Friday, October 17, 2008

The Stadium

by Ivelisse Robles Marrero

“I won‘t miss this place…because it’s inside me.”
-Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra

The Stadium. From the ESPN sportscasters, to the neighborhood bum, when you say The Stadium everyone knows you’re talking about the one, the only, Yankee Stadium. With the greats of the past like Ruth, Mantle, Gehrig, Lazzerri, DiMaggio and Ford to our present stars like A-Rod, Mariano and Jeter, this stadium has seen baseball at it’s best. From three papal visits, legendary boxers like Dempsey, Graziano, and of course Ali to name a few, who threw their winning and in some cases last jabs there, famous football games and celebrated concerts, this stadium means so much for baseball and non baseball fans alike. Hate the Yankees or love ‘em, Yankee Stadium is it’s own entity and there’s no denying the important role it has played in so many lives.

My apartment building was approximately five blocks away from Yankee Stadium. I couldn't see it from my six floor window, but just like many who called that neighborhood home, we knew even if we didn't follow baseball, when our Yanks were home. During baseball season Bronxcites know that if there’s a home game avoid the 4 train. They knew that their drive home will most likely end up in bumper to bumper traffic. Home games meant an extra hour to find parking. The stadium lights shining bright could be seen even from Morris High School on Boston Road and 165th Street. The cheers were loud enough to let you know a Yankee did something good and the Hammond Organ playing the Stars Spangled Banner or that famous interlude before the fans yelled CHARGE was recognized in every household with an open window. Sinatra’s “New York New York” was heard loudly at the end of the night whether the Yanks won or lost. Baseball season meant that our sweet piece of The Bronx with its bad reputation welcomed with open arms the crowds of fans who came to root for their home team. Those who could afford a ticket were lucky, but for most of the neighborhood during the time I was growing up, we had the radio, or TV sets, some folks on their rooftops or fire escapes just to listen to the games and yell at the same time the crowd of fans from inside The Stadium did. During baseball season, the neighborhood was proud to house such a glory. We loved Yankee Stadium and considered ourselves the lucky ones to live close by.

Yankee Stadium did so much for the community I lived in. Without our stadium, the streets of 161 and around wouldn't have been the safe haven it was then. Police patrolled the area heavily. The lights remained bright so that your walk home wasn't scary. There were so many businesses that catered not only to the visiting baseball fans but the neighborhood too. You didn't need to look far to see the Yankee logo in many local restaurants and shops.

What the magazines and newspapers won’t tell you are the special things Yankee Stadium did for the people in its community then. For many families, thanksgiving dinner wouldn't have been possible if it weren't for The Stadium giving out free turkeys and sides. Every July 4th all the neighborhood tenants would gather on their rooftops to watch the fire works given by The Stadium. Parks were built on and around The Stadium grounds where Bronxcites can play sports like handball, tennis and basketball. There were smaller fields built for little leagues and a track where the community could exercise. There was Yankee Bowl and all the surrounding souvenir shops and my favorite pizza shop, Yankee Pizza which displayed old pictures, many autographed, of Yankee players, great plays and of The Stadium itself over the years. Sadly, this pizza shop was knocked down to make way for a McDonald’s.

The first time I was allowed to place posters on my wall in my bedroom, I didn't look through Teeny Bop or Tiger Beat Magazine. I went straight to one of the novelty shops across the street from The Stadium and brought a poster of Kevin Maas, Steve Sax and a pencil sketch of The Stadium before the renovation in the 70's. I remember my best friend and I wanted to be independent one day and walk the neighborhood without our moms. The first place we hit was Yankee Stadium. We sat on one of the stone benches beneath the high walls and spoke about how much we loved the Yankees and how cool it was to live there. We, like so many others, loved the icon that glowed in our South Bronx, our diamond in the rough.

In an old cigar box that my best bud gave me I hold the ticket to game six of the 1996 World Series, Yankees vs. The Braves. I don’t remember Bobby Cox ejected during the 5th inning or Wetteland almost blowing the game when he gave up a run in the ninth bringing the score to 3-2. I can’t even recall Charlie Hayes catching that last out, not even the team jumping on top of each other with extreme joy. What stays etched in my mind was what happened as we exited The Stadium. The streets were packed with all the neighborhood. Strangers hugged each other, everyone screamed, people crying of happiness. I had never seen so many of my fellow Bronxcites as I did that night come together and celebrate on Jerome Avenue. I feel that most of those fans, who couldn't get a ticket for whatever reason stood outside the walls of The Stadium to listen to the game and be there for the neighborhood team. That night represented much more than the Yankees winning another World Series. Yogi Berra says it best when he says “The city came together, here in The Bronx. A family, and it wasn't always about baseball.”

I’m not an avid baseball fan like many people I know. Don’t ask me who played first base three seasons ago. I won’t know the answer. Don’t question me about Jeter’s stats this year versus when he first wore the pinstripes. I’ll shrug my shoulders. I am a fan of the Yankees not so much because of the baseball team. I am a fan of what Yankee Stadium represents to me, to my neighbors, to my community. I am a fan of the Yankee essence that lives only in those walls which will soon crumble and disappear.

People I've met over the years have asked me where in The Bronx am I from. I don’t say The South Bronx, or 161st street and Sheridan Avenue. I don’t say that I lived by the Bronx Court House or by Cardinal Hayes High School. I don’t even mention the grand ole Grand Concourse. I just say…

“I grew up at Yankee Stadium.”

That’s all they need to know.

Yankee Stadium (1923-2008)
880 River Avenue
Bronx, NY 10451

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