I grew up a Mets fan in a Yankees household. I'm the youngest of three, and my older brother and father are both huge Yankees fans. I think the little brother mentality is why I associate more closely with the Mets, who have always played second fiddle in the Big Apple. Despite my allegiances, I'm a baseball fan first. I never turned down tickets to a Yankees game, because I knew I was very fortunate to grow up just an hour from the Colesium of baseball.
I got to maybe 15-20 Yankees games in the Bronx. Very few notable contests among those, but I did see Cal Ripken's last game in Yankee Stadium, a Ricky Ledee inside-the-park HR, and five or six Red Sox-Yankees games, which are always good for 8-10 brawls per section.
I was at Yankee Stadium in 2002 when a Sox-Yanks game was interrupted by a monsoon in the early innings. Rather than sardine ourselves next to 50,000 other fans in the concourse and wait it out, my friends and I let ourselves get soaked from head-to-toe and had a blast stomping around in the puddles. During the long delay, they showed the Nets-Celtics Game 6 on the screen, with the Nets winning and heading to the finals. NY fans got the victory there, but the BoSox prevailed in the game 5-2.
That was definitely a unique experience, but not nearly as one-of-a-kind as my favorite Yankee Stadium memory. Saturday, October 9, 1999. If you look it up, there was no game played in the Bronx that day (The Yankees were in Texas to finish off a sweep of the Rangers in the ALDS). My dad was approached by a friend of ours who has a banner/graphics company, and asked if he would be willing to install all the red-white-blue bunting you see hanging during October. My dad had done this before for Opening Day and taken my brother. But this time, it was my turn to come along.
Just my dad and I, all day, in an empty Yankee Stadium. From the upper deck to behind home plate, we repaired and/or replaced every banner in the place. It's one thing to take in the size and scope of "The House that Ruth Built" with thousands of fans and tons of activity around you. It's another to be in a silent, still park with a sea of empty blue seats and basking in the peacefulness of it all.
Though we had a job to do, we would stop every now and then to look around and appreciate our uninterrupted views. The fragrant autumn air embracing us within the famous facade was unlike anything I have ever experienced. I'm not sure I realized it at the time, but that was something that not many regular fans got to do, and I'm incredibly lucky to say I have.
After a long day, we finished our work and helped get the Stadium in tip-top shape for the ALCS. Whether or not we were allowed, we stepped over the field level wall and took a walk around all parts of the field. I stood in Bernie Williams' spot in center field and looked in every direction. What an incredible view he had. Being the eager 12-year-old I was, I pretended to make a running, leaping catch with one foot against the freshly-painted center field wall, and left a scuff mark that was visible during the upcoming games (Sorry, Dad).
Carefully avoiding the dirt, we stood in the grass behind home plate and gazed out at the scene that so many greats had witnessed. My dad had always reminded me that this Yankee Stadium was hardly what the original had been, but that didn't diminish this special opportunity. My dad got a picture of me on the top step of the Yankees dugout that sits on our front table to this day. He was so proud to have his picture taken next to the NY logo behind home plate with the vast expanse of Yankee Stadium behind him.
I'll never forget that day for another reason: I was in an empty Yankee Stadium for one of the greatest moments in Mets history. We had a radio with us to tune into the Mets-Diamondbacks, NLDS game 4 going on at Shea. With the game tied 3-3 in the 10th, the unlikely hero, Todd Pratt, sent a drive to the deepest part of the yard that barely cleared the wall and Steve Finley's glove for a walk-off, series-clinching home run.
There's me, in the Loge section at Yankee Stadium, jumping and cheering by myself, with my screams echoing off the deepest corners of the building. The lone Mets fan celebrating in the Yankees' house, the way I was raised.