the field level. No matter how many times I revisited the stadium, I was always taken back to that same feeling when I attended a game there with family, friends and my own Daughters.
This changed for me on April 16, 2009, when the new Yankee Stadium opened across the street from where the original stadium had been home to the New York Yankees since 1923.
While the stadium was a work of art that marveled that of any stadium in the world, it just could not compete with the emotional tie that I had to the old stadium.
Maybe it was that it was no longer the actual physical grounds that I had visited with so many family members and friends who are no longer with us. Or maybe it was the thought that the field no longer contained the actual batter’s box that the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Graig Nettles or Don Mattingly actually dug their cleats in and took their swings. Or maybe it was even the bitter-sweet memories of my friend Turk Wendell being on the losing end of a 12th-inning single to Jose Vizcaino that ended Game #1 of the 2000 World Series, or that it was the grounds that 1950 Gloversville Glover Jack McKeon led the Florida Marlins to a World Series Victory over the Yankees in 2003. The memories and connections to those hallowed grounds were dear to me and in the ten years since the new stadium opened, I have attended fewer Yankee games than I had the previous ten years.
A few weeks ago, a gentleman by the Irving Hewes approached Ellie DiScioscia at the Gloversville Senior Citizens Center asking if the organization had any bus trips going to Yankee Stadium. Hewes, a former member of the U.S. Coast Guard who lied about his age to enter the military at age 16 and served in both World War II and the Korean War, has resided in Gloversville since 1975. He explained to her that at the age of 90, he had done everything he wanted to do in life with one exception…he had yet to attend a game at Yankee Stadium. She reached out to Ryan Lorey who administers the Facebook page called “Fulton County Area News,” who then put out a post looking for someone to take the 90-year-old veteran to Yankee Stadium. That led to people asking me if I could help. As I awaited word back from contacts I had in the baseball industry looking to create a special experience,
Gloversville’s Perry Paul called me to offer a few spots in the “Mickey Mantle Suite” for last Saturday’s game against the Oakland Athletics.
So it was set, that myself and childhood friend Mark King were going to bring Mr. Hewes to Yankee Stadium to take in his very first game. The local connections pitching in to assist did not end there. Parkhurst Field Foundation President David Karpinski then reached out to a connection he had in the Yankees front office to let him know about Mr. Hewes coming to the Stadium for the first time.
As game day approached, I was told by Yankee officials to be at their offices early that morning before the stadium opened for a special tour for Mr. Hewes. As we waited in the lobby of the Yankee offices, we were befriended by former New York Yankee outfielder Mickey Rivers who was at the stadium to appear at a corporate function. As we all waited to enter the stadium, Hewes shared stories with us about his military service to our country and Rivers shared stories about his time with the Yankees and the great championship teams he was a part of in the late 1970s.
As our tour started, we were brought to a seating perch between the third-base dugout and the left field foul pole. As we approached the perch, the stadium was nearly void of any fans. The majority of the people in the stadium at the time included employees prepping for the days visitors and Yankee players getting in some batting practice, while members of the Oakland A’s gingerly threw footballs and kicked soccer balls in the outfield while dressed in gym shorts and tee shirts.
As our Yankee ambassador summed it up, “the stadium was a sleeping giant in the process of waking up.”
It was at this moment that Mr. Hewes got his first glimpse of the field that he had watched on television so many times. The look on his face showed that he was in awe of the sight. Mr. King and I looked at each other as we watched him and smiled. It immediately took me back to the first time I laid eyes on Yankee Stadium when I was a young child. The tour then went to the Yankee Museum.
Mr. Hewes did not just get a private tour of the museum, but he got to actually touch and feel what the museum had to offer. In addition to seeing Thurman Munson’s actual locker from the old Yankee Stadium, a special exhibit on newly elected Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera, and statues of Don Larsen pitching to Yogi Berra, Hewes got to actually hold priceless pieces of baseball history. These items included Lou Gehrig’s 1938 home jersey, Mickey Mantle’s 1956 glove, and Babe Ruth’s 1922 bat. The final piece that was brought out was Babe Ruth’s game-worn hat from the early 1930’s that was placed on Mr. Hewes head for a photo.
At this point, Hewes stated “I am afraid this is all a dream and I am going to wake up.”
All of this special treatment and we still had a game to watch. We viewed the game from the “Mickey Mantle Suite” that sets near the right field foul pole. Hewes watched the game in awe of the sights and sounds that one can only experience by being at a ballpark in person. As it would turn out, this would not be just any game, but an historic one. The game lasted over four hours and featured two home runs by Gary Sanchez and another by Aaron Judge.
As both teams sparred back and forth, they finished the ninth inning tied at 3. The game would finally be decided in the 11th inning by a walk-off home run by first year Yankee DJ LeMahieu. It was the Yankees first win of the season against the Oakland Athletics giving them a record of 21-9 for the month of August. This marked the most wins in a calendar month by the Yankees since their 2009 World Championship season. LeMahieu’s home run also marked the Yankees 74th of the month, establishing a new all-time Major League team record for home runs in one calendar month.
As we exited the stadium, I felt we could not have written a better script for any Yankee fan, let alone for someone being there for the first time. I also left with that feeling that I once did as a young fan, being excited that the Yankees won as Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” resonated from the public address system. I once again felt connected with all the greats of the Yankees past and those that I once attended games with.
I thought back to Derek Jeter’s speech at the conclusion of the last game at the old stadium on September 21, 2008 in which he stated; ”There’s a lot of tradition, a lot of history and a lot of memories. The great thing about memories is you’re able to pass them along from generation to generation. Although things are going to change next year and we’re going to move across the street, there are a few things with the New York Yankees that never change. That’s pride, tradition, and most of all; we have the greatest fans in the world. We’re relying on you to take the memories from this stadium and add them to the new memories we make at the new Yankee Stadium and continue to pass them on from generation to generation.”
It was at that moment that I realized that it didn’t matter that the new home plate sets across the street from where it once set when I first started attending games 40 years ago, as the Yankee history and the aura that makes them the Yankees has been transferred to the new stadium. It took me witnessing a game through the eyes of a true fan experiencing the stadium for the first time to realize this. Turns out, this trip was just as special for me as it was for Mr. Hewes.
So thank you for your military service Mr. Hewes, and thank you for making me a Yankee Stadium Fan again!
Mike Hauser is the founder of the Fulton County Baseball & Sports Hall of Fame in Gloversville. If you have story ideas, old articles/photos or would like to nominate someone for the HOF, he can be reached through the organization’s website at www.fchof.com, email; [email protected] or call (518) 725-5565.