Many moons have passed, but the memories are crystal clear of heading to the crib and waiting for the BX 55 bus on the inner block of 161st Street and River Avenue. Standing in the background was a building many in the Bronx have taken for granted but in certain corners of the world was dubbed the “Cathedral of Baseball.” Sometimes the crowd would erupt, leaving us on the outside to wonder what was going on inside. A great play? A home run? I was determined to find out one day.
I’d observe from the comfort of home and listen to the commentary of Bill White, Frank Messer and Phil Rizzuto. One night in October, Chris Chambliss sealed a new fan base when he sent the stadium into a frenzy with a game-winning home run that sent the Kansas City Royals home and propelled the Yankees to the World Series, where they eventually got trampled by the Cincinnati Reds. In the offseason, vowing to sip champagne as world champions, they brought in Reggie Jackson, turning the team into a must-see. The following April, Pops pulled me out of school early so we can attend Opening Day, and a Jimmy Wynn home run to center field set the tone for a 3-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers and an eventual World Series victory. My first time in Yankee Stadium, the smell of pretzels, hot dogs and beer, the raucous fans, the beautiful green lawn and chilling with Pops sealed the deal, and I became a tried and true Yankee fan fo’ life. That team outside of the Bronx, it seemed. was despised. They were dubbed as a bunch of highly paid, hired-gun stars, instead of a team, and for a few lean years, it was a reputation well deserved.
Things slowly changed, beginning in the late 1980s, when they started incorporating talent they developed. Don Mattingley had great success, and that led to the rise of Bernie Williams in ’91. In 1996, Williams, served as the plus-one-more to a group that would be later dubbed the “Core Four,” and a baseball dynasty was formed.
Unfortunately, as with all good things, the end is here. The last remaining active player from that fantastic five is a week away from bidding adieu to the game. Salute to you, Derek Jeter. Twenty years into his career, millions literally will share the feelings of their first game and the ensuing memories because they wanted to see Jeter—not just Yankee fans or even baseball fans. The dude did it right during his entire tenure.
Like for many, the interlocking “NY” of the Yankees is a staple in my wardrobe. As a brand, it represents something. It means moving quietly but effectively. It means when the pressure is turned on, you run to and not from, to meet the challenge. It means having an unflappable demeanor, knowing that criticism and ridicule await you at every turn.
People root for you to lose, but when they get disappointed, you rise above like a champ is supposed to. You give them a pat on the back and keep it moving; no need to gloat. That’s what that “NY” is about. Hate it or love it, everybody knows. Jeter understands that, and he made you respect it. That’s all you can ask.
I’m out. Holla next week. Til then, enjoy the night life.