I am dying. It's O.K. You need not feel sorry for me. I have lived a full life. I was born in 1923, the same year as Maria Callas, Charlton Heston, Roy Lichtenstein and Norman Mailer. All are gone now. They did well in the time with which they were graced to strut about the stage. I'd like to think I have done likewise.
Besides, I really haven't been myself since 1973, when they cut me clean open and for two years rearranged most of my vital organs (even the one that nimble-fingered Eddie Layton used to play), removed some of them and put me back together in such a way that I looked nothing like I did before. Picture Jocelyn Wildenstein at 85 and you get the idea.
See, we're just like you, only without the bother of the respiratory and circulatory apparatus. We buildings have a life span too. Time is the undefeated antagonist that takes on all comers. We age and crack and wrinkle and, yes, ultimately die.
(Don't get me started on that darn Colosseum in Rome, which was the inspiration for my very being and even now doesn't look a day over 1,900.)
September 21, 2008
I don't like to blow smoke, but my death is unlike any loss seen before in America. I am tangible Americana, like Independence Hall, the Alamo or Graceland. I have been about more than baseball. The first papal mass ever celebrated in the Western Hemisphere? That was me. The first overtime game in NFL history? Me. The birthplace of the "DEE-fense! DEE-fense!" chant? Of the Bronx cheer? Of the triple-decker ballpark in this country? The electronic scoreboard, the replay video board, the "Win one for the Gipper" aphorism, what it means to get Wally Pipped, the standing applause on two-strike counts, the running leap onto home plate to punctuate a walk-off homer? Me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me and me.
It's not only the Babe and the Mick and Derek Jeter who played inside my walls. It's Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali, John Philip Sousa and Pink Floyd, Knute Rockne and Vince Lombardi, Billy Graham and Nelson Mandela, John F. Kennedy and George W. Bush.
The Yankees are letting me die a quiet death. Sure, there will be remembrances and ceremony and more than a few tears shed upon my final regular-season game, this Sunday against the Baltimore Orioles. Alas, they are not giving me one more October. That's a swift kick to the boiler. I was baseball's home office for the postseason and the World Series. Since my birth, I have hosted postseason baseball more years (45) than not (40), including 15% of all postseason games and 21% of all World Series games.
All of me that is not sold or scrapped will be hauled across the street to the colossal edifice that is called the new Yankee Stadium, even if, with its martini bar, glassed-in centerfield restaurant and $2,500-a-pop seats, it is no blood relative of mine.
"I have mixed emotions," says Tony Morante, 65, my tour operator and unofficial historian, who has known me better than anyone since 1949. "You can take Yankee history across the street. But you can't take Yankee Stadium history across the street."
When the gutting is complete, probably after some months, there will come a day that might be even more painful for you than for me. There will be a day when a crane operator will swing back the wrecking ball. It will smash into my original concrete, an extremely hard and durable concrete that was developed by Thomas Edison and used only once before. The stuff is so sturdy, in fact, that New York City, in giving me that major renovation after the 1973 season, decided not to touch it.
"Those walls," Nick Trotta says, "are going to scream."
Trotta is part of the great masses who came to me to see their first ball game, and with it they got their first understanding of the concepts of scale and grandeur. Trotta's father arrived from Italy in 1954 and understood neither English nor baseball, but he grasped what the Yankees and I represented. We are America. So the Italian immigrant, living in New Rochelle, N.Y., told his son that he must go to the Bronx, and little Nick, about nine years old, did so one sunny afternoon in 1969, to see the Yankees play the Kansas City Royals.
His story is one repeated by millions of others. Having seen me only on black-and-white television, the images flickering on the WPIX Channel 11 broadcast, people like little Nick were awestruck by the color and majesty. The wide, wide expanse of lush green grass. The white frieze with the famous curved design hanging from the rooftop, so high up that it seemed to hang from the clouds, the unofficial third emblem for the Yankees (joining the interlocking ny and the script YANKEES over a baseball). Nick recognized it from his baseball cards. The Topps Company that produced the cards was based in New York City, and its photographers shot American League players when they swung through the Bronx. Nick enjoyed knowing that every major star in the league—Harmon Killebrew, Al Kaline, Carl Yastrzemski—had a little bit of Yankee in them on their baseball card because of that iconic frieze in the background. Before color television, to see me for the first time was breathtaking, not unlike seeing the Grand Canyon.
