Late September in the Bronx 2014… 48,613 fans on hand…and we were two of them. Of the thousands of fans, players, coaches and workers in the stadium that night there was one very clear focus of my heart and attention. No, actually Derek Jeter came in a close second that night, and those amazing dripping cheese fries were a tight third. My heart though was captured by the darling Yankee fan that sat right beside me — my amazing daughter Amiee. It wasn’t just that we experienced Jeter’s historic last home game as a New York Yankee, it was that we shared it together — memories we will always keep tucked in our heart’s pocket and be able to share with her own kids someday.
Most of the highlights of my adult life and the lessons I have carried in the journey from boy to man, from teenager to grandpa, are reflected in this “game” we call baseball. For in it, dreams are made, courage is tested, friendship bonds are nurtured — honor is earned not given, and when its earned it is acclaimed to the highest degree.
Not the game itself, but the forum of baseball has allowed me to see and experience things with my dearest friends and family that I would never have seen, and to be repeatedly reminded of what’s really important in life: character, relationships, and the value of living with intention.
Our trip to New York City that year was amazing as always. Hours before game-time, we stood in awe at the 09/11 Memorial, chatted with the NYC Firefighters at Ladder Co. 10 across the street, and shared the best Calzone in the whole world — somewhere on Broadway in a little Italian deli. NYC never disappoints.
That night in the Bronx as Amiee and I watched Jeter come to bat for the last time, the crowd’s chants which had consumed the stadium all night as the typical “Let’s Go Yankees” changed that inning with perfect poetic timing to “Thank you, Derek!…..Thank you, Derek!”. It was an evening of honoring a hero, and in realizing the significant impact you can make in your life when you stay consistently true to character, when you put others first, acknowledge you are part of something much bigger than yourself, and give your best every single day to those that are counting on you.
After the Jeter game let out, there was the typical religious group of “missionaries” outside the stadium — one holding a sign that read “Jesus Saves” which is pretty common at such large events. This was right after the historic last inning and post game so everyone’s mind was on Derek Jeter. As we were walking along with the mass of humanity leaving the game, shoulder to shoulder being herded toward the subway, we heard that stereotypical group of “New Yorker” younger men behind us talking about the game. I remember this plain as day like it was yesterday — one suddenly says, “What the F..k?? OH — I thought that sign said JETER SAVES!!” They laugh a bit amongst themselves, then his buddy replies, “Yeah, when’s the last time JESUS had a walk off base hit to win the game?!” I personally, of course, would never have made such a borderline sacrilegious comment — I’m a bit conservative that way — but at that very moment, in that scene, on that crowded sidewalk directly outside Yankee Stadium, it somehow was sort of ok and made me chuckle. Somehow those guys were appreciated for their clever insight instead of judged, a fitting ending to our amazing experience that night in the Bronx. Baseball brings people together for a common cause, bigger than themselves.
That wasn’t our first time to Yankee Stadium, our first visit was actually to the old park — “The House that Ruth Built” standing as the American coliseum since it’s opening in 1923 and the first ballpark to be called a “stadium” due to its enormous size (Ballparks). Often just called “The Stadium” (at least to New Yorkers), or more poignantly “The Cathedral”. As we entered that day in 2007 for the game against the Kansas City Royals, it was not only our first trip to the legendary park, but we knew it would be our last (since they were already building the new park to replace it). I did everything I could to just stand and stare… to soak it all in. The grand hallway still had aging huge pipes and old-style wiring overhead, extending from one end to the other. This was the coliseum where seven Hall of Famers played their entire careers with the Yankees — players like Lou Gerhig, Joe Dimaggio, Mickey Mantle (Sandomir). This was the place of legends. This experience was a reminder to slow down, to take it all in. I love photography, but I’ve realized in my later years that when I focus too much on getting the perfect picture of a special event I actually miss the event itself. Yes, you then have a fantastic photo — but your memory then becomes only of the photo and not the actual event. This day at Yankee stadium was one of the first times I employed a new commitment to soak it in, see it, smell it, feel it. What you’re experiencing in that special life moment is a gift, so just live it. And we did live it that day…together.
When my son, Anthony, was in elementary school, we went to see his very first Reds game on the river front in Cincinnati. It became one of our fondest memories, but not because of baseball. Anthony lasted about four innings before starting to get fidgety and bored — this day was about him, so we packed up and left. From the stadium hallways there in Cinci you can’t help but notice and admire the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge that crosses over the grand Ohio River into Kentucky.
At the time of its opening in 1867, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world — the predecessor and sister to the Brooklyn Bridge which was Roebling’s very next project (RoeblingBridge). And that afternoon it was calling Anthony’s name. Even just at five years old, Anthony was determined to cross it. So we did. It was quite a long walk — but on it we talked and enjoyed the boats that flowed underneath us. I was so proud of him that day, for creating his own challenge and then fulfilling it. I was a very young inexperienced father at the time, and I remember being proud of myself that day too — for having a sense of patience and long term thinking for my dear son, for being flexible and encouraging, for keeping things in the right perspective and putting being a Daddy ahead of all other things. I don’t remember a single detail of the actual game that day, only what the game gave us. He was encouraged as a son, and I was encouraged as a dad — because baseball that day had brought us together.
That was many years ago, but we still enjoy our days together at the ball park…dad and son… just time to talk, relax, have some good beer, and see the city. On our most recent baseball day out we visited the Cincinnati Zoo, had some Condado tacos, amazing puree based margaritas, and he took me to one of his favorite downtown art museums. Oh yeah, and there was baseball — but I don’t remember who won, and I’m sure he doesn’t either.
In 2011, the Yankees had only played one other series at Wrigley Field in Chicago since the 1938 World Series (mCubed). So when they planned to play there again due to the recently added interleague scheduling, Amiee and I were determined to be there. We had only one day before having to be back to our normal schedules, despite it being a five hour drive to Chicago.
Upon arriving downtown near the Pier, this small-town boy first of all refused to accept the fact that anyone should ever have to pay $40 to park their car!? So we backed out of there, drove around, and around, and around — and eventually made our way back to the Pier and paid the $40. A key life lesson was gained that day — when in “Rome”, you pay what the Roman’s pay! Driving around in circles doesn’t help reduce the price of the parking!
We enjoyed the Navy Pier, took a short boat cruise out on Lake Michigan on that perfect sunny day, and then rode the “L” train to the northside. One crazy thing I remember is the guys sitting behind us and in particular constantly yelling “Can A Corn!!” when a routine high pop up would occur, which left Amiee and wondering what that really meant. After all these years, I finally decided to look it up. Can-of-Corn: “When 19th-century clerks at groceries and general stores were looking for an easier way to reach canned goods on high shelves, they started using long, hooked sticks to pull them down. After dropping the cans toward them, they would catch them in their aprons — just like a fly ball.” (MLB/IDIOMS) Well, how ‘bout that.
We drove up and back same day — our schedule that day limited us but did not stifle our dream to see that game. We were reminded that day that you don’t have to get everything perfect and cozy to make great memories. Sometimes you take what you can get, and you make it work. We lived our dream that day, splitting the driving on the long road home and not letting anything keep us away.
My wife Melissa joins us at an occasional game, for which I am very grateful. She enjoys the sights and sounds, the smell, the food, the family time, and the people watching. We have an unspoken agreement — she comes to an occasional baseball game with me and the kids, and I go to an occasional scary movie or horror event with her. I give her “The Mothman Festival” experience including the late-night tour of the “TNT Factory” in West Virginia, and in return I get a Red’s game — a pretty excellent trade. Both are about the time we have together — which we cherish no matter what the venue.
For Melissa, baseball is nostalgic — but not regarding baseball. The smells of popcorn and candy, the stickiness of the floor, and even the aggravating fold-up seats — all remind her actually of the movie theater, one of her favorite places to be. A ballgame takes her mind, even if subconsciously, back to a simpler time when her mother would take her to the movies as a child — one of her most fondly held memories of her and her mom. Even the dramatic traditions of the National Anthem and the ceremonial first-pitch are paralleled in her mind to the excitement in the theater when the silence is finally broken and you know the movie is about to start because of previews that begin and the age-old dancing candy cartoon comes on reminding us to go to the lobby for a treat.
