Results tagged ‘ Opening Day ’

The new Yankee Stadium takes its bow

Appel_90.jpgBy Marty Appel

On Opening Day of the refurbished Yankee Stadium, April 15, 1976, it was nearly 90 degrees and of course, I had overdressed, deeming it appropriate to wear a suit and tie on this formal occasion. I was the PR director; I was the guy on the field trying to make order out of 50 photographers and a long list of VIPs, coordinating the introductions with hand signals to Bob Sheppard in the PA booth. All of my “assistance” from stadium security had vanished, dispatched to Mr. Steinbrenner’s office for his pregame party.

So there I was, alone on the field with Joe Louis, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Frank Gifford, Kyle Rote, Johnny Unitas, Weeb Ewbank and others with Stadium pedigrees. 4-17-09-Appel_OldYankeeStadium.jpgBob Shawkey, who pitched the 1923 opener, was on hand to throw out the first pitch, and he was surrounded on the mound by Mel Allen, the legendary “Voice of the Yankees;” by Pete Sheehy, the kindly clubhouse manager who had been there since 1927; by Toots Shor, the restaurateur whose eatery had been a second home to so many athletes; and by James Farley, former postmaster general, head of the Democratic Party, Haverstraw, N.Y. amateur baseball player, and season-ticket holder since ’23. Whitey Witt stood at the plate — he was the first Yankees batter in ’23.

Although recent publicity has called the remodeled Yankee Stadium inferior to the original, at the time, almost everyone had glowing approval for the project. Escalators, a video-replay scoreboard (which didn’t work on Opening Day), no obstructed-view seating, modern-dining facilities, luxury boxes and a new sound system all had kicked the aging park into modern times. The façade design, not yet held in iconic status as it is today, graced the top of the bleacher billboards. There wasn’t seating in the left-field bleachers until it was hastily installed prior to the ’76 ALCS, and thus the attendance of 54,010 was less than the eventual capacity.

These thoughts were in my mind as I boarded the crowded D train at Columbus Circle for the 15-minute trip to the Bronx. Today, you can always tell when it’s the right train, because everyone is wearing Yankees clothing — caps, Jeter T-shirts, etc. I always remember George Weiss, the GM in the ’50s, supposedly pounding on his desk in front of a promotion man who was touting Cap Day and saying, “Do you think I want every kid in this town walking around in a Yankees cap?” As if it would be sacrilegious.

Upon emerging from the subway Thursday, I the first view is not of the beautiful new Stadium, but of the old one, over there to the left, experiencing the early stages of demolition. I was very emotional when I attended the final game last September, and this is yet another tug at my heartstrings. Sledgehammers are doing their jobs along the bleacher walls, and within the next few months, the concrete will be down, and the reality will really set in. I’ve been going there since 1956. This is tough to see.

I was early enough to take a full walk around the new park. There are no statues, as other teams have included, but plenty of signage and banners remembering great Yankees: Ruth to Gehrig to DiMaggio to Mantle to Munson to Murcer to Jackson to Mattingly to O’Neill to Williams to Jeter to Rivera to Sabathia. Yes, to CC. Hey, he was going for his second Yankees win Thursday! And the first rule of promoting your product is to promote the current product more than the old.

It’s nice that Babe Ruth Plaza not only remains, but is also enhanced. It used to be just three words in broken tile in a patch of concrete breaking up traffic flow on 161st Street. Now it has a more formal presence, as the outside of the first-base/right-field side of the stadium. The inside complement is called the Great Hall. (I might have named it the Grand Concourse, after the nearby Bronx street.)

Everyone is in a festive mood, and there had been rumors in the last 24 hours of not Yogi, but of President Obama — or of Archbishop Dolan, newly installed just Wednesday, handling the honors. The paper this morning said it would be Yogi, which is just fine. He has been a loveable figure in this town since his 1946 debut 63 years ago. How do you stay so lovable so long? You have to be the real deal, and he is. He’s the most honorable, honest and genuine person you could ever know. It is wonderful that he is still with us, just short of 84, to perform this honor. Although he does move closer to home plate with each ceremonial toss!

I arrived about two hours early and spent a lot of time photographing exterior shots. I decided that the crossing of 161st Street by hundreds of fans coming off the subway will take on the look of a Yankees fashion parade in no time. And just a few days after New York’s traditional Easter Parade! It’s quite a sight to see this sea of Yankees blue swarm across the street towards Babe Ruth Plaza.

I’m in Section 212, sitting with Jeff Idelson, my pal for almost 20 years and the president of the Hall of Fame. Like me, Jeff is a former Yankees PR director. The late Anne Mileo was secretary to us both, and it’s a good day to remember Anne as well.

4-17-09-Appel_Berra.jpgAfter receiving an Opening Day pin (sure to be a collectors item), I continued taking photos inside, thinking, “What would we be wanting to see of 1923’s opener if we could?”

So I shot concession-stand price signs, the restaurants, the signage and the museum, complete with all its signed baseballs, statues of Yogi and Larsen and the World Series trophies since 1977. I took a photo of the signed baseball of journeyman catcher Sal Fasano, one of my son’s favorite players, and wondered why I have no recollection of Frank Tanana ever being a Yankee.

