What's your favorite memory of Yankee Stadium?
No sports venue has been home to more great moments than Yankee Stadium, which will host its final game Sunday night, and our ESPN baseball analysts have spent countless hours there, witnessing many of them. We asked some of them to share their favorite memories or stories from covering games at the House That Ruth Built.
I know Yankee Stadium is historic and all that, but what I'll remember most about the place is what an unpleasant stadium it was to work in. The very first game I covered there, I left my laptop (we called them "machines'' back then) in the press box after the game while I went to talk to the players in the clubhouse -- the same routine as in every other stadium. But when I went back upstairs, the press box was locked. Apparently, back then New York writers chose to write their final game stories from the pressroom in the basement, meaning everyone else had to follow suit. Running around on deadline frantically searching for a security guard was not a great welcome to the House That Ruth Built.
And let me tell you about the pressroom: a dank, claustrophobic cellar crowded with cranky sportswriters wearing clothes stained by a season's worth of sweat and food. Seating is so tight that before big games, you're almost required to show up five hours early to get a space at a worktable. This is not pleasant since you wouldn't want to spend a minute longer than absolutely necessary there. Plus, the passageways linking the clubhouses and pressroom always have an "aroma'' of rotting food, which I believe is either from the hot dogs just before the vendors take them to sell in the concession stands, or just the sportswriters themselves.I also recall covering the 1995 Division Series between the Yankees and Mariners. I was sitting in the auxiliary press box down the third-base line, right in front of some bathrooms. So there was always a lovely whiff of urine in the autumn air. And during one of the games, some of the fans noticed the TV monitors that were set up for us (so we could see replays) and soon they were trying to pry them loose and steal them.
But what I remember most vividly is covering the 2003 ALCS and seeing a pool of vomit on a ramp leading to the mezzanine level after Game 1. It was still there the next game, though fortunately, it had dried by that point. And when the series returned from Games 6 and 7, it was still there. And when the World Series started, it was still there. And when the World Series ended a week later, you could still see the stain.
So while I dearly hate to see another historic stadium bite the dust, I won't miss the working conditions. I just hope they clean the new stadium a little more often.
|I knew Paul O'Neill before he became known as "The Warrior.'' I was covering the Cincinnati Reds in the late 1980s when O'Neill, a kid from just up I-71 in Columbus, struggled mightily with Lou Piniella's ribbing and his own self-imposed expectations. So it seemed odd that the self-tortured, hotheaded O'Neill would find new life in New York and blossom into such a terrific player with the Yankees. His 10-pitch confrontation with Armando Benitez in the opener of the 2000 World Series remains one of the most impressive walks I've ever seen. But it didn't come close to the affection that rained down from the stands in Game 5 of the 2001 Series, when Yankees fans serenaded their favorite right fielder with a chant of "Paul O'Ne-ill, Paul O'Ne-ill'' for the entire ninth inning. O'Neill, true to form, looked ill at ease with the attention, but sheepishly tipped his cap to the crowd as he headed down the dugout stairs and a step closer to retirement. That sequence sticks in my head just as vividly as Charlie Hayes squeezing that climactic pop fly in 1996, Derek Jeter diving into the stands or Wade Boggs riding on the back of a mounted police horse. It showed me that Yankees fans have a soft spot for gamers that runs every bit as deep as their affinity for superstars.|
|Three days in October and November 2001: George Bush, weeks after 9/11, striding to the mound; then the ninth- and tenth-inning homers; then Paul O'Neill tipping his cap when the crowd thought it was his last Stadium farewell.|
|My favorite Yankee Stadium moment came before Game 3 of the 2001 World Series when President George W. Bush threw out the first ball. The nation, especially New York City, was still reeling from the 9/11 attack, making for a highly emotional night at Yankee Stadium. Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter jokingly warned the President before the first pitch, saying, "Don't bounce it. This is New York; they'll boo you.'' Throwing from the rubber, Mr. Bush not only threw a strike, but it had something on it. The crowd roared. That set the stage for what might have been the greatest back-to-back-to-back games in World Series history. Game 4 was so good, it needed two days to complete. It started on Oct. 31. Tino Martinez hit a two-run homer in the ninth to tie it, 3-3, and then at 12:03 a.m. on Nov. 1, Jeter homered in the 10th to win it. It was the third time in Series history that a home team won a game it trailed by two runs entering the ninth, and it marked the first time in Series history that there was a game-tying homer in the ninth and a game-winning homer in the 10th. And it all started with maybe the best first pitch ever thrown.|
