Old Timers Day Part II

I saw a picture of myself at Old Timers Day. I’m sitting in the first row of Yankee Stadium’s upper deck, hunched over the railing. I have two day’s worth of stubble on my face, yet somehow look like a little kid, watching as Michael Kay and Jon Sterling announce the 72 former Yankees who came back to The Stadium one last time.

My day started at 6:00 a.m., trekking down to the Greyhound terminal in Washington, D.C. to catch an early bus to New York. Game time was officially listed at 3:55 p.m., but I didn’t care about the Yankees and Angels nearly as much as I cared about seeing Old Timers Day.

It has not been a lucky year for my trips to New York to see the Yankees. I drove up for the last Opening Day at Yankee Stadium, sat in traffic on the George Washington Bridge, only to have the game called on account of rain. I turned around and drove home without even parking my car. It was ok, I reasoned – I had a fun story.

In June, I was ready to leave to see the Yankees play the Reds, but had left the ticket at my office. Traffic was light, and it was easy going until I felt the elevator grind to a halt between the sixth and seventh floors. Two hours later, it was far too late to drive up, so I went home and watched the game on TV. It was a crisp game, played in about two hours and thirty minutes. So, I reasoned, it was ok – I had a fun story and didn’t have to spend ten hours driving for less than three hours of baseball.

But Old Timers Day was different. So I left early – on the 7:00 a.m. Greyhound, arriving at the Port Authority at 11:30 a.m., two hours before Old Timer introductions

We got in early, and I jumped right on the subway. I was underground until I reached the Bronx – and when the car emerged from the ground, the first drops of rain were starting to pelt the glass. The entire car – full of people, like me, wearing Yankees jerseys and caps and t-shirts – groaned as one. I heard one hoarse-voiced rider utter what I feared: “They might get the game in, but they won’t let the Old Timers play.”

As I stepped off the 4 train, the sky opened up. I stubbornly walked around The Stadium and allowed myself to be soaked, blaming every Yankees official I could think of. “This never would have happened under George,” I thought irrationally, as if Hank and Hal Steinbrenner should learn to control the weather like their old man.

The rain stopped just as the gates opened. For some reason, the pregame Old Timers ceremony never draws as many fans as the actual game, so at 1:45 when the hoopla started (just 15 minutes late, and well after I had time to dry off) I was able to move down from my seat in the upper upper deck to the lower upper deck, right above the home dugout where the Yankees of the past had gathered.

Dave Winfield, Don Baylor, and Tim Raines loitered near the on-deck circle. Aaron Small, who just pitched for the Yankees in 2005 and 2006, walked around getting his picture taken with more distinguished players. Jim Abbott signed autographs for people sitting behind home plate, somehow catching thrown balls and hats despite missing his right hand.

They ran down the 72 names. Though many were introduced by statistics, it was all memories for me – and I got to laugh a little at how old my childhood heros had become without feeling too old myself. Jimmy Key, the ace who righted the pitching staff, tipped his hat to the crowd to reveal a balding head. Mike Stanley, the catcher from 1993-1995 who was as automatic as any player with the bases loaded, kept his hair but it was solid gray. Just three months from trying to talk his way onto the Yankees’ roster, David Wells looked… well, he always looked bad.

I stood and cheered for some, most notably my favorite player after Don Mattingly retired, Paul O’Neill. The Stadium agreed, and his two-minute ovation was matched only by Willie Randolph – and that was really just a shot at the Mets.

The game was funny, as 40-, 50-, and even 60-year-old men tried to play the game they knew so well. The outfielders played shallow, and outside of Brian Doyle diving to grab a ball and make a force out at second and Wade Boggs scoring from second on an O’Neill single no one really hustled.

After one inning, it was done, and the Yankees played a solid game – downing the Angels 8-2. Appropriately, 39-year-old Mike Mussina pitched a gem.

Getting home was decidedly more challenging. Greyhound’s polices of selling more tickets than seats and giving passengers wrong gate information led to a four and a half hour wait at the Port Authority on a Saturday night. (New York is a great town, but if you spend a weekend there I’d suggest other attractions.)

I got back to D.C. at 4:17 a.m. But it was ok – I had a fun story which, this time, included a ballgame.

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