I can still hear legendary Yankee Public Address Announcer Bob Sheppard introducing Derek Jeter for his first at bat on Sunday, September 21, 2008. Jeter walked to the plate while Sheppard’s voice echoed around Yankee Stadium. Jesse, John, and I had flown to New York solely to watch the Yankees play the Orioles in the final game at Yankee Stadium. The House That Ruth Built was closing.
Baseball brought me to New York City for the first time. I would later live and work in New York for five years, but that first visit was about baseball. Knowing we only had one game to explore one of the greatest ballparks in baseball we arrived at 161st Street Station in the Bronx around 9:30 am, 11 hours before first pitch. We were greeted by a sea of fans who, like us, we eager to spend the day inside the House That Ruth Built before it closed.
We made it to The House That Ruth Built. (The Winning Run/ JJ)
The crowd outside the Stadium was chaotic, joyous, and a bit solemn all at once. The new Yankee Stadium stood just across the street, and except for a few glances I had little interest in the building. I had come to see THE Stadium, not its replacement. After slowly making our way through the line we finally entered the hallowed stadium. We soon learned our first stop would not happen. Monument Park was at capacity and the Yankees were closing it early. We scrapped our other plans and began exploring every nooks and cranny of the stadium that was accessible. We walked around the cheap seats, the foul lines, behind home plate, everywhere but our seats. Our seats were in the right field bleachers, with the Bleacher Creatures. Once you entered the bleacher area, security would not permit you to return to the rest of the stadium. We explored until our feet ached from the concrete. Once you join the Bleacher Creatures, there is no coming back.
Our first glimpse of the field was from behind home plate. Seeing the most famous baseball field in the world, where so much of the game’s history was made, where so many legends played, felt spiritual. I remember silently standing with Jesse and John gazing at the field, soaking it in. Three baseball fanatics in awe of their surroundings.
The field is beautiful from the cheap seats (The Winning Run/JJ)
Warming up before the game. (The Winning Run/JJ)
Breathtaking. (The Winning Run/JJ)
Our day touring Yankee Stadium went by in a flash before we joined the Bleacher Creatures. The pregame festivities included Yankee legends returning to the field one last time. Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson, and other living legends were joined by the ghosts of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, among others. Fittingly Babe Ruth’s daughter, Julia Ruth Stevens, threw out the final first pitch in the House That Ruth Built.
Once the actual game began, it was like every Yankee game I would attend while living in New York. The nationally televised game between two teams who would finish the season a combined 36.5 games behind first place began at 8:36 p.m. There were plenty of people, like us, who were not the regulars among the Bleacher Creatures. It was easy to identify the Bleacher Creatures. They are loud, obnoxious, generally know their baseball, and above all are die hard Yankee fans. The chants began in the top of the first, roll call. Every Yankee, except the pitcher and catcher, had their name chanted until they acknowledged the Bleacher Creatures. Some players, like Bobby Abreu, waved quickly, others, like Johnny Damon, made us work for a few minutes before waving. The loudest chant was for the Captain, Derek Jeter. Jeter was the man; no one on the field commanded more respect than #2.
Our seats with the Bleacher Creatures. (The Winning Run/JJ)
I remember only pieces of the actual game. We went to the game for the experience, not necessarily the actual game. The Bleacher Creatures did what they do best, being loud. I have clear memories of a chant regarding Hall of Fame player and then ESPN Sunday Night Baseball announcer Joe Morgan, who was broadcasting the game. The chant was simple, “Joe Morgan Sucks! Joe Morgan Sucks! Joe Morgan Sucks!” Over and over and over. I was never a fan of Morgan’s broadcasting, but the Bleacher Creatures were less bashful in voicing their opinion. Another memory is a different chant “Box Seats Suck! Box Seats Suck!” The metal bleachers in right field were anything but leisurious. They reminded me of the bench at a little league game. The most memorable moment sitting among the Bleacher Creatures happened when people sitting several rows in front of us attempting to start the wave. Yes the wave. Every time they tried to start the wave they were booed and told to “Take That Sh@$ Back To Shea!” Eventually stadium security and the New York Police Department stepped in. This was late in the game after beer could lower people’s inhibitions. Obviously the people threatening those trying to start the wave were removed by security. Wrong. Attempting to start the wave gets you removed to the cheers of the Bleacher Creatures. I might have missed something someone said or did, but I like to think they were arrested for attempting to start the wave at Yankee Stadium.