|It was Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, and I was sitting in the Red Sox radio booth on top of a storage box while Grady Little made his back-and-forth mound visits to Pedro Martinez. When Aaron Boone's fly ball sailed up and into the deliriously rabid crowd, I remember thinking that we might just collapse on the fans beneath us; Yankee Stadium was swaying with such force. I had already prepared for the champagne celebration and at the last minute remembered to take off my raincoat. I was one of the first reporters in the visiting clubhouse at Yankee Stadium, and to this day, I've never seen anything like it. All of the Red Sox players were sitting at their lockers, most of them facing the room -- and us -- and tears filled their eyes. Some were weeping. The looks of utter shock on their faces will be something I'll never forget. The national media and the aggressive NY and Boston reporters -- many of whom were on strict deadlines -- gathered in the middle of the clubhouse. No one said a word; no one knew what to do. Usually, the media doesn't hesitate to jump right in with questions. But in light of the remarkable circumstances, we had all collectively reached the zenith of awkwardness. Finally, a NY colmunist went up to Jason Varitek, and he was the first player to pierce the hollow air of a packed room. Others soon followed and it became business as usual, though more muted. Just before leaving the clubhouse, I glanced over and saw Rudy Guiliani with a Yankees T-shirt giving Grady Little a handshake, and it looked as if he was trying to console him.|
|Nothing I cover for the rest of my life will ever approach the emotion and drama of the middle three games of the 2001 World Series -- at least, I hope I never cover anything like that again. Little more than six weeks after the 9/11 attacks, you could still smell the smoldering ruins from Ground Zero while standing on the field at Yankee Stadium, and there was a real sense of fear before Game 3; I had friends and family call to check on my well-being because of the concern about terrorist attacks. Those fears turned out to be unfounded, of course, but there were snipers on the roof at Yankee Stadium as George Bush went out to throw the first pitch, and in that powerful moment he delivered a perfect strike. And over the next 53 hours, the baseball was extraordinary. The Yankees won Game 3, and with two outs in the bottom of the ninth of Game 4, Tino Martinez clubbed a game-tying two-run homer -- the first time that had happened in the World Series since 1929 -- and that was the loudest I ever heard the crowd at Yankee Stadium. Derek Jeter won that game with a walk-off homer a few ticks past midnight. The next afternoon, I bumped into Yankees third baseman Scott Brosius as he walked into the clubhouse; he still bore a broad grin, with the memory of Game 4 still fresh in his mind. He proceeded to tell me how he hadn't been able to sleep the night before, and how he had called a friend on the West Coast sometime close to 5 a.m. Eastern time and they marveled about the game. They agreed that this was something you wouldn't see again in your lifetime. And about seven hours after our conversation, Brosius matched Martinez's feat, with a two-out, two-run homer in the ninth inning. Something that hadn't happened in 72 years was accomplished on back-to-back nights. Alfonso Soriano then singled to win Game 5 in extra innings. The Yankees -- a dynasty of resilient players like Paul O'Neill, Martinez, Jeter, Brosius and others who were in their last days as teammates together -- had taken a 3-2 lead in the World Series, despite being outplayed for almost all of the first five games. And there was a sense, throughout it all, that there was some greater purpose being served by these games. For a few hours each night, there were grieving families and rescue workers and salvage crews who could draw a few hours of solace, or at least distraction, from their personal horrors. The players understood this, with the stark reality reinforced by the presence of those from the NY Fire Department and Police Department and Port Authority at the park nightly. Years from now, when my own young children grow and ask me about this time, I don't think I will be able to convey the overpowering sadness and emotion that framed these first weeks after 9/11, and this is what framed everything that happened on those three extraordinary days at Yankee Stadium in 2001.|
|I've covered hundreds of games at Yankee Stadium and have witnessed some of the oft-described penultimate events -- the night after Thurman Munson died, Game 3 of the 2001 World Series when the whole world was watching, Aaron Boone, the Bloody Sock, etc. -- and felt the press level rock from the roar of the crowd.