Nothing that Melissa enjoys about a ball game has anything to do with the game, or the star players out on the field — but that’s ok. She cherishes the togetherness, especially she said in just seeing us all there and in watching the kids and I interact about the game, the details we notice and talk about during the game…just listening to the things we share and admiring a dad’s special time with his kids that she gets to participate in and witness. That’s her experience and joy in baseball: being a mom and enjoying the family time with those she loves with all her heart.
For the very last game of Alex Rodriguez at Yankee Stadium, Aug 13 2016, Amiee and I once again travelled to the Bronx. We saw the honoring of a hero, and we were reminded of greatness, but also forgiveness. Alex had done and said many things in the previous years against the Yankees and to the sport, but in the very end we recognized his touch with greatness, his genius for the game, and showed him our sincere appreciation. He had his daughters with him that day, just as I had mine. Amiee and I watched, honored and gave homage to a hero. Albeit, from one row away from the very top of the stadium — where the awning overhead kept us dry from the pre-game downpouring of rain. Alex’s first inning double to right center field felt befitting — a final tip of the cap to his fans and supporters that final day at Yankee Stadium.
The experiences with my best buddy Marc have their own chapter — for as long as we remember baseball has been a part of our journey together. From little league baseball, to buying and collecting baseball cards by the thousands, to our adventures as adults at big league stadiums. Baseball is just the draw, a common ground — the journey is about a bond of brotherhood and support.
We once sang a TV commercial jingle (on camera) outside the small minor league park in Dayton, Ohio. This was a challenge for us because first of all we’re both a bit shy and awkward and secondly it was a local ad jingle that neither of us actually knew the words to. But the bottom line is that we DID IT. We went outside our comfort zone and made a cool memory together. No — we did not win the contest, but we won in our own way.
In 2015 we attended the MLB All-Star Game — a dream come true for both of us that we planned and saved for over a year to fulfill. There we saw legends of the game — future Hall of Famers and once-in-a-generation players like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. But the best highlights of our trip again fell outside the actual game. We saw Snoop Dog play softball at the Celebrity game the day prior. We saw The Oxy Clean Guy himself at the Fan Fest Expo — why that was so exciting I won’t ever know, but we were star struck.
We waited in line to see Hall of Fame St. Louis Cardinal Lou Brock and get our picture taken with him, we saw George Foster and Rollie Fingers upstairs in a random room we wandered into. And we stopped for a few minutes to listen to the actual ladies portrayed in the movie “A League of Their Own” who played in the very first women’s league during the 1943–1954 run of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). We stood in amazement at the detail of their memories and stories from seven decades prior, of the manager they played for and the game they so admired and loved.
The All-Star game itself was just icing on the cake, but our best memories came from these other events, at times when you’re able to focus I guess on each other and the experience, and not just the technicality of the game in progress.
This past week was my buddy’s 50th birthday, and we’ve been friends for 45 of those years having met in kindergarten. What did he want for his special birthday? A baseball game with his best friend. For a new experience we chose PNC Park in Pittsburgh since neither of us had ever been (to the park or the city). So we journeyed to Pittsburgh. We ate a great dinner at an old gas station converted to an outdoor restaurant (he got the steak I had promised him weeks prior). We also took in some Axe Throwing — a unique first-time for both of us (they were actually hatchets — but that’s ok). Landing that first “stick” into the wooden target was quite a thrill for both of us! Even though we paid for an hour session, after about twenty-five minutes we’d had our fill, and agreed that the first time we BOTH stuck the target on the same throw that we’d celebrate and go ahead and leave: it never happened. But we had fun. When stuck endlessly in Pittsburgh traffic those couple days, we talked, told stories, laughed, reminisced. At the hotel, we watched a little bit of Dr. Phil, and a whole lot of “Impractical Jokers” just to fill time and enjoy a fun break from our normal busy routines.