A little more than 30 years later, Trotta found himself on that great expanse of grass, standing between the first base line and a 2001 World Series logo. He was an assistant special agent in charge of the presidential protective division of the U.S. Secret Service. President George W. Bush was throwing the ceremonial first pitch of Game 3 from the pitcher's mound 49 days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Nick had a very serious job at a very serious time. But what he remembers about that moment were the goose bumps raised on his arms by the roar of the crowd. To this day, if he thinks about that moment, the goose bumps come back.
Now, to think about that wrecking ball swinging at Edison's concrete, swinging at Trotta's childhood memories and his adult responsibilities, swinging at the millions who hold dear the personal history and the American history inside my walls ... well, it's a little too much.
"I don't think I could watch it," Trotta says. "Once this stadium is taken down, it's gone forever. You can't say Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle played here anymore. Those walls have living blood in them. When that ball hits, it would be the same as me or you getting hit with a 95-mile-an-hour fastball. Those walls are alive. They are going to scream."
Sam Rice played within my walls. Sam was an outfielder with the Washington Senators who kept a secret up until his death. In the 1925 World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Rice jumped over a short rightfield wall in Washington's Griffith Stadium and into the bleachers to catch a long fly ball. He and the ball fell out of sight for a moment behind the wall and amid the fans. After a moment or two, Sam emerged with the ball in his glove. The umpires ruled the batter out. The Pirates argued for a home run, the chain of custody, so to speak, being left to doubt. Rice refused to tell anyone, including his own family, whether he had actually caught the ball or not. He said he would explain himself only by way of a letter he wrote that was to be unsealed upon his passing. When the letter was opened 49 years later, Sam Rice, from the grave, confirmed that he had caught the ball.
I thought about Sam and his secret, given my own impending death. What I decided is that I should tell you my secrets now, before the wrecking ball hits and I am gone for good. In about 13 months, after the scavengers and four or five demolition companies are done with me, a park will stand in my place. I want you to know what is being lost forever. As one of my final acts, I will show you the unseen places. I will separate fact from myth, though I have inspired so much embellishment and storytelling that even for me that is not always possible.
In a dying state, you don't worry about offending people. So let me just come out with the truth, even if this one might hurt: The original Yankee Stadium has been gone for 35 years. Derek Jeter doesn't stand in the same batter's box as Joe DiMaggio did, because home plate was moved forward some 10 to 20 feet in the renovation. Leftfield doesn't "get late early out there" anymore, as Yogi Berra famously observed, because the layout of the field changed; Death Valley, the infamous leftfield gap where titanic blasts went to die, became only a near-death experience, its deepest point chopped from 457 feet to 430 in 1976, to 411 in '85 and finally to 399 in '88. The frieze, made of copper, was sold for $75,000 to a guy in Albany, N.Y., who promptly melted it to sell for piping and other pedestrian uses. The foul poles were sold to a baseball team in Osaka, Japan, for $30,000. One-hundred-eighteen steel pillars, which were either a distinct structural element or a nuisance, depending on whether you ever sat behind one, were removed.
Indeed, short of Thomas Alva's concrete, there is almost nothing you can see from your seat today that somebody in that same spot could see in 1973. And even the concrete looks different. That's another story. In the mid-'60s the sand-colored concrete facade and the green patina frieze were painted white. When George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees, he made sure I was covered in fresh coats of paint. That's because in '73 graffiti artists tagged everything that didn't move, like me, and even some things that did, like subway cars. "It was disgusting," says Marty Appel, the Yankees' assistant public relations director at the time, "but that was New York City in the early '70s. You would walk around the Stadium, and it was gross."
