International Writers Magazine: Reality Check:
Boy Bids Farewell To The Haunts Of Youth
One need not be a chamber to be haunted;
One need not be a house;
The brain has corridors surpassing
- Emily Dickinson - Time and Eternity
Maybe, if you're
lucky, there are a few places you can say you've frequented for a lifetime;
places experienced through the eyes of a child to young adult to adulthood
and so on. For someone, such as myself, who has called numerous and
varied locales home and lived several lives throughout, those places
are fleeting. When pressed, I could always recall two: Radio City Music
Hall and two stadiums -- Yankee and Shea. In a few weeks the latter
two will go dark and be torn down to make way for new state-of-the-art
21st Century models. One in Queens and one in the Bronx, one closes
44 years and the other 84. One a symbol of the modern metropolis, erected
in the wake of America's excessive post-war boom, the other a monolithic
outpost at the dawn of the Jazz age; both institutions going where most
institutions in the greatest city in the world go, into the past to
make way for profit of progress.
Yankee Stadium is hallowed sports ground. It has been
called a cathedral, the home office for the most successful and renowned
franchise in the history of team competition, whose prominent members
have one time or another held or currently hold every pertinent regular
season, post season, or career baseball record known. It has also hosted
Popes, championship bouts, and what is still called The Greatest Game
Ever Played by pro football historians, the 1958 NFL Championship.
Shea Stadium is the home of miracles, begun by Joe Willie
Namath and the upstart AFL Jets in the winter of 1968 and completed
by the unbelievable summer of '69 when the lovable loser Mets became
lovable champions. Then again seventeen years later when one of the
most improbable victories in World Series history rolled through the
legs of a hobbled firstbagger from Beantown. Oh, and along the way,
there were the Beatles, the Stones, The Who, and most recently, Long
Islander, Billy Joel.
But all of that means little for me. I humbly wish to
bid farewell to the structures that housed those magical days and nights
spent beside my dad, my family, my friends, and my media colleagues.
I bid farewell to the wonders of youthful revelry at the end of those
long trips of anticipation and drudgery into the realm of pressured
deadlines and effusive ovations -- the psychic manifestation of collective
memory born in the shadow of brick and mortar surrounding a few hundred
yards of dirt and grass. I bid farewell to a measure of my identity.
The first time I entered Yankee Stadium, I am told, it
was in the belly of my mother; who is always happy to recount in one
of the many stories used to illustrate my father's obsession with what
she dubs People Running Around With Numbers On Their Backs, a tale of
sitting in the bleachers six-months pregnant. By then my father had
been twenty years into a love affair with the place, begun in late afternoons
when his school chum, the Yankees batboy, would sneak them into games
after the sixth inning.
I was born soon thereafter in Northern Manhattan during
a Red Sox/Yankees double-header in the Bronx, the same year New York
got their National League team back; the year the Mets were simultaneously
the most putrid and beloved team of a generation. Two years after that
they christened their own stadium near Flushing Meadows during the World's
Fair, which I proudly attended by way of stroller. Two years after the
Beatles showed up too.
By the time I was old enough to breath, eat, and even
walk on my own, I entered both places during two disparate seasons;
one awash in the glow of summer, the other beneath the frigid gale of
winter. Through the imposing Yankee Stadium gates I strode, clutching
eagerly to my father's hand, up the dark tunnel into an explosion of
greens, blues and the incredible white of the famed façade. For
a city kid, it had the pastoral grandeur of Dorothy emerging from her
black and white farmhouse into the glaringly multihued trip of Oz. Then
it was onto the clamor and pomp of an AFL Sunday in the windswept cavern
dressed as a miniature Nanook sweating with the anticipation of seeing
the great Namath warm up.
There were the raucous Yankee Stadium trips of my pre-teen
years when my family moved from the Bronx to New Jersey, Bat Day and
Cap Day and sitting up in the left field upper deck sort-of near my
idol Roy White. Then behind the dugout the time my Uncle Johnny scored
the rare box seat and my cousin Michelle dumped a beverage on an unsuspecting
patron who was merrily doused during a key Thurman Munson late-inning
double to beat Boston.
Onto my teenaged years with my friends, Roland, Bob, Chris
and my little brother PJ sitting in the Stadium bleachers getting ripped
on watered down beer and screeching obscenities at multi-million dollar
athletes as we endured the squelching heat of endless double-headers.
Across town we hatched the bright idea to parade around the entirety
of Shea, a community replete with banners of all shapes and sizes, with
a blank one. There is something abjectly satisfying in proudly displaying
a completely stark sign to scores of dumbfounded fans as Dave Kingman
uncorks one of his patented moonshots.
And then into my twenties and early thirties when I worked
the stadia press boxes and clubhouses culling interviews for rat-faced
producers, penning columns for fun loving sports editors, and phoning
in reports to Westchester radio stations. I met my journalistic and
broadcasting heroes, smoked my first cigar, picked the brains of grizzled
pen-jockeys and veteran photogs, and stomped the terra with my pal,
Mike, the best cameraman I have ever known.
From balmy late-summer evenings amidst eight thousand
disgruntled fans to crisp autumn nights basking in the din of 56 thousand
bellowing hordes cheering pennant winners. Waltzing through the grumpy
army of press geeks with my dear friend and colleague, Rob during the
World Series, fending off the jeers of beat lifers as we wrestled over
boxed dinners during stifling press conferences. I watched from the
main press box as the ball settled into the left fielder's glove to
win the last game of the 20th century and give the Yanks the 25th of
their incredible 26 titles, jotting into my scorecard "For Vinnie"
my great uncle, who had seen the Babe and Gehrig and DiMaggio there,
before passing away only a few months before. Later, squeezing among
the showering champagne celebrants, I was accosted into a bear hug by
the general manager of the best team on the planet, who'd become my
friend during the summer of my marriage.
The last time I saw Shea, it was from the darkened parking
lot on a misty autumn evening during the late innings of Game 4 of the
Subway Series in 2000; the roar of the crowd causing me to turn my head
and peer through the opening in right-centerfield. The lights of October
illuminated my solitary stroll to file my report.
I would spend only one more day at Yankee Stadium as a
reporter; opening day 2001. Soon after I left sports reporting as a
profession, but not as a passion. I had before, during since spent many
games in the company of cherished friends during countless games and
finally an annual trip with my wife, who last season sat next to me
with my daughter in her belly.
Earlier this month I took her grandpa, returning a 40-plus
year favor. The two Campion boys, just a couple of neighborhood kids
visiting the Grand Old Lady one last time. We scored the game. Shared
some stories. Cheered the home team. Said good-bye.
There's always Radio City.
© James Campion
September 19th 2008
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