Baseball, as Bart Giamatti so famously noted, is designed to break your heart. It broke mine from the start.
The year is 1957, and I’m a 6-year-old kid riding shotgun in the car, my dad behind the wheel. We’re cruising in a Ford station wagon, green, with phony wood siding.
My dad gestures to the right. “That’s Ebbets Field,” he says. “Where the Dodgers play. Next year I’ll take you to a ballgame.”
And so the heartbreak begins. Because there will be no next year. The Dodgers will slink off to Los Angeles, as will the Giants to San Francisco, and I will have to wait for much longer than “next year,” which is the prescribed waiting period for any Brooklynite.
I will have to wait three more years, until 1960, when my dad will finally get over HIS heartbreak and take me to a place where Brooklynites don’t belong, but I’m too young to understand — a place called Yankee Stadium, home of Mickey and Roger and Whitey and Yogi. Former home of the Babe and the Iron Man and DiMag. A palace.
The highlight of the game came when a fan, who evidently had one too many Ballantine’s, decided to climb the protective screen behind home plate and haul in a ball that had been hit foul and got stuck up there. Like a kid navigating a jungle gym, he walked by hand to the center of the screen, above the field-level seats, and tried pulling the ball through the mesh. Then he pulled out a cigarette lighter and tried to burn the mesh. And then security started pulling at his feet to bring him down, and he held on to that ball for dear life. And then they yanked off his shoes, and my dad was in hysterics because the guy was wearing bright red socks. And this was 1960, when socks came in black or white. And they finally pulled the guy down — without the ball — and the game resumed and all I remember a half century later is a guy in red socks trying to burn a hole in a mesh fence to take home a foul ball.
I remember one other thing — walking onto the field after the game, en route to the subway behind the outfield stands. The grass under my sneakers. Heaven.
I would be a Yankee fan for life — or until they broke my heart, which wouldn’t take long.