Steinbrenner, who would stop to pick up gum wrappers on my concourse, was a stickler for cleanliness. In 1973 he demanded every day that his workers paint over any graffiti on the Stadium. This was war, and Steinbrenner knew he would win. Why? "We can buy more paint than they can," Steinbrenner said. He was right. The graffiti guerillas eventually surrendered.
In 1973 you would find the Yankees bullpen in right centerfield, where the pitchers threw on a slope toward the field. Today you find an elaborately landscaped, multitiered bullpen in left centerfield. Ironically, this is where you will find any graffiti. Bored relief pitchers, like cave dwellers, have adorned my bullpen bench area, which is encased by a glass wall and is air-conditioned. A switch plate has been decorated with a comic face that has the switch serving as a Cyclops-like eye and the name MENDOZA at the top, a reference to former Yankees reliever Ramiro Mendoza. One plastic cover over a fluorescent wall light has a football grid doodled over it, and another is festooned with an undersea montage, replete with a submarine that has the interlocking NY.
In the back corner is a door with the identification plate of GD 021. Open the door and you will find a small bathroom. There is a toilet bowl, a sink and no mirror. It hardly meets the Steinbrenner standards of cleanliness. This is where you would have found Mariano Rivera in the eighth inning of one of the greatest games I have ever hosted. This was the night of Oct. 16, 2003, Game 7 of the American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox. Rivera had been warming up on the bullpen mound when the Yankees, who had been down three runs to Pedro Martinez of the Red Sox with five outs to go, tied the game on a double by Jorge Posada. Overcome by emotion, Rivera ran off the bullpen mound, up a flight of stairs, into the enclosed area and into the tiny bathroom and slammed the door behind him. Then, alone, he cried.
"Just wait," Jeter had told new teammate Aaron Boone that summer, "when the ghosts come out here."
Boone remembered Jeter's prophecy after he hit the game-winning home run that night. Rivera was the winning pitcher. It was the 17th time I saw the Yankees win the clinching game of a postseason series. It would be the last time.
"People believe in myths and ghosts about this place," Rivera says. "I don't. We are blessed by the Lord. That's how I explain it. All of us players who have come through here have been blessed, and you see those blessings."
Rivera occupies a special place in my history, quite literally. During spring training in 2007, as it became apparent that veteran outfielder Bernie Williams would not be returning to the Yankees, clubhouse manager Rob Cucuzza told Rivera one day, "The Corner Locker. It's yours."
As you walk into the rectangular Yankees clubhouse, the locker in the near righthand corner is far bigger than all the others. A little farther south, say in midtown Manhattan, it could sublet for $5,000 a month. Here you get it only by invitation after acquiring enough service time and stature, and only when its occupant leaves the team. Starting with the 1976 renovation, it has passed from Sparky Lyle to Graig Nettles to Ron Guidry to Dave Righetti to Don Mattingly to Bernie Williams to Rivera. It will not be relocated across the street. There will be no corners in the next clubhouse. It is oval.
The clubhouse, like most everything else, looks nothing like it did before 1973. For my first 20 or so years, in fact, the Yankees dressed on the third base side. The players used red metal lockers with swinging doors full of holes to allow air to circulate. The players' names and, after 1929, uniform numbers were painted in white across the doors. It was in that locker room on Nov. 12, 1928, that Rockne, with his Notre Dame team tied 0--0 with Army at halftime, told the story (likely apocryphal) of former Fighting Irish star George Gipp, who on his deathbed asked that Rockne, if ever in need of inspiration, implore his team to "win just one for the Gipper." They did, winning 12--6.
The Yankees relocated their clubhouse to the first base side in the 1940s. The NFL's New York Giants used it for 17 seasons, beginning in 1956. Sam Huff and Frank Gifford each swore that they had used Mantle's locker. Assistant coaches Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry would diagram plays on a chalkboard under pictures of Yankees greats.
I hosted the greatest game in NFL history, the 1958 championship game between the Giants and the Baltimore Colts. After the game was tied at the end of regulation, the referee said to Huff, "I need the captains for the coin toss."
Replied Huff, "For what?" It was the first overtime game in NFL history.
