Sunday, September 21, 2008

And THAT'S why you always wear a fitted hat

The day has come - and I agree with those who say it was too soon - for Yankee Stadium to hold its last game.

So much has been made about saying goodbye to the Stadium and all the memorable moments that have occurred within its walls, and of course I feel obligated to add my own most memorable moment, having seen my share of games there. Ultimately, it won't be seeing everyone's favorite mid-season callup Shelley Duncan hit two home runs*, or the Yanks-Sox game started by Joba and ended by Brett Gardner with a walk-off single, or sitting in the Stadium with a seemingly never-ending rain delay in effect the night before I took the SATs**. Admittedly, it's a bit more mundane than those.

It was September 2000, and I had arrived home from my first day of school to see my dad's car in the driveway. As far as I knew, he hadn't planned on taking a half day, and I was worried something might be wrong. Imagine my surprise when my sister greeted me at the door with Yankees tickets - we were going to the game that night. I quickly got changed and we headed out, keeping our fingers crossed for minimal traffic on our trek from North Jersey to the Bronx. On our previous trip to the Stadium, we sat on the George Washington Bridge for an hour and were hoping for a better result this time.

We remarkably arrived at the Stadium before game time, and made our way to the seats behind the Yankees dugout, where an usher diligently checked tickets and a waiter gave us the opportunity to overpay for chicken fingers delivered to our seats. Said seats were a far cry from the upper tier we found ourselves in the past few times we visited the stadium. My sister leaned over to me, barely able to control herself.

"Look who's sitting in front of us, two rows up."

The backs of the heads that I was staring at didn't immediately look familiar. But then it hit me.

"Oh my god," I whisper-shrieked to my sister. "Derek Jeter's parents. That's so cool!"

Perhaps this is not that exciting to you. But at 12 and 15 years old, my sister and I were, to steal a line from Bruce Springsteen, so young and in love with Derek, decorating our lockers at school with pictures of the Yankee shortstop (along with a few of his teammates) and swooning every time he came to bat. 

There was a lot to cheer about during that game. A strong performance from El Duque and offense entirely provided by home runs from the heart of the order - Paul O'Neill, Bernie Williams, and Tino Martinez. Eventual domination by Mariano Rivera. But first...

About halfway through the game, a player on the Twins fouled a ball back, a pop up that was coming right towards us. The crowd surged around us, people literally coming out of the woodwork, hands reached up to the sky, hips ready to box out anyone who might come between them and their little horsehide treasure. My dad held out his baseball cap and we watched the ball fall into the hat...

...with such force that it caused the adjustable plastic band in the back to open up and let the ball bounce out and roll under the seats in front of us. Despite a last ditch effort on my sister's part, the ball was grabbed by someone in the row in front of us as we all stared at the hat in disbelief. As did Dr. Jeter.

"What happened?" he asked my dad. My sister and I gave each other OH MY GOD looks.

"Geez," said my dad. "You know, I had it! It just..." and he gestured to the back of the hat. He was still in shock.

"That's too bad. Think you need a new hat," Dr. Jeter said with a kind smile, and turned around and returned to the game.

"Wow," said my dad to no one in particular.

A month later for his birthday, dad got a nice fitted Yankees cap. The foul ball, however, remains elusive, no matter how many games we attend...

*I know he didn't even hit .200 this season, but what can I say, I've got a soft spot for the big lug.
**Maybe if the Yankees actually won that game. Although I did ace the verbal section of the test anyway. And yes, I suppose in a way that these footnotes are a tribute to the late David Foster Wallace.

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