Waiting for Mickey Mantle Street level

| 20 Jun 2016 | 11:52

Here’s my first Yankee experience. It’s 1958. I’m 11 years old and my father and I come by train from our small town in a rural part of Western New York to see the Yankees play the Chicago White Sox, who were a big deal then. We get in the city on Thursday. We’re staying until Sunday.

My father is older than my friends’ fathers. In the club car on the train, among businessmen in suits drinking drinks and reading newspapers, I’m having a Coke and some salted peanuts, while my father has a martini and a newspaper. One guy must sense we’re heading to a Yankee weekend. He says to my father, “Taking the grandson down to a ball game?”

My father took trains a lot. He was a successful guy who went to New York and Washington frequently. He knew his way around train stations. On Friday morning after we had breakfast at our hotel, we take a taxicab to either Grand Central or Penn Station I can’t remember, because my father has found out when the Yankees will be coming in by train from Kansas City, where they had just played three games. They were the last team to give up train travel. So there we were, my father and me alone on the train platform waiting for the Yankees to pull in. I’ve got a Mickey Mantle T shirt on and I’m holding a Yankee yearbook and my father’s pen.

The train stops right in front of us. Through the windows I can see the players walking to the door to get out onto the platform where we are. I recognize every player. They’re almost all wearing pleated pants, Ban-Lon golf shirts buttoned to the neck, and sport coats. Mickey is the last one off the train. He’s dressed a little different. He’s got on a rust-colored suit, a white golf shirt, and wrap-around sunglasses. He’s also got on white bucks. When he walks toward where we are, I gingerly hold the Yankee yearbook, folded back to his page, up to him. I hold the pen up next to it too and say meekly, “Mickey can I have your autograph?” He says, “Out of the way kid,” and walks by us. My father and I are the only two there.

A week ago Friday I see big photos of Mickey in Yankee Stadium. I’m with an old high school buddy who’s visiting the city and who’s got two tickets to the game that night. He got the tickets from Yankees GM Brian Cashman, whom he met a year ago, for his loge even though he’s away. That’s why we’re walking along a hallway where big photos of Yankee legends are on display. We’re in a hallway that’s lit like a Four Seasons hotel.

The seats in the loge are good, as in comfortable. But they aren’t as good as my father used to get: lower deck between third base and home plate where hot dog and beer vendors hawked their goods. We went to quite a few games over the years. He always kept score on a scorecard with his mechanical pencil.

In Catholic boarding school where I’d gone with the guy who got the tickets, and later in college, more than a few nights were taken up with heated arguments over who was the best player. Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays. They were all Mick fans. All of them. High school and college. I was a Willie guy. One hundred percent.

The loge has a room with cupboards and a small refrigerator. None of it looks like you think it would from seeing Jerry Jones and his gathering at a Cowboys game. It’s very nice, though. There are plates of food. Sandwiches. Meatballs. Chicken wings. I don’t eat meat. So I almost finish off a whole pan of macaroni and cheese which looks great under the rich, warm lighting. Around the sixth inning, cookies show up.

I once sat in George Steinbrenner’s box. A college friend was a lawyer for the Yankees and got me and another college friend into a game. We wind up in the boss’s box, which was maybe six rows deep. George was there in the back row. We were right in front. There’s a guy with Steinbrenner with a face I know I know. After a while I say to my friend, “That’s Roy Cohn. The lawyer that worked with Joe McCarthy.”

At the game the other night Carlos Beltran drove in a run, maybe two. There wasn’t much action other than that. My friend and I sat there and talked about other friends we haven’t seen over the years. Actually, he and I seldom see each other.

The big picture in the loge, right over the plates of food, has Whitey Ford in it, in street clothes. I maybe could have gotten his autograph that day at the train station, but I was waiting for Mickey Mantle.