Two years later I saw Chuck Bednarik of the Philadelphia Eagles hit Gifford so hard that Gifford had to be carted away on a stretcher, motionless. Gifford didn't know what to think when he heard somebody say, "He's dead." It turned out they were talking about a security guard who had suffered a heart attack. I can only imagine what bystanders thought when not long after Gifford was hauled off the field, a body covered by a white sheet was carried out one of my exits on a stretcher.
Champion boxers used my locker rooms too. I staged 30 world championship matches, none more socially significant than the pounding Joe Louis gave Max Schmeling, the great Aryan hope, in 1938. I remember in 1957 when one day the Yankees clinched the pennant with a 5--1 win over Boston, and the next day Carmen Basilio used manager Casey Stengel's office to dress for his bout with Sugar Ray Robinson. Basilio won.
I guess when I'm gone you'll be able to tell people that in my last year the Yankees shared their clubhouse with the Cardinals. Of course, those would be the Cardinals who helped Pope Benedict XVI celebrate Mass this spring, the Holy Father joining Paul VI (1965, when he gave his Sermon on the Mound) and John Paul II (1979). I am one of only three venues in the U.S. to host a papal visit more than once, the others also being quintessential New York City--based icons: the United Nations and St. Patrick's Cathedral.
Now here's a question for you: If you put the Cardinals in the Yankees' clubhouse, where do you put the pope? There is an auxiliary clubhouse between the home and visiting clubhouses, one, in fact, that is used for Sunday-morning Masses for stadium personnel, media and the occasional player or coach. Before his health took a turn for the worse, Bob Sheppard, 97, the gentlemanly public address announcer who has given a voice to me since 1951, served as a lector at the service. If you think Bob sounds somewhat godly when he elocutes, "DEH-rick JEE-tuh, numb-BA two!" you might think you've actually entered the pearly gates at his first golden intonation of "Doo-tuh-RAHN-o-mee."
But no, you don't consign the pope to the auxiliary clubhouse. You put His Holiness in the room otherwise reserved for the infallible rulers of the game: the umpires. Mind you, if you know anything about the locker room reading materials and paraphernalia of ballplayers and umpires, you can only imagine the clean sweep that Yankees clubhouse personnel made of their locker rooms before the papal visit. One day umpires are there in their skivvies, playing cards, maybe passing gas, chomping on bubble gum, dropping the occasional f bomb, quaffing a postgame beverage, and three days later Pope Benedict XVI is in the same room preparing to say Mass for 60,000 people. Of course, the pope's detail remade the room with a new carpet and flowing purple-and-gold drapes that covered the walls. Even the umpire's john was covered in majestic papal fabrics.
Having the Holy Father with me again made me think of what the great Yankees broadcaster Mel Allen once said upon Paul VI's visit to New York City. "St. Patrick's," Allen said, "is the Yankee Stadium of churches."
Let me think ... what is left from how I was before the renovation? Oh, yes, there is the Lou Gehrig Room, long forgotten but only recently rediscovered. As you exit the Yankees' clubhouse, turn right down a narrow concrete hallway painted blue. Go past the umpires' room, then the weight room and then the carpenters' shop (the one in which Nettles corked his bat and where Paul O'Neill and Jason Giambi shaved the handles of theirs). Keep going, then turn right past the indoor batting cage, which is called the Columbus Room, in recognition of the Yankees' former longtime Triple A affiliate (as in, if you wanted to stay out of Columbus, this was the room where you needed to be). Turn left as you pass a storage room filled with assorted junk. And there, behind a rolling metal gate, is what appears to be a larger version of the junk-strewn room you just passed. The place is filled haphazardly with plastic seats, copper and PVC piping, and industrial drums of something called Formula 654, labeled HEAVY-DUTY LIQUID CLEANER.
