Pop gave me a dollar and said “Go get me a National Enquirer and get yourself something to read while I get the tickets.” Pop liked the Enquirer but only read it when we were going away, never at home. I found some comic books at what was simply the most impressive newsstand I had ever seen (it’s still pretty good even today).
It was probably around seven-thirty as we boarded the train to New York, the sun was up and it was going to be another hot, humid East Coast August day. The Pennsylvania Rail Road train, I don’t recall if it was a named train, was cool and comfortable and I settled in for the ride. Sometime shortly after nine, we were at Penn Station in mid-town Manhattan. Pop brushed off the Red Caps and he wrestled the suitcase up to street level. “Are we going to take a taxi?” I asked. The previous time, that’s what we had done, but my Mother had been with us. Pop set his jaw and said, “We’ll walk. It’s not far.” I don’t recall the exact location, but it was the lower West Side and the north-south blocks were quite long.
It had rained earlier that morning, and now that the sun had come out steam was rising from the sidewalks. As we trudged along, Pop started to struggle, stopping frequently and sweating profusely. “Let me carry it awhile,” I implored. “No,” he replied adamantly. Still, I was twelve years old, not a little kid, and I wasn’t going to see my father drop dead on the streets of New York. I grabbed a hold of the handle from the other side and helped share the burden. Pop didn’t say anything, but he smiled.
Eventually we arrived at the New York Commissary. Pop turned over the suitcase, it was thoroughly checked to make sure everything was aboard, and his paperwork was completed. It was around ten-thirty. Breakfast had seemed like a long, long time ago!
“Are we going to have lunch here?” I asked. “Hell no,” said Pop. We walked outside and headed back to Midtown. Years before when we had done this Pop had taken us to lunch at the biggest Horn & Hardart I had ever seen; it was two levels with a big staircase, a steam-table and even waitress service. We went there. I remember what I had for lunch: Salisbury Steak, Mac & Cheese, Creamed Spinach and of course that great Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.
“Are we going home now?” I asked. “No,” said Pop. “We’re going to the ballgame.” I almost jumped out of my skin! “You mean Yankee Stadium?” Pop smiled. I could hardly contain myself! Mickey Mantle! Yogi Berra! Yankee Stadium!
Let me explain that when my father arrived in this country at the age of 19 in 1922 he didn’t know from baseball. As he learned English and the American Way, he got to know it, and for the Italian-American community in the 1920’s, Tony Lazzeri, the great second-baseman of Murderer’s Row, “Poosh ‘em up Tony”, was their folk hero. Along with that you got Babe Ruth who had great street cred, and of course Lou Gehrig who was himself the son of immigrants. Then it was Joe DiMaggio, and of course Yogi Berra. As African-Americans became Dodgers fans when Jackie Robinson debuted, as the Jewish community adopted the Detroit Tigers with Hank Greenberg, so the Italians favored the Yankees.
My father took my brother to Shibe Park (my brother was an Athletics fan who despised the Yankees), but only when the Yanks were in town. Once the A’s left, there was no further reason to go the ballpark. I never went with my father to see the Phillies.
Of course, that wasn’t on my mind now! We were going to the Bronx, and it was a long ride. Now I understood why Pop hadn’t taken a taxi to 30th Street or to the Commissary when we arrived in New York: he was saving his travel funds for tickets to the game.
It was a two o’clock start, so we arrived in plenty of time. Yankee Stadium had a train stop right at the ballpark (unlike Connie Mack Stadium which was a good mile from the Broad Street Subway) and it was grand, much more impressive to my eyes than Connie Mack, and without the air of decrepitude that Connie Mack had taken on by 1963. Plus, I immediately noticed that it didn’t stink once we were inside. Sitting in our seats the grass seemed greener, the stadium lines seemed cleaner, there was no monstrosity like the Tin Wall in right field and the scoreboard seemed the right size (Connie Mack’s scoreboard was a hand-me-down from Yankee Stadium, and it looked like it, the proportions were all wrong and Wes Covington hated seeing his home runs reduced to singles).
The game itself was light on drama. Tito Francona and Fred Whitfield lit up Ralph Terry with dingers to the short porch in rightfield; the Tribe scored twice more in the fourth, bringing Major Houk to the mound to lift Terry, and twice again the fifth off Bill Kunkel. The Yankees’ sole source of pride was a grand slam by Johnny Blanchard in the sixth off Mudcat Grant. Mickey and Yogi did not start; Mickey pinch-hit in the fifth and hit a screaming drive towards the monuments that was run down by Willie Tasby. Yogi pinch-hit for Tom Metcalf in the 7th and Grant whiffed him after about 10 foul balls. Indians 7, Yankees 4. The Yankees would win 107 games that season, which said more about the state of American League than it did about the Yankees. They were given the bum’s rush by Dem Bums, the Dodgers in a World Series sweep.
I see from the box-score the game lasted only two hours and four minutes, which means that by 4:30 or so we were on the subway back to Penn Station and by 5:30 or so on the train back to Philadelphia. It was getting on to 8 p.m. and darkness was descending as we arrived home and I’m sure I slept well that night.
Thanks Pop. I still remember.