It was 1989, or 1990, or, you know what the date doesn’t really matter. What DOES matter is that it was my first baseball game, let alone my first Yankee game, and there I was in the south Bronx during the only time of the year white people are brave enough to visit River Ave.
Little did I know at the time my Dad sucked up all his pride and took his son to the gates of his enemy’s doorstep and accepted their invitation inside their walls in the form of three overpriced tickets. Not only did he have to pay the ridiculous price for the tickets, he had to formally accept that his son would forever become a die-hard Yankee and life-long Don Mattingly fan, solidifying a household rivalry that would strain the very fiber of my family!
No, not really, it’s a sport, people. Who really gives a shit?
Plus, what was there to argue about? At that time both franchises sucked and my Dad was still reeling over the 1986 collapse of his beloved Red Sox. I would later find out that the 1986 loss was the reason my Mom pushed me toward becoming a Yankees fan – I may or may not have imagined that conversation actually happening.
I do remember that the Yankees took on the Cleveland Indians that fateful day, everything else is a blur though. The battle between these two squads was nothing special, just another game on a 162 game schedule that went into the record books and probably hasn’t been looked into for 20+ years until I googled it just now.
This game, despite my foggy memory of it overall, did spark my interest in baseball. It’s my favorite sport, one that I played for many years and unceremoniously retired from in High School when I was told I made the practice squad.
The tryout process for the High School team wasn’t really anything special. Pretty much if the High School coach knew you from Middle School you made the team – my rationale – even if you didn’t have the skills to succeed – my rationale. One memory that sticks out in my mind from tryouts, despite the wheezing due to my portly figure, was a drill at home plate. Now that I’m really rehashing the moment, I’m not entirely sure why we were having “run into the catcher” drills during tryouts…for a High School baseball team…a High School baseball team that didn’t have any type of national, regional, state, or county recognition or prestige.
We were kids who needed to show our testosterone and our fortitude so away we went, plowing into each other for the grand prize of waking up early and going home late to play a game that we weren’t all that good at while our grades – the real benchmark and road map to success for ALL of us in High School – took the real beating.
As I rounded third base I did all I could to pick up speed and momentum. I was running as fast as I could muster – to get the full picture think of a garbage truck, going uphill, with a flat tire, and the emergency brake on – and at the end of this 90-foot journey was another 14-year old who was either finished with puberty or his parents lied on his paperwork for school.
He may or may not have flicked a cigarette out of his mouth and then taken a swig from a flask, my memory of that day is still hazy.
As my approach to home plate reached 30-feet I began to lower my shoulder, much like a plane would lower its landing gears. At 20-feet I prepared myself for imminent contact. At 10 feet I hoped HIS parents had good medical coverage. At 5 feet I hope MY parents had good medical coverage.
I was now 1 foot away and my mind went blank. All that was left was instinct as I lunged forward, shoulder first, into this mountain of a man. For a split-second, before impact, I felt like a gladiator standing in front of hordes of blood thirsty dignitaries screaming at the top of my lungs, the blood of my enemy glistening over my body, for I had defeated the great warrior sent in to kill me, a peasant slave.
Our bodies collided. The forward motion of my body and the statuesque stillness of his came together. As I flew through the air I heard the screams and cheers of excitement, my eyes were still closed but the pain was radiating through my body.
And then I hit the dirt.
When I opened my eyes I couldn’t believe what I saw.
How is that possible? My forward motion crashing through another human being should have landed me on my stomach in my pursuit for home plate.
And then I looked ahead and there was the catcher standing about five feet in front of me – yes, I flew BACKWARDS five feet – looking no worse for wear. He took of his mask and smiled at me, then offered his hand to help me up. I was defeated so there was no pride lost when I took it, my ego was damaged when I heard the laughter from the other kids. My dreams of playing in the MLB were shattered that day, I can also look back and understand that I was 5’7″ and pudgy and the chances of me making it to the MLB were about as good as Christopher Reeves winning a 100-meter dash, but being delusional is sometimes fun.
Despite my run-in with the catcher my love for the sport still carries on to this day and it’s really all due to ONE fateful moment when Don Mattingly waved at me while I sat in the stands.
As a 4-year old kid at his first baseball game I was overwhelmed with excitement. The thrill of the fans, the smell of beer and hot dogs and cotton candy had provided sensory overload and I learned so much more vocabulary that day. Also, a lot of baseball players are told they are cats.
My parents took me early enough so I could see batting practice, which is really just a showcase of talents and a chance for fans to get baseballs and then yell at the players to sign them so they can make money off them when they are older.
One day my signed Pat Kelly baseball will be worth MILLIONS!
The chances of me getting a baseball that day were slim. We had tickets in the mezzanine level which put us a step above field level where you would have to sell your kid in order to afford a seat down there, so either my parents felt generous that day or the redheaded kid market was saturated.
That’s when I saw the most distinguished mustache – and most admirable – in baseball. It flowed in the wind like white cotton sheets hanging from a clothes line. The only thing I could do in that moment was smile and wave as furiously as I could when suddenly “Donny Baseball” waved back. From that moment on I was a devout fan of Don Mattingly. My favorite number was, and still is, 23, I have multiple items autographed by him, his rookie cards, and even art work made to honor him. That single gesture changed my life FOREVER and now that I think of it, it may have never actually happened.
As a 29-year old man I now know that the chances of Don Mattingly waving at me, a small boy in the mezzanine level of Yankee Stadium with hundreds of other fans screaming and waving at him for his attention, are incalculably small. No matter what actually transpired that day that moment changed my life and sometimes being delusional brings you the warmest memories of your life.