Souvenirs Tell Stories — Part 4: A New York Yankee Pennant from My First Game at the Stadium
I have always been a huge baseball fan. Growing up during the late 1950s and early 1960s, the New York Yankees were the perennial champions, and Mickey Mantle was everyone’s favorite player. I remember vividly playing catch in the backyard with Dad, I remember playing summer ball daily with my buddies at the nearby field, and I remember earning a spot on my Little League team at the age of ten. What I remember most vividly, though, is the first time I ever attended a major-league game: the Detroit Tigers versus the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on August 11, 1962 — a day of disappointment and joy all around.
Disappointment? Yes, disappointment. I learned a lot about expectations versus reality on that particular day when my 11-year-old expectations were sky high.
First, I had imagined that the field at Yankee Stadium would be like a heavenly vision, with base paths paved in gold and perfectly sculpted giants at every position. When we finished walking through the cavernous entrance and I finally viewed the field, however, I was stunned — and not in a good way. “That’s it?” I asked myself. “Why it looks pretty much like the field at Mohawk Mills Park in Amsterdam,” a park where the Yankees once had a minor-league team in the town where I lived.
Fortunately, I overcame my initial disillusionment when we found our way to our seats. My dad had driven us three hours down the Thruway that Saturday morning with Harry, my dad’s friend, and his guest, Chuck, a boy about my age. Harry was a major executive at the local carpet mill, and he had somehow acquired four box seats about ten rows behind the Yankee dugout, the best seats I have ever had at any ballgame since. From there, I could almost touch Mantle, Roger Maris, and Bill “Moose” Skowron as they stretched in the on-deck circle before they walked up to the plate to hit. I couldn’t wait to see one of them hit a home run. That was my second disappointment.
During the game, the Yankee hitters did almost nothing against the Tiger hurler, lefty Hank Aguirre. This cagey veteran pitched all nine innings, struck out seven, and gave up only two runs, one earned. The Yankees lost 7–2. Yes, I was disappointed with the outcome, but a silver lining existed.
The weather that day was perfect for baseball, and the steady stream of hot dogs, Cracker Jacks®, and ice cream made the afternoon one like I had never experienced before. Why so much food? Harry ordered and paid for the treats just about every other inning because he was dating Chuck’s mother at the time, and Harry wanted to make sure we all had a great day. In that regard, I was not disappointed at all.
My next disappointment had to do with the Mick. I wasn’t really bothered by the fact that the Yankees lost that day. They were the 1961 World Champions, after all, and they were in first place in the 1962 pennant race, four and a half games ahead of the second-place Los Angeles Angels. What bothered me the most was that Rocky Colavito, the Tigers’ left-fielder, had hit two three-run homers, while Mantle did nothing whatsoever; he struck out twice and popped up twice. He barely hit the ball out of the infield, and he didn’t even get to run the bases. I had expected four home runs. I would have been satisfied with one. To see such failure not on television but live and in person broke my heart. Seriously, I was on the verge of tears when the game ended.
Fortunately, my dad saw my disappointment, and as we exited the Stadium, he offered to buy me a souvenir from the assorted vendors. I looked over their array of offerings, and settled on a photo pennant of the 1961 champions, a pennant I hung on my bedroom wall that evening and one that stayed there until I went off to college. Though my wife, Barbara, refused to let me hang that faded, blue triangle in our home, I found this souvenir recently in a box in the attic, and the memories came flooding back.
Yes, I had to rely on the Internet to find all the specific details of this game — attendance, 28,000; weather, 67 and overcast; and length of game, two hours and 27 minutes — but all the significant memories and, more important, all the lifelong lessons are still tucked away in my brain: first, baseball is a great game, no matter where it’s played; second, my team will not always win, and, third, everyone — even the great Mickey Mantle — will sometimes have a terrible day.