It’s that time of year — when the Yankees trot out their plethora of past greats (and not-so-greats) at their annual Old Timers Day. I get a charge out of watching the game even if it is more exhibition than sport. It’s a mash up of watching a class reunion and reliving my childhood. I get to see the heroes of my youth. The big names like Reggie Jackson and Ron Guidry, and the infamous ones like Bucky Dent. There are also the players that I haven’t thought all that much about since I was in elementary school, like Mickey Rivers and Roy White. And, of course, there are the legends: Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Don Larsen.
I got to go to Old Timers Day back in 2007 courtesy of my friend Mary. Her brother, a big-time Yankee fan, had an extra ticket. (Mary’s a good egg, even if she’s a Mets fan with some Red Sox tendencies.)
This wasn’t just any old extra ticket. It was an extra ticket to watch the game in a suite. As her brother told me when we all met up by Babe Ruth’s bat in front of the old stadium, we would not have to “pee with the peasants.” Being that I have a bladder the size of peanut and planned on having a beer or two, this was almost the best part.
While the suite was great with good seating, air conditioning and lots of free-flowing food and drink (oh, and did I mention the private bathroom?), I felt somewhat detached from the action. We were behind Plexiglas, which muffled much of the crowd noise. Sadly, the best way to see the game was on the TVs above us. But it was still a good time chatting with fellow fans, some who had come from out of state to see their beloved Bombers.
And it got better. Much better. After the Old Timers Game, the old timers came to us. Suddenly Yankee greats Moose Skowron, Johnny Blanchard and Tom Tresh (all three of whom have since passed away) along with “Bullet” Bob Turley filed into the room. Okay, I admit the only one I recognized was Moose, but still. Apparently, the gentleman who had rented the suite had also rented the Old Timers — he paid them to mingle and sign some autographs.
I do not begrudge the old guys for their paid appearances. I mean, these men earned the equivalent of what Derek Jeter tips the coat check girl on a good night, so if they want to cash in on their glory days, I say go for it.
It was amusing watching a bunch of middle-aged men fall all over themselves trying to make casual conversation with the old players. One guy would not leave Turley alone, pumping him for information about playing with Mickey Mantle. No matter how many times Turley informed him he wasn’t part of the Mick’s crowd, the guy just kept pestering him with questions. “No, really what was it like to hang out with Mickey?”
This was one of those times when it was especially good to be a woman. Mary and I, being two of a handful of women in the room, got a lot of attention from the old guys.
Bullet Bob told us about his favorite playing year, 1958, when he won both the Cy Young Award and was named the World Series MVP. Moose Skowron happily showed us the World Series ring he was wearing and Tom Tresh talked about a young golf phenom he had recently played with who he thought would one day rival Tiger Woods. (Don’t ask me his name; the only golf I play involves getting the ball in the clown’s mouth.)
The old timers hung around for about a half an hour before heading on their way, leaving us to watch the Yankees with Roger Clemens on the mound battle against the Angels. The game was locked in a 1-1 tie and went into extra innings. Mary and I are both diehards who do not believe in leaving a game until it comes to its conclusion, so we stuck around until the Yanks eventually lost in 13 innings. Coupled with the Old Timers Game earlier, that was a lot of innings of baseball watching we logged in that day.
No matter. Getting to chat with the men who played during the days before multimillion dollar salaries and monster endorsement deals was a once-in-a-lifetime experience … one I wish every baseball fan could have. For once, it wasn’t about what have you done for me lately?, but rather thanks for reminding me about what the game once was.