Before I moved to Florida, going to Disney in the first week of March became a ritual for my two sons and me. My daughter could never join us as she is a teacher and did not have that week off. But she was there with us in spirit.
The week became special for us because we included a trip to Legends Field as it was then called to attend a Yankee Spring Training Game.
I capitalized it because it was indeed a special time.
For one thing, coming from New York in early March, you were greeted with bright sunshine and warm breezes. Then you went to the ballpark and walked around the facility and hung out by the practice field. Our first year was the best. As we hung by the chain-link fence encircling the field, there was a high bench set up behind the batting cage.
There, perched atop the bench sat Joe Torre, Zim, Donny Baseball, and Yogi.
I could almost cry as I type.
It was just a special moment, and no matter how old you are, you just had to be struck by the sight. All that was needed was James Earl Jones giving his Field of Dreams speech.
In addition to walking around the field, we also would visit Monument Park South. This was a display of all the retired numbers with a plaque for each player. If I only had a dollar for every selfie that had been taken at the various numbers.
I attended another spring training event with my friend and, at the time, my boss. Jeffrey was as big a Yankee fan as I, and he even went to the gift shop to purchase a baseball to have autographed should we come across a player or two.
I was not that motivated and didn’t buy a ball for myself.
Sure enough, we noticed a player and a queue starting to form.
Jeffrey and I headed over there. I stayed with Jeffrey because that is what friends do. I had no interest in getting the autograph of some Single-A baseball player.
And, since I hadn’t purchased a ball, I didn’t have anything to sign.
We were at the end of a long line and couldn’t make out what player was designated for autograph duty. We speculated that it was some would-be rookie.
As we got closer, I asked one of the security guys, “Who do we have here.” He just looked at me and smiled.
Then Jeffrey looked over and recognized that it was Andy Pettitte!
SWEET MOTHER OF MERCY!
Man, I was in a real tizzy. I giggled like a schoolgirl. I had palpitations. I scrambled to get something Andy could sign. Fortunately, I had a hat. Not my new one but last year’s spring training hat.
Finally, we got up to the head of the line. Jeffrey got his autograph as I took his picture. He will tell you I didn’t take a great one with all the shaking and jittering. Then it was my turn.
Now, I should mention that Andy was protected by a chain-link fence, and we had to pass our items through a gate. As I approached the gate, I was aquiver. I had to say something, but what?
I may have blurted out, “I LOVE YOU, ANDY !” Then I pleaded with Jeffrey to take our picture. I goobered up my best doofus smile and left Andy at the gate.
Then the day proceeded to get better.
On our drive to Tampa, Jeffrey got a tweet stating that Joe Namath was at batting practice. I was disappointed that we were probably going to miss him as we were more than an hour away.
So as we entered the game and, still feeling more than a little starstruck, I wasn’t at the top of my game. I started looking towards the dugout area and saw a clearly older player sporting a number 12 Yankees spring training jersey. “Who is that?” “It looks like Ron Guidry, but he wasn’t number 12.”
Now, number 12 was soft-tossing to one of the other players, “Probably going to throw out the first pitch.”
IT’S JOE NAMATH!!!!
SWEET MOTHER OF MERCY!
I had to sit down, well I was already sitting. I could have gone home after that. We saw Joe throw out the first pitch and it was 1968 all over again for me, except that my season ticket for the Jets back then was less than the cost of my one spring training ticket.
Joe had me bubbling, almost blubbering.
Then I get a message from my friend PJ. He tells me that the head coach of the Jets, Rex Ryan, is at the game. Sure enough, there he is talking to Jeter. Man O man, the things that affect us.
I may look sixty-three and a half on the outside, but after my spring training encounters of the awesome kind, I remain a teenager in my heart.
Well, this spring training moment occurred a few years ago. Namath was at spring training that year because Derek Jeter was beginning his final season as a Yankee.
I went to the opening game just this Saturday, and the emotion for me was the same. I am nearly seventy, but I felt like a little kid because that is what spring training does to you.
People who don’t understand the power of baseball don’t understand this emotion that fans have about their team and the game.
It’s just baseball, but it’s time travel as well.
When I go to games, I can still hear my father talk about Babe and Lou and Joe when he was taking me to see Mickey, Yogi, and Whitey.
My kids have heard all this before when I started taking them to see Donny, and Paul, and Bernie. Then along came Jeter and Jorge and Judge and Gleyber and…
It’s Yankee baseball, and it’s spring training.