According to Ray Negron, a special assistant to Steinbrenner, Gehrig sat in this room whenever he sought the comfort of solitude after he became terminally ill in 1939. Negron had been a graffiti guerilla himself, until one day Steinbrenner caught him spraying paint on my facade. Something about the kid touched the Yankees' owner, who gave him a job as a batboy and gofer. In August 1973 Steinbrenner asked Negron to sit with Gehrig's widow, Eleanor, when she took in a game. Negron says he asked her what she thought of Pride of the Yankees, the movie about her late husband. "She said," recalls Negron, "'The only thing they should have used but they didn't was the room.'" Then she told him about it.
To commemorate the story, Negron commissioned a painting in the room of a seated, weeping Gehrig, to which the likenesses of Thurman Munson and Jeter have since been added in the background, and the reconstruction of an old wood-slatted seat such as the one Gehrig would have sat in.
Morante, the stadium historian, says he is familiar with the story, "but I can't document it."
You can say this much for sure about the storage room: It's the place where the Yankees stashed Billy Martin to hide him from the press and set up one of Steinbrenner's most outrageous stunts. At the 1978 Old-Timers' Day festivities the Yankees stunned the crowd when Sheppard announced that Martin, who had resigned in disgrace only five days earlier, would return to manage the team in 1980. (Steinbrenner wound up bringing him back a season early.) Martin ran out of the storage room through an opening in the outfield wall and onto the field to wild cheers.
Another relic that's still around is in the trainers' room off the Yankees' clubhouse, in a back corner: a massive antique scale, on which every Yankee has weighed himself since ... well, like a lot of things about me, no one is sure, but probably since at least the late 1940s or early '50s. Gene Monahan, the team trainer since '73, found a small service tag on the back of the scale with 1958 printed on it. Now, in this case, I can say that Jeter has stood in the footsteps of DiMaggio. "It's going with me to the new stadium even if I have to walk it across the street myself to make sure it gets there," Monahan says. "Just think of all the great Yankees who have stood on it. We use it every day. Cal Ripken heard about it and wanted to buy it."
Also in the trainers' room, Monahan has kept some ointments, liniments, elixirs and bottles from my pre-'73 makeover, the smells of another era, including essence of peppermint, maybe the kind of stuff they would rub on the Mick's achy knees. But for Monahan there is something else in that room that is even more powerful: a huge chunk of his life. I see Monahan every day three hours before any players arrive, about six hours before a game. He is the last one to leave. He has done so every year for 36 years. "It's sad," he says, standing outside the door to the trainers' room. "Now as I look back, I realize most of my adult life was spent there. It's sad in a way to know that, because my marriage suffered and my kids didn't have the time with me that they should have. I can't make up for any of that time. Night games, day games, games just about every day ... most of my adult life is here."
Not 10 minutes later Yogi is standing in the same spot where Monahan stood. Berra played 18 seasons for the Yankees, from 1946 through '63. He coached and managed the Yankees. He visits me often these days. Now that I think of it, I don't think there is any living Yankee who has spent more time with me. The clubhouse may look very different now from what it did when Yogi played, but Berra points a finger toward a wall of lockers that includes those of Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte.
"I was over there, with [Moose] Skowron," he says. "Mickey was over there too. We didn't have food in the clubhouse back then like they do now. Nothing. Maybe ice cream on a hot day. Beer. We had beer.
"I'll miss this place," Yogi says, his eyes moist. "My life is here."
Wooo, boy. September 21 is going to be hard. Damn hard.
My health took a turn for the worse on April 13, 1998. It was only a couple of hours before they were to open my gates for a game against the Anaheim Angels. I felt something loosen, almost in the way a tooth would for you, beneath the upper tier near leftfield. It was a 500-pound expansion joint, a rocker beam, which helped allow the upper deck to give when everyone above it was jumping up and cheering madly. After all those crowds over all those years, the thing just kept wiggling loose until the day it broke free and obliterated seat 7, loge section 22.
You know what happened next. Engineers gave me a full workup and concluded that I was falling apart. Steinbrenner wanted a new ballpark anyway, so this gave him more leverage. I guess they could have fixed me up again as they did in 1974 and '75, but baseball had grown into such a huge business that it would have been an even bigger undertaking to meet today's unofficial standards: more luxury boxes; concourses that are not walled off, allowing you see to see the game while walking about; restaurants and shops that provide additional revenue streams; team meeting rooms and indoor training areas, etc. The Yankees are routinely drawing four million fans each year, and I've got to admit, it's wearing me out.
