Up At Bat: Tom Clavin

Tom Clavin
Tom Clavin, Photo: Courtesy Tom Clavin

The Yankee Years

It finally happened, on Tuesday night of last week. I had been waiting for this all my life – imagining the thrill of it, dreaming about it, and, I admit, beginning to give up on it. And when it happened, it was everything I had hoped it would be. And now, over a week later, I’m still aglow.

Those of you who know my level of looks and charisma are probably thinking the obvious: sex. Well, I’ll have you know I’ve done that twice, as evidenced by my two children. Those who point out their resemblance to Wayne B., who owns the pool-cleaning company in Southampton, are mean-spirited and wrong. Anyway, I never owned a pool. There was sex almost a third time, with Kate Winslet, but my alarm clock went off before I did.

A lifelong dream was to catch a foul ball at Yankee Stadium. Preferably a ball hit by one of the Bronx Bombers, one of their stars, but as the years went on I became less picky. By this season, I’d be okay with a ball tossed in the stands by anyone in a uniform. It seems these days players toss balls into the stands like they own stock in the manufacturer. Last week, I thought that would work for me. I was sitting near the rightfield line and Aaron Judge was 30 feet away.

Why was this so important? Some of my happiest memories involve Yankee Stadium. In 2014, for my birthday, my son took me to Joe Torre Day. Not only am I a big Torre fan but we enjoyed seeing many of the players we had watched together years earlier. In September 1965, my father took me to Mickey Mantle Day. As others cheered, I wept at the prospect of my boyhood hero retiring. (He wound up playing three more seasons.) In a 1978 playoff game, I watched Thurman Munson hit a homer to beat the Kansas City Royals. About 30 years ago, during an interview with Don Mattingly, he gave me a tour of the clubhouse and when we walked out on the field and I stood at home plate, I could have died smiling.

It’s in my DNA. Twenty years ago, Yogi Berra was the Honorary Umpire of the Artists-Writers Game. Afterward, there was a benefit at Bobbi Brown’s East Hampton estate. As the party went on, my son and I found Yogi meandering by himself. When I introduced Brendan as a fourth-generation Yankee fan, a big smile creased the old catcher’s face. My grandfather had idolized Lou Gehrig, and for my father, it was Joe DiMaggio; for Brendan, it was Derek Jeter. Those experiences were a bond between generations.

I came close once to catching a foul ball at Yankee Stadium, and it would’ve been a doozy. It was at an Old Timers Game in the ‘60s and I was with my father. We were on the third base side. Phil Rizzuto pops one up and the ball, seemingly as high in the sky as Sputnik, drifts away from the field, past third base, then begins its descent. It’s coming right at me, gaining in size and speed. My Little League glove is raised and open and ready to receive . . . then a hot dog vendor reaches up and grabs the ball. My father objected, but the vendor made Aaron Judge look like Mickey Rooney.

So, I have a confession to make: I did not catch a ball at Yankee Stadium last week. Gosh, how I wanted to. I watched as the fouls fell into the hands of others who gestured ecstatically and were seen on the Jumbotron.

But I was there, and I’ll keep trying with the exasperating persistence of Charlie Brown trying to kick the football.

After the loss to the Blue Jays, I consoled myself by digging out a photo taken in the ‘50s of the infant me draped on my father’s shoulder. He’s flanked by his brothers. All are happy to be at the next best place to home. For me, happy memories were beginning to be made and there would be plenty more during all my Yankee years.

Tom Clavin is the author of 18 books including the bestsellers Dodge City, Tombstone, and, with Bob Drury, Blood and Treasure. For more info, go to tomclavin.com.

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