On the field, Jose Molina hit the final home run in Yankee Stadium with a fourth inning two run shot off Chris Waters to give the Yankees a 5-3 lead. The Yankees would stretch out their lead in the sixth inning with a Jason Giambi RBI single and a sacrifice fly by Robinson Cano to score Brett Gardner. The tension was palpable in an otherwise meaningless game. Everyone wanted one last Yankee victory inside the House That Ruth Built. The Yankees led 7-3 heading into the ninth inning.
The guitar riff blasted through the speakers. Metallica’s Enter Sandman filled the stadium. The greatest closer of all time was trotting in from the bullpen. 11 pitches and three groundouts later, Mariano Rivera closed Yankee Stadium.
Mariano Rivera coming in to close out Yankee Stadium. (The Winning Run/JJ)
The final out. (The Winning Run/JJ)
Jesse and me after the game. (The Winning Run/JJ)
John and me after the game. Note the mounted police on the field to keep people off.(The Winning Run/JJ)
The celebration was not the World Series many envisioned to close Yankee Stadium, it was still special. Derek Jeter spoke to the crowd, thanking the fans and creating a bridge between the two stadiums. He was brief and to the point before leading the Yankees around the field to say goodbye. Yankee Stadium was the House That Ruth Built and the House That Jeter Closed.
The game ended just before midnight. An era in baseball history was closed. No one wanted to leave. Grown men were tossing empty water bottles to the player’s kids on the warning track, begging them to fill the bottles with dirt before tossing them back. Every nook and cranny inside Yankee Stadium was filled with memories and the thought of never coming back was almost too much for some to bear. Normally at the end of a Major League game the ushers and security are quick to push you out of your seats. This was different, we stayed in our seats for an hour after the final out. The crowd was slow to disperse and the stadium staff did not have the usual urgency to clear the stadium. It was after 1 a.m. when we left Yankee Stadium. No one was in a hurry to leave the ghosts of baseball history alone in a now closed Yankee Stadium.
Soccer, or football as most people call it, is the global game. People of all ages play the beautiful game from the busy streets of New York City to rural villages all over the world, like this one in Rwanda. Soccer, as Americans call it, is globally popular for a variety of reasons, but I believe the two most important are the requirements to play in terms of people and equipment. Only have one friend to play with? Simple! It’s one on one. I hope you can dribble. Live on less than a dollar a day and not positive where your next meal will come from? Here’s some rolled up cloth that will work as a ball. The simplicity of the game opens it up to almost every person on the planet.
Baseball has long sought to expand its global reach, and the advent of the World Baseball Classic was part of that vision. The more countries watching and playing baseball would mean a larger talent pool for professional baseball, but also the more money organizations like Major League Baseball can make. FIFA and leagues like the Premier League are about growing the sport, but ultimately they are businesses interested in making more money. The best way to increase income is to reach into every available market, even creating new markets, to sell your product.
Gift Ngoepe is not only the firt South African to make it to the Majors, he is the first person from the entire African continent. (Ronald C. Modra/ Sports Imagery/ Getty Images)
If baseball ever rivals soccer in global appeal it will not happen any time soon. At the most grassroots level baseball requires more than soccer. Finding a stick and a makeshift ball may not sound like much but it can be too much for a game for those living in areas without trees or on the edge of survival. A makeshift baseball has to be harder than a makeshift soccer ball for the ball to travel any distance when struck with the makeshift bat. Baseball can work with just two people. Playing catch or one person hitting and the other pitching means baseball at the most basic level, like soccer can involve a minimum number of people. Baseball is heading in the right direction, but growth will take time and Major League Baseball must remain patient to see the fruits of its labor.
Baseball is the American Pastime All 50 states plus the District of Columbia have sent at least 12 players to the Major Leagues. Alaska ranks last with only 12 Major League players and California is first with 2,191 players. Every state could field a team and have a tournament to determine which state reigns supreme. While this tournament rages on, ignoring time to allow all 16,553 American born players to be eligible for the tournament, the rest of the world could watch and learn. There have been 45 countries other than the United States to have at least one player reach the Major Leagues. The Dominican Republic has the most players with 674 while Afghanistan Belgium, Belize, China, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Honduras, Indonesia, Latvia, Lithuania, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, and Vietnam have all sent one player to the Majors. In addition to countries, there are seven territories which have sent at least one player to the Majors, with Puerto Rico having sent 258 players and American Samoa and Hong Kong sending one player each. The globalizing of baseball would not be complete without Ed Porray, who was born on a ship sailing the Atlantic Ocean.
The globalizing of baseball was noticeable last week with the Major League debuts of Gift Ngoepe (South Africa) and Dovydas Neverauskas (Lithuania). Both players are the first Major League players from their home countries. Ngoepe is the first African born player to reach the Majors. The African continent is home to over one billion people, the talent pool is there, waiting to be found. The careers of Ngoepe and Neverauskas will hopefully be long, but it is doubtful they will be the best player from their home nation. They are the frontrunners who have shown that it is possible. One player makes it to the Majors, teams and scouts may file it away as a place to remember when they have nowhere else to go scout. Two, three, four players, start rising through the minors, suddenly they will begin paying attention and even investing time and resources to developing the talent. What starts as a drip could potentially turn into a river or it could be an aberration.
Dovydas Neverauskas is the first Lithuanian to make it to the Majors, could he be the beginning of an eastern European baseball pipeline? Only time will tell. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAT Sports)
Only 19 of the 52 countries and territories that have sent a player to the Majors could field a team and join the fictional tournament involving each American state. Another 19 countries and territories have only had one player reach the Major Leagues. There are roughly 233 countries and territories in the world, and only 53 of them have had a player reach the Major Leagues. Major League Baseball is only batting .227. Not every country will become a hotbed for baseball, but expanding the reach of the game is critical for the continued growth and development of the sport. The 2017 World Baseball Classic saw Israel make a surprising run by getting out of pool play. Yes the Israeli team was heavily Jewish-Americans, however the exposure of the team to the Israeli people should help facilitate growth of the game within Israel itself.
Time will tell if the World Baseball Classic is an avenue for growing the game of baseball or if is simply a tournament held every four years. The arrival of Gift Ngoepe and Dovydas Neverauskas in Pittsburgh happen to occur during the same week. Only one person can be the first player from their home country, but the hope is there will be more to follow them to the Majors. Baseball has a long ways to go before it can become a truly global sport like soccer, but Major League Baseball and other professional leagues are on the right track with the World Baseball Classic. Players from the far corners of the globe will not arrive overnight, but the hope is in the coming years the game will have a more global flare. The more people involved in baseball around the world, the better.
Winter has always been difficult for me. To begin with, I have never liked the cold; I would rather be in shorts than bundled up. Growing up in Georgia, winter did not mean playing in the snow, it meant the weather was cold and everything outside was dead. There was little reason to go outside, unless you were going somewhere, nothing fun or exciting was happening. Cooped up inside, day after day, there comes a point where you no longer want to read, watch TV, do pushups and sit-ups, or sleep. All you want to do is go outside and not be cold. I searched more deeply into any kind of baseball as the slow crawl through winter carried on. Welcoming any distraction, I dissected every ounce of baseball news. Rumors about a signing, even a trade for low-level prospects, became increasingly interesting. Winter has been, and will continue to be, miserable.
I moved away from Georgia, first to the New York City area, and now to Cincinnati. The snow in New York was fun. I made up for those lost years of sledding and playing in the snow. Any time I can play in the snow, or at the beach, I turn into a 5 year old. Life is too short not to act like a kid whenever you can. Once the snow is no longer falling and the ice slick forms, playtime is over. Doesn’t matter whether you’re a kid or a grown-up playing pretend. Then I want the snow to melt away quickly. Not lingering for months turning into a disgusting sludge. I love to play in the snow, but there is a point where I want it gone so I can play in the grass again.
Baseball is beautiful. (The Winning Run)
As this winter has been much less snowy than the past few, I once again find myself ready for winter to fade away. The ground is not covered with snow this year and only serves to remind me of the winters when I was a kid. Some days you look outside and the sky says it is a beautiful day for baseball, but the thermometer smacks you back to reality.
Late January and early February are the most difficult time for me. I become the most restless this time of year. I have been inside far more than I want, and yet the weather keeps me inside against my wishes. I want to hear the crack of the bat and the sound of gloves popping. I want baseball news that is more than transactions. I want to go outside and hit a baseball myself without my hands screaming at me from the bitter cold. In short, I am ready for spring and for baseball.