"In 1976 nobody anticipated Yankee Stadium accommodating four million fans a year," Appel says. "No one thought that someday it would be inadequate. When we drew two million fans in 1976, it caught us by surprise."
So that's why I am, at 85, as you people like to put it, a dead man walking. The Yankees have spent a year combing every narrow hallway and dark storage closet to assemble an inventory of every item within me. They opened up one storage room, for instance, and discovered more than 1,000 cracked bats, game-used jerseys (mostly from the 1980s and '90s) and steamer-type trunks used to haul Yankees equipment. In the carpenters' shop there is a blue leather sofa that used to be in the Yankees' clubhouse during their Bronx Zoo days of the '70s.
Get ready for the world's biggest garage sale. "This is about more than collecting," says Brandon Steiner, whose collectibles and marketing company, Steiner Sports, will assist the Yankees in selling items, much of them by auction. "Unlike anything we've ever dealt with, there are so many people, even around the world, who have a personal, emotional attachment to the Stadium. What can I create to get so many people a little bit of something?"
In the meantime, Morante has led nonstop lines of tourists through me this year, and it feels like that day in 1948 when 200,000 people filed through me to view the open casket of the Babe. These people are mourners. Some of them actually cry when they get to Monument Park, which only became accessible in the mid-'80s after Steinbrenner tired of watching the frustration build in his righthanded sluggers like Dave Winfield and Don Baylor. "People want to see home runs," said Steinbrenner, who ordered the fence moved in, which coincidentally created public access to the monuments now standing behind it.
Next year the six monuments and 24 plaques will be relocated behind the centerfield wall and under the overhang of the monstrous glass-walled restaurant, where you can still drop this trivia question on someone the way a friend did to Edward Cardinal Egan: What three former Cardinals have plaques in Monument Park? The answer: Roger Maris, Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II.
The day I was born, April 18, 1923, Sousa led the Seventh Regiment Band before the biggest baseball crowd ever (74,217), and the Babe declared, "I'd give a year of my life if I can hit a home run in this first game in this new park." Of course, he did hit a home run, my first, and the next day Fred Lieb of the New York Evening Telegram referred to me in his account as "The House that Ruth Built." Since then, you could write a pretty good history of baseball just on the events I saw, events so familiar they exist comfortably in shorthand: Pipp's headache, Babe's 60th, Lou's "luckiest man" speech, Babe's "camel-hair coat" goodbye, Larsen's perfecto, Roger's 61st, Koufax's 15 K's in the '63 Series, Reggie's three home runs in Game 6 of the '77 Series, the Pine Tar Game, the Aaron Boone Game, the Bloody Sock and the Frank Howard Game.
(I owe you an explanation of that last shorthand. I used that game as a proxy for all the otherwise routine occasions on which somebody saw their first major league game. I picked that one, from Sept. 3, 1967, with the Senators in town, because I knew it was the first game for a six-year-old kid from New Jersey who would become a baseball writer. The kid saw Howard and the Mick each blast home runs in the game, then was awestruck after the game to see the 6'7" Hondo walk to the team bus.)
There is one night, however, in all these 85 years that stands out the most. I am going to ask you a favor now. See, I am worried that when I am gone—as with Ebbets Field or the Polo Grounds, or as my good friend Tiger Stadium is finding out—the lack of a physical structure dims the power and emotions of memory. You can stand at the Alamo and practically still hear the gunfire, but what might your grandkids feel about me if all that is left is a park? To help them truly understand me and my place in American history without tangible, visual clues, I want you to tell them about the night of Oct. 30, 2001.
On that night, the wreckage and rubble of the 9/11 terrorist attacks were still smoldering at Ground Zero. People were afraid to fly. The comfort of routine was lost to the anxiety that another attack could come at any moment. People came to Game 3 of the World Series that night with great apprehension. President Bush was scheduled to throw the ceremonial first pitch. What unnerved the fans was that they knew they were either in the safest place in the world at that moment or the absolutely most dangerous place in the world, but they had no way of ruling out either choice with any certainty.
"Yankee Stadium isn't just a ballpark," Trotta says. "It's a national landmark. It's like the Statue of Liberty. If the terrorists had wanted to do the Twin Towers to have the maximum amount of people dead, they would have struck during rush hour. But they wanted the towers because it was a symbol. One of our symbols, whether you like him or her or whoever it happens to be, our national treasure, is the President of the United States. Now our national treasure is on the mound at Yankee Stadium, which is a national landmark, a symbol."
Trotta, the Yankees fan who had grown up in New Rochelle, had arrived two days earlier to help with the advance security work. The team found out he was a Yankees fan, a Munson fan especially, and invited him to the clubhouse to see Munson's locker, which—by decree of Steinbrenner—has remained empty since he died in a plane crash 29 years ago, only the number 15 hanging from it. "I'll start to cry if you show it to me," Trotta said.
They led him through the winding, narrow blue hallways of the basement. "I was rubbing the walls," he says, "thinking, Did Lou Gehrig lean against these same walls? Munson? Pepitone? Horace Clarke? Dooley Womack?" They brought him to the clubhouse and showed him Munson's locker. The agent in charge of protecting the President of the United States broke down and cried.
The night of Game 3 went off without a hitch, unless you happened to be stuck in one of the enormously long lines to pass through the magnetometers as part of the heavy security. When Bush arrived, he made his way through the basement hallways to the Columbus Room to warm up his arm. Jeter and Williams were there. The President threw hard to Nick Testa, a 73-year-old bullpen catcher whose major league career consisted of one game with the 1958 Giants (but no at bats; he was in the hole when a teammate hit a walk-off homer).
"Better not bounce it," Jeter told the President. "They'll boo you."
Bush rested in the Columbus Room after heating his arm up pretty good, then slipped on a protective vest and a New York Fire Department pullover and walked down the narrow basement hallway to the field. "Sir," Trotta told the President, "I am always confident in my job. And tonight I am so confident that there is not one person in this place that would ever allow anything to happen."
Trotta came out of the dugout first, taking his position near the World Series logo. Snipers perched on my rooftop. Special agents were everywhere, including one in an umpire's uniform gathered with the other umpires at home plate. Then the President came out of the dugout and bounded toward the pitching mound.
"With the roar of the crowd I got goose bumps," Trotta says. "I had to fight everything not to break down. I'm standing there watching the crowd—that's my job—and I'm watching the faces. The people were crying. These were New Yorkers. They were in tears. And I saw in the President the emotion on his face. I saw how determined he was."
The leader of the free world, when American soil suddenly felt strangely unsafe, stood alone on my mound. He thrust his right arm into the air and gave a thumbs-up sign. Then he reached back with the baseball, stepped forward, brought his arm around with a natural looseness and let go the most perfect strike you could ever imagine to Yankees backup catcher Todd Greene. The crowd erupted into a chant of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" It wasn't just the ceremonial first pitch of Game 3. It was the ceremonial first pitch to America's recovery. As Bush left the field and reentered the basement hallway, Trotta said to him, "Powerful, sir. That was so right on."
"The message was clear," Trotta says. "'Hey, you didn't beat us. You attacked us, but you didn't beat us.'"
No sitting President since Eisenhower in 1956 had thrown out the first ball of a World Series game, and none had done so from the top of the mound. I'm glad we had baseball around in those first days of grief and recovery, and I'm glad I had the World Series. I've always thought of baseball as the most communal of our sports, with the ballpark serving as a kind of town hall, a place of gathering, of democracy at work. And if you can excuse a moment of pride here, I dare say no other ballpark is more historically and socially significant—more American—than me.
So there you have it. You know my secrets. You've roamed by basement hallways. You've seen my hidden places. You know my life story. And now you know my dying wish. When all of me is gone I hope you can remember the special place I occupied in American history. I want you to remember the emotions and the meaning of that night in 2001 because I was never just about great baseball. I was always about much more than that.