The opening ceremonies were less tear-evoking than the final game last year, but still a marvel. John Fogerty sang “Centerfield” (love it), Bernie Williams did “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” on guitar (love him) and Kelly Clarkson performed the national anthem. (She is a different person than Carrie Underwood, right?)

The old timers introduced were a mixed bag of memories — good for the Yankees to invite the much-maligned Horace Clark, and how good it was to see Jerry Coleman, Whitey Ford and Bobby Brown, who, beside Mr. Berra, were the senior citizens. The biggest hands were for the more recent players — Williams, O’Neill, Tino Martinez, David Cone, etc., probably because younger fans cheer louder. Some of my favorites were there: Bobby Richardson, Moose Skowron, Ron Blomberg, Luis Arroyo, Ralph Terry and Bob Turley. (I guess we’ll never see Jim Bouton at such a gathering.) I wish Gene Michael had received a louder ovation, if only for what he meant as a super scout in the early ’90s, building the Yankees dynasty of that decade.

To me, with a public-relations background, much of a fan’s experience should be about how many cheer moments their day at the ballpark provides. 4-17-09-Appel_Posada.jpgFor example, I was at the first exhibition game on April 3 against the Cubs. Jackson threw out the first pitch. I think the fans would have gotten a chill if the PA announcer had said, “And joining Reggie for the ceremonial first pitch … one of his teammates from those great Yankees teams of the ’70s … one of the most popular players to ever wear the Yankees uniform … here today as the manager of the Chicago Cubs … a warm Yankee Stadium welcome for … Lou Piniella!” It would have been a terrific moment.

Jeff and I then sat back and enjoyed a baseball game as two old friends should. We commented on Sabathia’s high pitch count and rolled our eyes at the leather-lunged fan ahead of us who chose to stand and yell “hip hip …” on every pitch to Jorge Posada, so that everyone would follow with “Hor-HAY!” Wasn’t it a supernatural act, that when Posada hit the first home run in the new ballpark, our hero was off in the men’s room or somewhere and missed it?

Jeff and I shared a lot of observations about the minutiae of the place — the placement of the monuments, the retired numbers, the out-of-town scoreboard, even whether the PR department was correct to omit the 1974 opener at Shea Stadium in the media packet that included Hilltop Park, the Polo Grounds, the original Yankee Stadium and the remodeled Yankee Stadium. (We thought Shea belonged.)

When the Indians got nine runs in one inning, the fans started to yell “We want Swisher!” after Nick had pitched a shutout inning in the 15-5 loss Monday. That was pretty funny, and I hope Nick heard it in right field.

Yankee Stadium traditions continued — YMCA, three-card monte, the subway race, Ronan Tynan doing “God Bless America,” the bleacher bums’ roll call, and of course, the captain, Derek Jeter, being The Man. The fans love him, and he’s worthy of it. As Mantle had been a hero to me, and then 4-17-09-Appel_Jeter.jpgDon Mattingly to my son, it’s wonderful that someone like Jeter has come along for this generation. Baseball perpetuates itself.

It was a Yankees loss, but every team is going to lose 60 games, so you sort of put that aside and move on if you’re a Yankees fan. Posada hitting the first home run was big. The ballpark is a winner. And watching the game with a friend is the best part of it all.

After the opener at new Yankee Stadium, the following items were donated to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and will soon be on display in Cooperstown: a game-used ball signed by Indians starting pitcher Cliff Lee, the spikes worn by Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia and the bat used by Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore to hit a seventh-inning grand slam.

Marty Appel is a special contributor to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Jackie Robinson Day

Hayes_90.jpgBy Trevor Hayes

All Major Leaguers wore the No. 42 yesterday in honor of one man. It’s amazing to me that a number can be retired throughout a sport to honor just one person. But then the accomplishments of Jackie Robinson are far beyond amazing.

I recently finished reading Jonathan Eig’s book Opening Day, about Robinson’s first season in the Majors. Let me just say this — I knew what he accomplished was hard, but I really had no clue. The truth about Robinson’s first season goes way beyond anything I ever knew beforehand.

The hatred he faced in the early part of the season is nothing I can even comprehend. Death threats — something Hank Aaron also received while chasing the Babe — were just the tip of it. 4-16-09-Hayes_Mets42.jpgHe had really had no friends other than his wife and infant son. Players threatened to stop playing, thinking the game would continue without Robinson and other black players.

I was born after the Civil Rights Movement, so for me to try to understand the environment is tough. The book, however, gave me a good clue. One of Eig’s main sources was Jackie’s widow, Rachel Robinson. Between the research Eig did in newspapers and interviews with Rachel, the book painted a picture for me that I can more fully appreciate.

I had the good fortune to say hello and shake Rachel’s hand in November when the Hall of Fame dedicated the Character and Courage statues in the lobby of the Museum. Eig was also there that day and participated in a Voices of the Game event with Roberto Clemente‘s sons. I learned that day that baseball can mean so much more. The game follows the ebb and flow of the nation.

