Mourning a New York Yankee hat

By Mitchell Slepian

About 12 years ago, maybe longer, I was with my dad in Tampa, Fla. We drove up to Legends Field, now Steinbrenner Field. It is the spring training field for the 27-time World Champion N.Y. Yankees and home to their single-A team, the Tampa Yankees.

It was my first time there. In the main lobby were several championship trophies. They are now in the museum in the Stadium. I was having a religious experience. We purchased tickets for the next day’s minor league game and I bought an official NY Yankee baseball hat.

I wore that hat nearly daily. It was like a body part. It has been to many Yankee games, including playoff games, Old Timer’s Day and Mariano Rivera’s last home game, BBQs, picnics, amusement park rides, etc. It was worn and torn for how much I wore it. And loved it.

Last week, it was on my head as I boarded Coney Island’s Cyclone. As the great coaster climbed the tracks it blew off my head. I got sick. Not from the ride. I’ve been on the Cyclone countless times. It is fun. But it is harmless. I was ready to puke over my missing hat. I figured it wound up in the empty seat behind me.

As soon as we pulled in after the ride, I looked and told the ride attendants. They looked in each car. It was missing. They told me to fill out a missing item report at guest services and they’d try to find it when they swept the tracks when the park closed at midnight.

I did exactly that. I was so sick. In tears, I filled out my form. I walked away. Five minutes later, I went back to make sure my awful penmanship was completely legible. The staff made some edits to make it easier to make out my phone number and email.

I went right back for another Cyclone ride. I don’t blame it. I blame me. The hat has survived many Cyclone and other rides. Perhaps its number was up. I don’t know.

For the next few hours, I droned around Luna Park like a dead person. I wound up winning a poop emoji and two Deadpools in the arcade. The emoji cheered me up. But not much.

A few hours later, I was seeing Echo and the Bunnymen and the Violent Femmes in the dump of a theater they built last year. The concert rocked. When it concluded, I went back to guest services. They said they called it in and they’d find it.

Days have passed. No word from Luna Park. My hat is somewhere along the tracks or in heaven for Yankee hats.

To help ease my depression, I went to the Yankee store on 49th Street, NYC and bought a new one. I tried on dozens of official hats to find the one with the best fit. I asked everyone in the store, which looked best. I explained my situation. They all consoled me. I walked up to register, swiped my credit card and put the new one on my head. I hope this one lives up to the old one.

I am not done mourning my old hat. But the new one is striving to take its place.Newhat copy

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The Stadium

2009

At around 10:00 a.m. I hopped on the R to 59th and Lex.  I transferred to the 4 and got off at 161st Street.  As we approached 161st, people cheered as the subway pulled into the station and looked out the subway car’s window, at the new stadium.  It glittered brighter than gold.

I was looking out the other window and saw the House that Ruth Built. My eyes were teary, as I saw an empty field. Dirt was everywhere. There was no grass, no pitcher’s mound, no bases and no batter’s box.

I exited the station and immediately walked to the old stadium. I was far from the only fan doing this. We all put our hands on it and walked around it. Parts of it were boarded up. I shot many pix.  I leaned against the wall and davened (prayed). Yeah, I know I broke the rules today. I am not always good. Yes, I was in Shul last night. But today I was standing in front of a different Shul.

I looked at the wall by the now closed Gate 2 and said the Shema.  My mind drifted. I imagined what it must have been like when we had the temple.  One day, it will be rebuilt. One day the Stadium will meet a wrecking ball.  Right now it is the holiest fully standing structure on the planet.

I crossed the street and walked into the new stadium. It is overwhelming. It feels like you’re walking into Disney World or the Mall of America.  The place is super clean and loaded with stores, eateries, bars and pictures of the greats, Gehrig, Ruth, Mantle, Jackson, DiMaggio, Berra, Munson and the list goes on. After all, no team has had better players than the Yanks. Cooperstown was built for them. In fact, 70 years ago today was when the greatest player in the history of baseball and well, in the history of sports took himself out of the lineup.

I bought my yearbook and program. I walked over to the store and bought some stuff. Yeah, I need to exchange the shorts tomorrow. No big deal. I need a different size.

I wandered toward Monument Park. For some reason, it was closed. I got on the line for the museum. It was super long. So I got off and walked around the stadium. It is beautiful.  I looked out at the field and saw all the usual ads, Budweiser, Canon, MasterCard, and MetLife. Of course, the MetLife ad had a picture of the greatest shortstop of all time, Snoopy in his uniform.

I went to my seat, which was in the Grandstand section. In other words, super nose bleeds seats. It is even higher than the nose bleeds in the ghost across the street.  The field looks nice. They played all the same music. If only they could find something different to play than Cotton Eye Joe. That song is so tired.  The way the Yankees played today, they should have played Everybody Hurts, by R.E.M. or Boys Don’t Cry, by the Cure. I wanted to cry.

The stadium has a nice feel, but something is missing.  I guess what’s missing is the classic feel the empty, but in many ways full structure across the street had.  The new stadium is beautiful and feels nice.  However, it just doesn’t have the feel of the House that Ruth Built, where I saw Hall of Famers, Reggie “Mr. October” Jackson and Rich “Goose” Gossage play and of course future Hall of Famers, Derek Jeter, and Mariano Rivera play.  Maybe one day it will have a classic feel. Jeter and Rivera will play for a few more years in the new building.  Hopefully, when Torre goes into Cooperstown he goes in as a Yankee. I can’t see him going in for any other team.

I am sure we will produce more Hall of Famers in years to come. But ultimately, my heart will always be with the most historic sports stadium in the history of the world.

I exited the stadium and walked across the street and put my head against the wall of the original Stadium. The two people standing there said, “Do you miss it”? I responded,” Yes, the new stadium is nice, but this is where baseball belongs”.  They agreed. I walked to the 4 and went home.

I’m sorry if I bored you. I know I will get some nasty comments. Most likely they will come from Rodney and the Douche.  Of course, one of those people was the greatest scoutmaster on the planet and best camp leader ever.  Of course, I understand he spends most of his time fetching honey.  He did help shape my life in too many ways to count.  The other is one of the coolest people I have ever met.  A great guy to talk about sports, music, politics with and well, the world we live in and life in general.

Go Yankees!