"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #53

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:

“Nice tattoo.”

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.


1 Alex Belth   ~  Nov 7, 2008 2:17 pm

Great, great stuff, Todd. Thanks so much. This was just wonderful.

2 Todd Drew   ~  Nov 7, 2008 3:05 pm

Thanks, Alex. And thanks for number 53. I’m wearing my Bobby Abreu T-shirt today.

3 bronxborn   ~  Nov 7, 2008 4:17 pm

Todd, you really know how to fill the world with strong emotion. Great piece.

4 Todd Drew   ~  Nov 7, 2008 4:58 pm

Thanks, bronxborn. But the credit belongs to everyone. I just write what I see and hear.

5 upper deck view   ~  Nov 7, 2008 6:07 pm

Todd, great stories...my first game at Yankee Stadium was a Boston game July 2000. I still remember gasping when I saw the emerald green grass for the first time. My fondest memory of the Stadium is not even my own but one of my grandfather’s. He lived his whole life down in North Carolina so he only saw a few Yankee games but he was sitting somewhere down the third base line when Don Larsen threw the final pitch of the Perfect Game. I probably would not have believed my grandfather’s story about buying a standing room only ticket and then giving one of the ushers a couple of dollars to squeeze into a seat – but he was most honest, unpretentious person I have ever known. So, not only do I believe the story, it was this memory that brought tears to my eyes that final game at The Stadium, Sunday September 21, 2008.

6 Todd Drew   ~  Nov 7, 2008 6:39 pm

That’s a nice story, upper deck view. I’m glad you will always have that connection with your grandfather.

7 Joe L.   ~  Nov 7, 2008 7:45 pm

Wow, GREAT story! I like that you paid tribute to some of the stadium’s great Negro League history.

8 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Nov 8, 2008 1:24 am

Excellent point, Joe L. That went missing entirely in the coverage of the Stadium's closing, including my own.

Todd, another great piece . . .

9 thelarmis   ~  Nov 8, 2008 2:58 am

todd, this was awesome, thanks a lot, man! i was at my grandpa's side just this afternoon, at the hospital. we were reminiscing about how he taught me to swim and how to ride a bike and play cards and enjoy sports. i'm so happy you have such a great memory of yours in relation to yankee stadium. thanks again for sharing...

i'm hoping to create more memories with him again tomorrow. i'm bringing a portable cd player with me to play to him some pieces from my upcoming solo album. i can't be assured he'll be around when the record is finally released, so i'm looking forward to his reaction tomorrow...

10 Todd Drew   ~  Nov 8, 2008 9:29 am

Thanks, Cliff.

Thank you for sharing that story about the visit with your grandfather. I’ll be thinking about you two today. I can’t wait to hear his reaction to your songs.

11 Evil Empire   ~  Nov 8, 2008 1:53 pm


Did Josh Gibson really hit one out of the stadium? I thought he, like mantle, only came close. If so, is there any evidence like contemporaneous newspaper articles or is it individual rememberances? Thanks.

12 Raf   ~  Nov 8, 2008 1:55 pm

Great piece of writing, I really enjoyed the interaction with the young boy and his grandfather. My aternal grandfather moved to Hilton Head, SC from the Bx when I was young, and my maternal grandfather stayed in Honduras, so I never really got to know either. Both are gone now.

What I do remember about my paternal grandfather was that he sounded like the Duke (wrt pacing and cadence) when he talked, a byproduct of learning his english by watching movies.

13 Todd Drew   ~  Nov 8, 2008 2:07 pm

Evil Empire,
I’m not submitting any evidence here. This is just about memories. Gibson’s homer may have gone out of the Stadium or maybe it didn’t. I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure, but I like to think it was hit clear to East 161st Street.

14 Todd Drew   ~  Nov 8, 2008 2:14 pm

I’m glad you enjoyed the memories. That’s a great story about how your grandfather learned English.

15 Evil Empire   ~  Nov 8, 2008 2:26 pm

[13] okay I was just curious about that because I have long heard the statement that no one had and this was underscored by the Yankees tour.

Its funny, I really didn't want Josh Hamilton to hit one out BEFORE the homerun derby but once the moment came I really was sad that he didn't.

By the way, are their African-American newspaper clippings (or microfiche) at the library where the truth of Gibson's feat might be recorded? You have to think that if he did hit one out that the answer is there.

Todd - if you ever make it to Birmingham, Alabama, you'll be my guest for some BBQ and an outing to Rickwood Field, which has more history than any other southern ballpark.

16 Todd Drew   ~  Nov 8, 2008 2:49 pm

Evil Empire,
That will be an honor. I haven’t seen Rickwood Field, but it’s on my list.

17 Evil Empire   ~  Nov 8, 2008 2:59 pm

Todd they have a slick website at http://www.rickwood.com

You might want to check out the rickwood classic some summer. AND talk about a neighborhood to get some stories from!

18 Todd Drew   ~  Nov 8, 2008 4:47 pm

Evil Empire,
That’s a very nice Web site. I’m going to plan on making it down for the Rickwood Classic one of these years.

19 Evil Empire   ~  Nov 8, 2008 8:19 pm

[18] Excellent, let me know and we'll get some ribs from Dreamland!

20 Evil Empire   ~  Jan 16, 2009 9:00 pm

Rest in Peace, Todd....I'll keep score and think of you at the Rickwood Classic this Summer and I'll eat some ribs for you.


feed Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email
"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver