By Todd Drew
Memories Are Forever
The memories will not stop. Sometimes they come in the middle of the night and you have to walk. So you head down five flights to Walton Avenue. You pass the spot on East 157th Street where a bat boy once found Satchel Paige asleep in his car after driving all night from Pittsburgh.
Memories say it was 15 minutes before the first pitch when the boy shook him awake. It also says that Satchel asked for five more minutes and then threw a two-hit shutout.
Memories say things like that.
You cut over to Gerard Avenue where a Mickey Mantle home run would have landed if the Stadium’s roof hadn’t gotten in the way. That’s how the memories tell it anyway.
You walk up River Avenue behind the bleachers of the old Yankee Stadium. There will be no more games here, but you keep coming back because this is where your memories are.
You move past the millions that have huddled in the cold and the heat and the rain and sometimes the snow for tickets. The line wraps around the block and down East 161st Street near where a Josh Gibson home run once landed.
Your friend Earl from Harlem carries his father’s memory and says that blast may have hit the new Yankee Stadium if it had been across the street back then. Earl says that the new Stadium couldn’t have held Gibson any better than the old Stadium. That memory always brings a smile.
You wander down Ruppert Place and away from the new Stadium because it doesn’t hold your memories, yet.
The players’ gate draws you this way. Everyone has walked in and out of those doors and your friend Henry has seen them all. He is at the Stadium every day just like a lot of other people from the neighborhood.
There was a rainy afternoon last year when everyone else left and the cops even took down the barriers, but Henry wouldn’t leave because Hideki Matsui was still inside. You both got wet and shook Matsui’s hand.
You remember standing there all night when the Yankees won the pennant in 2003 and David Wells came out with a bottle of champagne. He offered up drinks and everyone cupped their hands. The sticky-sweet smell of victory still clings to the scorecard back in your apartment.
You look over at Gate 4A and remember how long this place has been your home. You think about all the wins and the losses, too. Every day at the ballpark is a good one, but the pennants and the World Series titles make them even better.
You dig around your memory and try to find the best. There are lots to choose from, but you settle on one from a few years ago.
A boy and his grandfather were waiting in line at Yankee Stadium. The boy was 18 and unable to buy beer so the grandfather had picked up three bottles at a bodega and slipped them under his coat.
“They won’t frisk an old man,” he said.
The boy rolled his eyes, but the grandfather got through with the beer.
“Two bottles for me and one for the boy,” the grandfather said. “He is young and shouldn’t drink too much.”
“What are we gonna eat?” the boy asked.
The grandfather pulled a big bag of peanuts from his pocket.
“An old man can get away with anything,” the grandfather said.
They found their seats and cheered for all the Yankees, but saved their loudest for Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams.
“We are all from the same island,” the grandfather explained. “The Puerto Ricans will always get my best.”
Posada and Williams both hit home runs in the game and the grandfather was feeling good.
He started eyeing a lady in low cut jeans and a skimpy top that was sitting in front of him and when the Yankees stretched their lead in the eighth inning the grandfather blurted out:
The ladies’ boyfriend wheeled around and took a swing at the boy. There was a scuffle and the boy defended himself well. The boyfriend and lady were so offended that they left.
“An old man can get away with anything,” the grandfather said again.
“Yeah,” the boy said.
“It was a good fight,” the grandfather said. “And it’s been a damn good game.”
The boy stared straight ahead, but managed a smile.
The grandfather put an arm around him.
“You’re a good boy,” he said. “But you gotta protect against the right hook.”
They both laughed.
You still see the boy around. He’s a man now and can buy beer on his own. His grandfather is gone, but that memory will walk through this neighborhood forever.
Todd Drew is a regular contributor to Bronx Banter.