Yankee Stadium Memories

I remember Grandpa – his sturdy frame silhouetted in the dusky evening light beside the grey, weathered workbench in the upper backyard. Firmly, yet gently, he struck hammer to chisel and chipped away bits of rock along a scored line in a flag destined to become a stepping stone. Grandpa loved work and he loved us.

Nowhere was his love more evident than in our epic trips to Yankee Stadium. Always a Sunday double header; usually “bat day” or “ball day.” The journeys were all-day affairs. No – they were more than that. They were all-life affairs. Overflowing with life and love and expectation and excitement. Full of agitation and calm, anxiety and serenity. Long and tedious, short and exhilarating.

“Grandpa! Grandpa! Bat Day is June 20th. Will you take us? Will you?”

Shouting and stumbling we would cross the threshold into Grandpa and Grandma’s house next door on a Sunday morning after mass as the clan was gathering for weekly cake and coffee. We had just perused the New York paper (after having completed our paper routes) and found the upcoming Yankees season schedule. Grandpa would smile and ponder a moment or two and then nod. The trip was on - Yankee Stadium – Bat Day – joy.

Anticipating the trip was excruciating. How many more months, weeks, days until we would get to see the Mick, Roger Maris, Elston Howard and the others? How many hot dogs would we eat? How many balls of cotton candy?

And much more than this, we would get bats – real, honest-to-goodness official little league bats. Bats – stamped with the signature of a Yankee player no less. We all wanted Mickey Mantle models, but not so we could put them away in cases to gather dust and appreciate in value. We were going to use the bats to play baseball – over and over until they broke. We wanted Mickey Mantles because he was our favorite player. We wanted Mickey Mantle bats – just because.

When the time for the sojourn arrived, we spent the night before in fits of nervous sleeplessness. When morning dawned, it seemed like the dreaming had just begun. We were actually going. And we would have to leave early. It was more than a three hour journey to New York from Tripp Park. Two-lane blacktop all the way. No superhighways like now.

What a journey. It took forever. To try to calm us, Grandpa and his helper (usually my father or an uncle or a friend of Grandpa’s) would tell us things like, “The Delaware Water Gap is coming up. Look for the Indian Head mountain. It’s a mountain shaped like the head of an Indian.” So, for a long time before we were anywhere near them, we would be kind of quiet, looking for the water gap (whatever that was) and a rock formation resembling an Indian Chief. And I always missed them. Still, to this day, when I pass through the Delaware Water Gap, the Indian Head mountain is a mystery to me. It just looks like a bunch of rocks jutting out of a forest. Anyway…

The next thing we were told to watch out for was Hot Dog Johnny’s, a classic American roadside stand on Route 46 in New Jersey on the banks of the Pequest River. Sometimes, we stopped there on the way and other times on the way back from the Stadium. We would swing on the swings or relax at one of the picnic tables with a frosted mug of birch beer, a hot dog or French fries, before continuing to our destination.

Usually after some debate about whether to take the tunnel or the bridge into New York, we would cross the George Washington Bridge and slowly wind our way to the Bronx. Grandpa would ride around and find a place to park on the street and we would walk several blocks to the Stadium. We would stand in line, buy tickets and then head across the street to the Jerome Cafeteria for brunch.

What a wondrous place the Jerome Cafeteria was. I remember that at least part of it was an Automat (short for an automatic restaurant). It is hard to explain how futuristic it seemed to make change, take your coins to a large bank of small glass windows behind each of which was a sandwich, piece of pie or other delight, drop in the coins, open the window, take out the food and then look through the window to see if you could spy the people behind the array who kept filling the cubby holes with more food.

On to the ballpark, to the bats, checking to see whose signature you got, hoping your seat was not behind a steel girder support beam that blocked your view, heading to the upper deck, hoping to catch a foul ball or a home run, batting practice, the first game, walking around the stadium on the inside, the next game, banging your bat on the concrete deck and brandishing your bat aloft along with 40,000 others in a ritual mass photo opportunity, hot dogs, cotton candy, peanuts, Cracker Jack, soda, back to the Jerome Cafeteria, on to Hot Dog Johnny’s, sleeping in the car, back home in Scranton, sometimes near midnight, feeling alive, being loved. It was great.