The morning of the game we toured the stadium (my very first tour). We sat in the press box, walked the dugout and even stood on the field. During the game that night, I can’t tell you how many times complete strangers would walk up to Marc and just start talking — about his Cardinals shirt, about where they were from, about their travels and of baseball. I asked Marc about this later, and he commented simply that “baseball brings together the common man, because they know they have something to share” (Mura). Well said.
And as a special surprise, I had a birthday message posted that night on the giant screen in the outfield — it showed up right on schedule after the finish of the 4th inning. I wanted him to be surprised, and to know that I appreciated his friendship. He was…and he does.
Amiee and I remember A-Rod’s 500th homerun at Yankee Stadium, we remember Jeter’s dramatic walk off hit to win his last home game, and recently seeing Aroldis Chapman throw 102 mph at a Yankee’s game up in Cleveland. Those are significant events in a snapshot of time. But collectively, we don’t remember a single thing about the actual game we saw at Wrigley Field. For it wasn’t about the game that day. We remember Chicago and soaking in the history and legend of Wrigley Field itself. We remember the long day and sharing the driving home — we remember the togetherness. I also don’t remember the score or any highlights of the game in St. Louis when Marc and I watched the Yankees that special Memorial Day several years ago — but I remember our talks, walking around the city, and even the Pi Pizzeria we stumbled across downtown. It was the best pizza I ever had before or since. For my wife Melissa, none of the details of the game ever matter — ever. She just enjoys the time with kids and husband. At one game she realized through social media that a long lost friend of hers was at the same game — they found each other, talked and revisited, and a friendship was rekindled right there high above the third base line. To her, that is baseball — relationships and togetherness. Honestly, that’s what it is for all of us.
Amiee recently reflected on our night in the Bronx seeing our hero Derek Jeter, and on our baseball memories together. I so appreciate her poignant summary, and to have the memory of that special night now written down for safekeeping. Her words bring tears to this dad’s eyes every time I read it:
“My greatest memories are with my dad, in a ball park, sitting in old, uncomfortable chairs, cracking peanuts and, as I aged, sipping on overpriced beer and cocktails. We are both introverted, quiet individuals and prefer to be in our own little corner. However, the night of Jeter’s last game, we were shoulder to shoulder with strangers, the crowd was enormous, loud and roaring. We had no care in the world because this was OUR game. The atmosphere in the stadium was heavy with emotion, which quickly spread throughout the crowd. I could feel the happiness, joy, and sadness from all of the fans surrounding me. As Jeter knelt down at his old home on shortstop for the very last time, I felt chills running though my body. I looked over at my dad, with tears in his eyes, and I knew he was feeling the same. We were experiencing something extraordinary. It was a powerful moment and I hold this memory very close to my heart.”
Baseball is just the forum — it isn’t life itself or even a very high priority. But it does parallel life, and it challenges and rewards us with those very things in life that make it worth living and fighting for. For in our lifelong experiences in baseball we have witnessed and been reminded of courage, of heroism, perseverance, forgiveness, friendship, and most of all togetherness…
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“Society for American Baseball Research | Society for American Baseball Research.” Brooklyn Dodgers Attendance in 1947 | Society for American Baseball Research, sabr.org/.
Sandomir, Richard. “Hall of Famers Who Played for One Team.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 10 Nov. 2010, bats.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/10/hall-of-famers-who-played-for-one-team/.
“Roebling Suspension Bridge > Bridge History.” Roebling Suspension Bridge, roeblingbridge.org/Bridge-History.
MLB : Series records : New York Yankees against Chicago Cubs. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://mcubed.net/mlb/nyy/chi.shtml
“Idioms | Glossary.” Major League Baseball, m.mlb.com/glossary/idioms.
“AAGPBL Players Association.” AAGPBL Players Association Official Website, www.aagpbl.org/.
Litwiller, Melissa. Personal interview. (17 Aug 2018)
Litwiller, Amiee. Personal interview. (16 Aug 2018)
Mura, Marc. Personal interview. (31 Jul 2018)