But the stadium is about more than just the games; it's the people and the players and the rituals and the everyday moments of a special place. (For example, how can anyone forget seeing Don Zimmer do his version of the then-popular Macarena while in the dugout hours before a game?) One such episode has stuck in the memory.
When you enter the press gate, you walk down two flights of stairs to the basement. Directly ahead is the press dining room, which leads to the adjacent press working room. Yankees players arriving early often cut through the two rooms to the corridor beyond that leads to the clubhouse. On one day, I walked down the stairs with a prominent Yankees veteran (he shall remain nameless) who, before entering the dining room, patted his hand on what looked like a decades-old electrical box. I asked what that was about and the player replied, "That's headed to Monument Park; that's the [Carl] Pavano plaque." I took a second look at the box and noticed the electrical tape crisscrossed on the surface, with the words "not active" written on the tape. I looked up to see the Yankees players laughing uproariously. |
|My favorite Yankee Stadium memory has to be the 2000 Subway Series between the Mets and Yankees. Even though we lost the Series, including the first two games at Yankee Stadium, I'll never forget the feeling of having a team in a World Series -- and the first Subway Series since 1956, at that. Just looking around the stadium and feeling the impact of what that Series meant to the city of New York is a lasting memory. I just wish Timo Perez had continued to run on Todd Zeile's ball that hit the top of the wall in left field in Game 1. And if we had only been able to get Paul O'Neill out in the ninth inning, who knows what the ultimate Series outcome would have been? And how can anyone forget when Roger Clemens hurled Mike Piazza's broken bat back at him in Game 2? Reflecting on it now, that Series also holds a special place for me in that it was the last World Series prior to the events of 9/11.|
|I could tell you about all the amazing baseball games and moments I've witnessed at Yankee Stadium. But there are other folks around here who can do that. I'm betting, though, that I'm the only ESPN employee who ever had the unique thrill of getting his car locked inside the Yankee Stadium parking garage. It happened after Game 2 of the 2002 ALDS -- one of those leisurely 4-hour, 11-minute October epics the Yankees are so famous for. So by the time I got back from the clubhouse to write my ESPN.com column, it was closing in on 1:30 a.m. By the time I finished, it was after 3. Even though there's a sign in that garage that says, "GARAGE CLOSES 2 HOURS AFTER GAME," I wasn't worried. I'd covered many postseason games in the Bronx. And the garage always stayed open for hours. And if they were about to close it, someone always came into the pressroom to warn us. There were no warnings this night, so I packed up and headed for the car -- only to find the first gate locked. And the second gate locked. And all the other gates locked. I circled the garage. Not an opening to be found. But just when massive depression was really setting in, I heard voices -- coming from inside the garage, where a couple had discovered they'd gotten locked in. Hey, at least I wasn't as bad off as they were. So I headed back to the stadium for help. And got none. I was told by the always-cordial security folks, "Ya gotta wait outside for the cleaning crew to show up." Really. And when would that be? "Sir, ya gotta wait outside," they said. So I turned around, headed back out on the street and weighed my options. I could give up, call a cab and hope the garage opened again sometime between October and Opening Day. Or I could wait. For some reason, I decided that abandoning my car in The Bronx wasn't a real attractive option. So back I went, to wait it out -- sitting on my work bag, on a darkened sidewalk on 157th Street. At 3:30 a.m. The Bronx has never looked more serene. I sat there, by myself, for 45 minutes, trying not to think of every New York horror story I'd ever heard on the evening news. Then some of my fellow car-hostage media buddies began to show up, to join me in the vigil. We sat there till 4:40 a.m., wondering what the heck we had done to deserve this, when suddenly, we heard a sound. I can honestly say that no street sweeper in my lifetime has ever brought me more elation. The cleanup crew drove up, turned the key and opened that door. About 1.6 seconds later, that locked-in car vroomed out. The rest of us sprinted in, found our cars and escaped -- before it was too late. As great Yankee Stadium memories go, it isn't quite as poetic as Reggie's three-homer game. But it's a memory unique to me. Maybe not about the House That Ruth Built, but the Writer That the Street Sweeper Bailed Out.|
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