A lot of things have been said about why Branch Rickey signed Robinson. Regardless of the original reason, Robinson became an icon not just for African-Americans but for people throughout the country. He was Martin Luther King Jr. before the Civil Rights Movement had a face. Malcolm X charted Robinson’s batting average while listening to Red Barber on the radio.

The Robinsons were celebrated but were also outcasts. They lived a fairly secluded life, but Jackie may have been the most recognizable face in America — and most certainly was the most recognizable African-American next to Joe Louis.

His success that first season proved a color line should have never been drawn. He carried the team for parts of the season, and he made thousands of people instant Dodger fans. His style of play made the game a thrill ride. It was aggressive, it was fast-paced and it was exciting.

Babe Ruth changed the game with the home run, but Jackie Robinson revolutionized it. He opened the door, and talent flooded through. Larry Doby was in the Majors by July. Dan Bankhead joined the Dodgers for the playoff push. But Jackie was first. He faced unreal circumstances and showed he could flourish. The bravery, skill and spirit he displayed are attributes that we can admire.

Robinson deserves every bit of appreciation we can gather. He is immortalized here at the Hall of Fame in the Plaque Gallery. The month of November has been designated Character and Courage Month to celebrate Robinson and two players he shared those characteristics with — Clemente and Lou Gehrig. Their statues in the lobby serve as year-round reminders of traits we should all aspire to exhibit. The entrance to the Mets’ new ballpark, Citi Field, was dedicated to him. The Jackie Robinson Rotunda replicates the entrance to Ebbets Field where Jackie broke the color barrier. His No. 42 hangs in every ballpark, and yesterday it was on the back of every player to take the field.

Trevor Hayes is the editorial production manager at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Face the future

Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

It was 17 years ago Saturday. April 11, 1992. My first real Opening Day: the Indians’ home opener that year.

I was a writer with the Ashtabula (Ohio) Star Beacon, covering the Cleveland Indians at old Cleveland Stadium. Seven months into my first real job, I was stepping into the big leagues. Or what passed for the bigs in Cleveland.

4-6-09-Muder_Naehring.jpgI ambled up the wood stairs to the press box, squeezing my way down the hall past the Teepee Room (free hot dogs and soda). I found my seat — and found dead insects on the table in front of me. Then I hooked up my Radio Shack laptop (complete with acoustic couplers to transmit the story via the handpiece of a regular phone-line) and bounced onto the field.

Pure heaven.

It’s a little different today. Cub reporters all over the country will descend on palatial stadia like Cleveland’s Progressive Field, complete with hand-held BlackBerries capable of 100 times the output of my TRS-80 Model 100. They’ll post to live blogs, send Web updates to their sites and even tweet on Twitter.

I can imagine myself on Twitter in 1992: “Craig’s knees are knocking because he just interviewed Mark Lewis behind the batting cage.”

Today, as a part of the team at the Baseball Hall of Fame, we take a major step into the world of social media with the launch of our new Facebook page. There you can find Hall of Fame calendars and photos, along with links to our site and information about supporting our educational mission. Stop by while you’re surfing the net today on Opening Day and become a “fan” of the Hall of Fame.

By the way, the Red Sox beat the Indians in that 1992 opener, 7-5, in 19 innings on a Tim Naehring home run, and future Hall of Famer Wade Boggs was 2-for-9 with a run scored and an RBI. I didn’t get home until just before midnight — even though the game started in the early afternoon.

I don’t think I ever had as much fun.

Craig Muder is director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Opening Day at the Hall of Fame

Light_90.jpgBy Stephen Light

“It follows the seasons, beginning each year with the fond expectancy of springtime and ending with the hard facts of autumn.” Of all the quotes, monologues, and stories Ken Burns shared with us in his documentary Baseball, this one has always stuck with me.

And here we are — April. The fond expectancy of springtime. Hopes are high all across baseball. Will the Rays repeat their magical run to the World Series? Can the Phillies defend their crown?
4-1-09-Light_RedsMets.jpgWill a new-look Mets bullpen help wipe away memories of two consecutive late-season collapses? How will the Yankees rotation stand the pressure of the pinstripes? Is this the Cubs’ year?

Here in Cooperstown, spring is in the air as well. After an icy cold winter, the snow has disappeared, the ice on Otsego Lake has thawed and temperatures are reaching up into the 50s. The streets have become busier, too, as baseball fans head to the Hall in anticipation of the new season.

In the Education Department, we are preparing for a busy spring and summer, with April kicking off an exciting schedule of public programs and events. Opening Day of the baseball season will serve as an opening day of sorts for us as well. If you are in the area, stop by the Hall of Fame on Monday, April 6, as we bring visitors live coverage of the New York Mets and Cincinnati Reds in the Bullpen Theater starting at 1 p.m.

In between innings, we’ll serve up some Opening Day trivia. I’ll even give our blog readers the chance to do some homework on the first question: Which president showed off his ambidextrous talent by throwing out two ceremonial first pitches on Opening Day, one left-handed and one right-handed?

Stephen Light is the manager of museum programs at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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