The Yankees have been tweeting pictures of popular players’ numbers to help gear up their fans for the start of Spring Training, beginning with Pitchers and Catchers’ Reporting Day this coming Tuesday. For a while, it was recent and even current players — Don Mattingly (#23), Curtis Granderson (#14), and Brett Gardner (#11). Now, getting into the single digits leaves us with mostly retired numbers (in descending order) — Phil Rizzuto, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra (over Bill Dickey), Mickey Mantle, Joe Torre (though not yet a retired number), Joe DiMaggio, and (today’s number) Lou Gehrig. This weekend we should see (and I’m following their pattern): Babe Ruth (#3), Derek Jeter (#2), and Billy Martin (#1).
When it comes to reverence of its organization’s history, there is no comparison to Yankee reverence or history. Most clubs recognize a handful of retired numbers on a wall in the outfield and maybe a plaque at some random spot in their stadium. But Yankees have an almost sacred respect for their history, and rightly so.
Last fall for my birthday, I was in the City and trying to figure out where to go that would really make my birthday something special. Honestly, I could only think of one place — Yankee Stadium. The team was in Baltimore on a road trip, but there are stadium tours you can take every day. They’re modified to suit whatever’s been going on in the stadium. Like on game days, they only run part of the day and are limited to a few locations to give the players and crew privacy to prepare for the game. The day I went there had been a concert the night before and the tour crew was still tearing down the stage and its complex lighting arrangements, and as the stage was right in front of Monument Park, the tour skipped it. (Side note: trying to see the Museum or Monument Park on a game day is nearly impossible unless you are at the gates the moment they open. We tried to do that too, to no avail.) But we did get to see the Museum, the Press Box, and the Clubhouse.
The funny thing was the only real Yankees fans were my mom and I that day. I have to wonder why someone would tour a sports park if you’re not a fan of baseball or the team that regularly plays there. Our tour guide was so excited to actually talk about current baseball with actual fans that we even discussed a blown call from the previous night and got a couple of updates on the game being played in Baltimore, which began as we were ending the tour, and they were already up 1-0 by the end of the 1st inning.
I realize at this point I must sound like I’m promoting the Stadium Tour, and maybe to some extent I am. But we all have days we want to remember and last forever. I’m sure every one of those names in Monument Park had one of those days playing at Polo Grounds or Yankee Stadium. I remember the look on Nick Swisher’s face the second game of the ALCS (the last game played last season at Yankee Stadium), as he looked around, smiling and taking it all in. Somehow he knew that would be his last game in Yankee Stadium as a Yankee, and it just seemed like he wanted that moment to last forever.
They won on my birthday last year, as they have for all but one year since 2000. They play in Baltimore again this year on my birthday, so let’s hope the tradition continues. And as we all know well, the Yankees love their traditions.