Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Rocky Colavito Improved My Batting Practice Experience

May reminds me of going up to Yankee Stadium early for a night game to watch batting practice. I ran up to my father coming home from work as he got off the crosstown bus at 86th Street & York Avenue.

"Come on, Dad, Lets' go."

It was five forty five on May 24, 1965. Late spring, when it began being warm enough in the evening to sit in the stands wearing just a sweatshirt.

The previous Saturday night, Dad and I watched a Yankee game on our tenement roof using every extension cord in the house. "You're both nuts," Mom said to Dad's ass as he climbed out our fourth floor window onto the fire escape with the cords. Once we settled in on the roof with kitchen chairs, a card table for the TV and a spaghetti pot full of ice, beer and ice tea, Dad said to me, "We got to get up to the Stadium for a game before they go on the road." The game start was 8pm.

Dad called Mom, who was not thrilled, it was a school night, and he & I jumped into a Checker cab in front of the Mansion Diner and shot up the FDR. At the Stadium, Dad bought lower box reserved seats in section 17, half way between the Yankee dugout and the right field foul pole. I still have the stub. (See picture below)

Dad wrote in the line-ups while I bounced my eyes around the mostly empty ballpark. I smelled cigars, peanuts, and freshly cut grass. This was when I liked the old Stadium best. Just the ballplayers on the field and us, real fans, in the stands. You practically had a whole section to yourself, if you didn't count the hundred kids assembled in right or left field waiting anxiously for imminent home runs, depending on whether the batter was left handed or right handed. The gaggle of kids would travel all away around the ballpark to the other side of the field to get in position for a lefty or righty during batting practice. Watching them run was like a Peanuts cartoon soccer game. Dad wasn't nuts about me being in that group yet,"when you're a little older," he wouldn't let me go by myself, and hated flying around with me, "Let's stay here, this way, if the ball comes this way, you'll have it all to yourself."

There was no sense arguing with the man, so I focused on the good. With so few people around us, I could hear the ballplayers yell at each other as they played pepper and threw it around the outfield. I got an idea who like each other, and who tortured each other.

The Indians were finishing their batting practice. Leon Wagner, a lefty, pounded three pitches into the right field stands. My heart dropped missing the action. I knew the home run derby was going to continue in left field. Rocky Colavito was coming around the cage to take his at bat.

I mumbled, "Why'd I bring my glove," and slumped in my chair.

Dad looked over at me."Tommy, I did the Indians. Why don't you do the Yankee lineup?"

When I reached for the program, I heard solid bat contact, then Dad took my head and pulled it towards his chest hard.


I turned and saw a broken slat on the top of my chair. Colavito had sliced a foul that split my wooden seat. Dad and I stared at it forever, then I began looking for the piece of wood that broke off, a valuable souvenir, Dad grabbed me, picked up our things and we headed out to the right field box seats.

All future batting practices were viewed in the outfield or the bleachers. Colavito already a secret Non-Yankee hero of mine ~ he hit four homers in a game in 1959 and looked like my Dad ~ became my favorite all time non-Yankee player.

Yankees won 15-5, Stottlemyre pitched well and went the distance. Tom Tresh and Joe Pepitone hit homers.

No comments: