Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Yankee Stadium

It came to life only months before I did and, all through a Bronx childhood, the Stadium was my field of dreams.

Even before I was old enough to go there, it brought color and excitement into my life. A block from where I lived, there was a squat windowless structure built years earlier for making silent movies, but it was deserted, just another foul-line marker for stickball games on the street.

Then one afternoon in 1937, a crowd gathered at the entrance, two lines of policemen stretched their arms to open the way for people getting out of limos and a tall man in fitted yellow sports shirt and slacks with no expression on his tanned face got out, crossed the sidewalk and disappeared into the building.

I had never been to Yankee Stadium a mile away so I knew Joe DiMaggio only from grainy newspaper pictures, jumpy newsreels and the excited voices of radio sportscasters, but here he was. The sudden texture and color of his face and clothes shocked my senses into a sweet awareness that he actually lived in the same world I did. Beyond the baseball cards and box scores, Joe DiMaggio was suddenly real, only six feet away.

When I saw him next at the Stadium, I stepped out of a tunnel to be overwhelmed by an expanse of bright green framed by roaring white bleachers and dark stands. Suddenly, the whole world took on color, dimension and sound--thousands of people united in an overwhelming reality I had never know to exist.

From then until only a few weeks ago, my final visit to the place that will be torn down at the end of summer, Yankee Stadium and the heirs of Joe DiMaggio have been part of my life, as real as family, friends and neighbors.

One night in the early 1980s, an hour before game time, I was in George Steinbrenner’s private dining room for an evening sponsored by a Christian athletes’ association. A few days earlier, the son of Yankee pitcher Tommy John had fallen from a second-story window and was now in critical condition.

Before dinner, Norman Vincent Peale led us in prayer for little Travis John. I lowered my head and wished hard for the child’s recovery. Days later, the boy was out of danger, and the experience only confirmed what I had always known: The Stadium was a magical place where the hard realities of the world are kept out by a dream life shared by millions over the years of my lifetime.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A fine sketch, Robert. Beautiful. Thanks for sharing with us.