When the Yankees returned to baseball’s postseason in 1995, after a 14-year hiatus, I was fortunate enough to purchase a strip of two tickets for every potential postseason game through a friend who worked for CBS. Sadly, thanks to a huge choke job against the Seattle Mariners, I was only able to use two games from that strip, although one — game two, when Jim Leyritz hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 15th inning in the rain — was an epic.
The 1996 season started and I just assumed I’d either be able to hit up the same CBS connection or get tickets by standing on line or via Ticketmaster, so I never thought about getting any kind of season tickets. This turned out to be a huge judgment error. I am amazed to this day that I didn’t get fired, as I spent three weeks at work doing virtually nothing but calling everyone I knew who might know someone who knew someone whose neighbor’s brother’s veterinarian had a connection. I did manage to get into the bulk of the games — including two in Baltimore during the American League Championship Series and, thankfully, the game six World Series clincher against the Braves — but I vowed to never put myself through that experience again.
About two weeks after the end of the 1996 World Series, I called the Yankees ticket office and asked for the most inexpensive plan that guaranteed you full postseason tickets. I was offered a 40-something-game weekday plan (the number of games changed several times over the years), and immediately snapped up four tickets in tier box 611 (section five, just a shade to the first-base side of home plate), row B (actually the fourth row, as there are two of each letter — A 1-8, A 9-16, B 1-8, B 9-16, etc.).
Other than giving up two of the four seats because two of my friends rarely showed up for games, I’ve been in the same place since April 1997. And last night, I sat there for the very last time.
A man should not have to lose his bar and his ballpark in the same year.
I was fortunate enough to experience so many great memories in those seats, and even some that were great at the time but didn’t quite pan out.
I was there for Hideki Irabu’s debut in pinstripes in 1997. Japanese Nolan Ryan? My ass!
I was there for a good deal of the 1998 season, when the Yankees won 114 regular-season games and the World Series. Even though they obviously ended up winning the trophy, one of my most vivid memories will always be Chuck Knoblauch watching a wild throw on a bunt attempt roll down the first base line while he argued with the umpire instead of retrieving the ball, and future Yankee Enrique Wilson scoring from first. I really try hard not to curse in box 611 because many kids have been part of the family, but that rule was broken repeatedly and creatively that afternoon. I’m pretty sure I cursed Knoblauch in every language I knew, some I learned that day and some that were made up.
I was there for game one of the 1999 American League Championship Series against the Red Sox. As if playing our most bitter rival in a playoff series wasn’t enough stress, I got hit with some kind of bug that day, and my stomach felt like global thermonuclear war was being played out inside of it. Between a bad stomach and a raging fever, only a moron would have stayed through a 10-inning game. This moron remembers slumping to his seat in relief when Bernie Williams hit a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 10th, ecstatic at being able to go home and die in bed.
I was there for the clincher of the 1999 World Series sweep against the Braves, and it was probably the most emotional game I’ve ever spent in that seat. A good friend’s dad, whom I had grown to know quite well, suffered a massive heart attack a few days before the World Series started and never recovered, and he was taken off life support the day before the game. I knew my friend’s dad would have put a shoe up his ass if he missed a chance to see the Yankees win the World Series, so the two of us were there and, as the final Braves fly ball settled into Chad Curtis’ glove, all I remember is plenty of tears. I barely remember anything about the game. It’s a huge blur to me. I actually have the game on DVD — it was part of a giveaway by the New York Daily News a couple of years ago — and still can’t bring myself to watch it.
I was there for David Justice’s bomb of a home run into the upper deck in game six of the 2000 American League Championship Series against Seattle that basically sent the Yankees into the 2000 Subway Series against the hated Mets.
I was there for the epic game one of that series, when Paul O’Neill’s hard-fought walk in the bottom of the ninth helped the Yankees tie the game, which they won in the bottom of the 12th on a hit by Jose Vizcaino.
I was also there for game two, when Roger Clemens threw part of a broken bat at Mike Piazza, likely in a steroid-fueled rage, but I hate Piazza, so who cares? Clemens claiming that he thought it was the ball was purely laughable, though. Incidentally, now that I think about it, I was also there earlier in the season, for game two of a two-stadium doubleheader against the same Flushing Pond Scum, when Clemens hit Piazza square in the helmet and nearly knocked Sam Champion’s lover into next Tuesday, so needless to say, there was no love lost between those two.
I was there for the emotional run through the 2001 playoffs after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
I was NOT there for George Bush throwing out the first pitch in game three of the 2001 World Series, because someone apparently thought 12 metal detectors were enough to handle 56,000-plus people, so I didn’t make it into the ballpark until the third inning.
I was there for something that will likely never happen again: Two consecutive two-out, two-run, ninth-inning home runs to tie World Series games. The first (game four) came from Tino Martinez, the second (obviously, game five) from Scott Brosius. And both were courtesy of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Byung-Hyun Kim. Although the Yankees went on to lose the series (and haven’t won one since), it was truly unforgettable.
I was there for the last truly great moment in Yankee Stadium: Aaron Boone’s walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th inning of game seven of the 2003 American League Championship Series. If I even have to go into further detail, then you are truly not a baseball fan.
Then, things started to go sour for the Yankees. I was there for my most miserable experience as a sports fan: games six and seven of the 2004 American League Championship Series, as the Yankees became the first team in history to win the first three games of a seven-game series and not advance.
And there were early playoff exits in 2002, 2005, 2006 and 2007, not to mention a World Series loss to the Florida Marlins in 2003.
Unfortunately, a phenomenal run is now over, and there will be no October 2008 in box 611. The last game in Yankee Stadium is tomorrow night, but, since box 611 is part of a weekday plan, I will be enjoying the festivities from the very top row of the ballpark (I’m not exaggerating: row X).
I know the new Yankee Stadium will be beautiful. And I will hopefully be sitting with a lot of the same people I’ve been sitting with for the past 12 seasons. But spare me the old gag about making new memories. The friends I’ve made in box 611 and the already existing friends I’ve been able to share it with have been a big part of my life. I know I have one more game to go, and possibly some kind of farewell ceremony they’re kicking around for November, but I’m already terribly missing my ballpark.
Box 611, rest in peace. It’s been a great ride.