By Pat Jordan
I was 12 the first time I visited Yankee Stadium in 1953. I had been invited to appear on Mel Allen’s pre-game TV show because, as a Little League pitcher in Connecticut, I had pitched four consecutive no-hitters and struck out every batter I faced except two. I arrived in a tan suit, and tie, with my glove in a paper bag. I expected the Yankees to ask me to throw a few, and then sign me to a contract. But they didn’t. Mel Allen just talked to my parents, then asked me a question. I mumbled and answer and sulked. That’s all I remember about the Stadium on my first trip.
The next time I went to the stadium was in 1959, when I was 17, and trying to get the Yankees to give me a bonus. That trip, I remember clearly. The Yankee p.r. person ushered me and my older brother down to the team’s press room which, I was amazed to discover, had wood-paneling painted white with blue pinstripes.
Mel Allen was there, again, at a table. He mistook me for Rocky Colavitao, the Cleveland Indians slugging outfielder. Why not? We were both Italian. But he didn’t remember me from six years before. Then I was led to the Yankees’ clubhouse, where all my heroes were in various states of dress. I gawked at my idol, Whitey Ford, with his freckled red skin and blue eyes, and Yogi Berra, squat and homely, and Mickey Mantle, sitting in a whirlpool. I thought Mantle was ten feet tall as a kid but when he got out of the whirlpool I, at 6’1″, towered over him.
I dressed into a Yankee uniform, then went out to show my stuff to the Yankee scouts. When I stepped out of the dugout the vastness of the Stadium loomed up all around me. It was the biggest place I’d ever been in. Now that I was no longer a boy, I wasn’t interested in such things. The scouts sat behind the home plate screen while I warmed up on a mound behind home plate. Johnny Blanchard was catching me. When I finally cut loose with my first fastball Blanchard turned towards the scouts, said something, and tried to slip a sponge into his mitt, without me noticing it. But I did. After that, each succeeding fastball exploded in his mitt and around the Stadium like a canon’s roar. I will never forget it.
After I finished throwing, I went into the general manager’s office where the g.m and my brother bargained over my bonus, while I sat there silent at a big conference table. The Yankees offered me a $36,000 bonus and I was crushed. The Braves had offered me $50,000, but I desperately wanted to pitch for the Yankees in their Stadium which I had come to see, over the years, as my rightful baseball home.
But, alas, it was not to be.