Friday, April 6, 2012

Baseball Immortality

"Heroes get remembered. But legends never die." -from The Sandlot

It was an ordinary Sunday morning. I stumbled downstairs after sleeping in, as college students are known to do, especially in the summer. My dad was sitting at the kitchen table doing the crossword puzzle, as was his Sunday morning ritual. I struggled to spit out a mumbled "Morning, dad," with as much effort as it took to walk downstairs. He turned his head and looked up at me. The moment I saw the look on his face, I stopped. Now I was awake. In that instant I could tell something was wrong. My first clue was that for as long as I've known him this man has never taken his eyes off the crossword until he was done. The second was the look of sadness on his face.

Then he broke the news to me. "Mickey Mantle died," he said with a gravelly half-whisper and a furrowed brow, choking back an emotion that was obviously foreign to a man who is made of granite. That's all he needed to say. It was August 13, 1995.

I was 20 years old and I knew. I knew Mantle was his hero growing up. The Yankee he idolized and went to see at the original Yankee Stadium. He'd regale me with stories of sneaking into the bleachers with his friends or taking my mom to games. Or the few times the Yanks played at Roosevelt Field in Jersey City, my parents' hometown. My dad loved to describe how the monuments to former Yankees greats were in the field of play in center field in the old Stadium. And how sometimes when the ball was hit far enough it would bounce among them, among the tributes to Ruth and Gehrig. And in all of his stories about all of those games, Mantle did something memorable. Something remarkable. A goliath home run to win the game. A stolen base with blazing speed. A circus catch that saved a run.

"He was the greatest player I've ever seen," my dad would tell me. "Would have been the greatest ever to play the game if he never got hurt." A big "if." There was, of course, all of the drinking too.

Still, seeing my dad's reaction gave me a deeper connection to The Mick. One I barely had. I was sad when the tales of his drinking and his need of a liver transplant came out. Sad that people were making fun of him, because I knew my dad adored him. Still, I admired Mantle for facing his demons, albeit too late.

A few years ago, in the concourse of the brand new Yankee Stadium, I was shopping in the clubhouse store. I wanted a new team shirt with a player's name on the back. Problem is, I'm sort of a jinx. Anytime I buy a jersey with the name of my new favorite Jet or Yankee, something bad happens to him: Chad Pennington blows out his shoulder, Brett Favre crashes and burns, not to mention Joba Chamberlain's string of injuries that are so unfortunate and bizarre you'd think I had a voodoo doll. (The latest being a compound fracture of his ankle from jumping on a trampoline.)

Despite my obvious curse, I was thinking about purchasing a shirt with the name and number of backup catcher Francisco Cervelli. He was on a bit of a hot streak at the time and had quickly become a bit of a fan favorite. Plus, he's Italian. Like from Italy Italian. "Should I get Cervelli?" I asked my friend. "I don't think you should do that to the kid," he deadpanned. "His career just started." He was right. Cervilli was so young with so much ahead of him. "I could get a Mantle one. There's no cursing him. The guy's dead."

I went back and forth in my head for a few minutes, carrying both shirts until my friend finally gave me a dose of reality. "I'm going to pretend you're not really deciding between Cervelli and Mantle. Because that's ridiculous."

He was right. It's Mickey freaking Mantle versus a backup catcher who may not last four seasons in the  majors. Moments later I was forking over my Visa and paying way too much money for a T-shirt just because it had a Yankees insignia on the front and a legendary name on the back. A name my dad cheered and revered. 

My dad's hero is a legend. An immortal. When I'm walking around during the summer with his hero's name and number 7 on my back, I'm immortalizing both of them. I think my dad would like that. 

I have many more great Yankees stories to share:


  1. I may not be a Yankees fan but I love this post!

  2. It doesn't matter what team you're a fan of, there are some players in every sport that everyone has to love (or at least respect the hell out of). Mickey Mantle was one of those guys. That being said, I can't stand the Yankees. I will admit that I felt sadness when The Boss died because even though he was an arrogant, controlling douchebag, he was good for a few quotes, a few laughs and the game of baseball. I'm from L.A. and am happy Magic bought the Dodgers (another team I can't stand) but I really wish Mark Cuban could have gotten the team. A guy like that is just what MLB needs. Great post.

    1. The other Yankees shirt I have? Mattingly. I would root for the Dodgers to win it all just so Donnie Baseball could get his ring. And yes...even as a Yankees fan I loved AND hated The Boss.

  3. I will never buy a jersey with a current players name on it... They just change teams too much. Look at Albert Pujols, you would think he would stay his whole career in St. Louis and he ups and leaves to Anaheim. Smart choice on the Mantle shirt. I hate the Yanks, but you can't go wrong with that shirt.

    1. You're right. But me? I gotta wait till they die. I'm afraid if I get a Namath jersey the guy will keel over.


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