“It’s always Ruth!”
(Photos by Bald Punk – Yankee Stadium)
From the peak of the large hill on Morningside Drive in upper Manhattan, I had heard what sounded like a bat hitting a ball and the roar of a crowd. All I knew was that it was coming from far off . . .
Twenty minutes later we pulled up outside the new Yankee Stadium. We parked under the elevated trains on River Avenue. We were just up the block from the Stadium, across from the skateboard park. The four of us got out along with our dog, Scrappy D. For the umpteenth time, we all marveled at the monumental stadium worthy of ancient Rome. That includes Scrappy. He loves the place, too.
It was an overcast December day though still very bright. The light seemed uncanny. I thought it had something to do with the mythical nature of the new ballpark.
We heard the pelting of heavy machinery from the old stadium across 161st St. They must have been breaking up cement.
It took a few moments for me to detect whispering voices in the wind. Clearest of them all was a deep-toned voice. I thought it was that of a wayward spirit.
Not far behind us was a bearded homeless man with a heavy overcoat. In his fist was a can of beer wrapped in a brown paper bag. It was his voice whom I just heard and not a spirit’s.
The others had already lost interest in finding the source of the sounds I had professed to have heard miles away on Morningside Drive. My lady friend(LF) was on the phone with her sister, whose apartment in Greenpoint, we were supposed to be at already. The pizza and Chinese delivery guys(aka num and nuts) were both holding our dog, Scrappy D. I know the little guy probably wanted to strut around and scope out the territory. It was only his third time there.
I put my hand on the stadium facade made from blocks of limestone-faced, precast concrete. They are smooth and felt wonderful to the touch.
I lifted my head.
For a few seconds, just above the distant jackhammering, came the sound of a cheerful-stadium crowd. It was breezy and light–melodic without structure.
“There are people . . . inside?” my LF said disbelievingly.
We walked around the entire stadium, aware of the crowd-buzz. All the gates were all locked. Only a few cars were parked in the private lot. None were the high-end luxury models that the players’ drive.
We came back to the north east corner, where we had parked. I pointed to the clouds over the stadium, which seemed to reflect fluorescent lighting from the ball field. “The lights must be on,” I said.
My LF gasped! I swung around to find the homeless man had snuck up on us. He had both hands out. Red rings circled his eyes, and it looked like he was wearing two or three jackets. He smelled like he hadn’t bathed in a month. He was absolutely still.
“Are you okay, mister?” my LF asked.
I looked to her, and then at Scrappy D, who had a look of curiosity on his mug. He is a very smart dog.
“They never talk about anyone else,” the homeless man said, with a vacuous gaze like that of a reality TV star.
“I bet they don’t,” I said, grabbing my LF’s arm, trying to steer her to our car.
“None of ‘em seem to remember Fiorello La Guardia,” he said, breathlessly.
With those words, he had our attention. La Guardia was arguably the greatest mayor in NYC history. If the homeless guy was going to reference him, at the very least he deserved a modicum of deference.
“I never heard even a whisper of the four-term governor, South Street’s own, Al Smith,” he continued with a frightful look in his eyes. “Nope, un-unh. What about that poet. Not one of them ever speaks his name.”
“Walt Whitman,” I cried.
“Yup, and forget about those who cursed Hudson or lauded the Roosevelt’s, or any of the tramps who skirted through The Great White Way. It’s always him,” the homeless man said, his eyes opened wide. It looked like he was going to scream. He put both hands on his head and wail. “It’s always ‘Ruth!’ The voices love Babe Ruth!”
“What’s wrong with that!” someone behind us cried out.
We turned to see a mountain of a man with broad shoulders and conical legs. He was chomping on a cigar. His eyes steadied upon us from under the brim of a woolen derby that shadowed everything above the tip of his nose. We only saw his eyes because they glinted.
The homeless man yelped and ran off. His footfalls smacked soundly on the pavement.
“Babe Ruth?” I said with a tremor, and glanced aside to num and nuts. They were motioning like bobble-heads. “You’re the Babe?”
“I sure hope so!” he said in a riotous manner. “They’re not waiting in there for some two-bit runt like Cobb!!! Ha! Ha! Ha!”
I got a whiff of an alcohol-laden aftershave.
“See ya’ inside fellas!” Ruth bellowed, and tipped his cap to my LF.
A man dressed in an old wool suit opened an eight-foot-high steel gate for the Babe. The Sultan of Swat paused for a moment. He looked down the sidewalk to his left, over in the direction of the old stadium. He bent down and exchanged a few words with the man, then to our surprise, gave a backwards nod in our direction.
The guard waved us into the new stadium right behind Babe Ruth.
To be continued . . .
Here are all the posts in this series: Episode Twenty-Three – December 2009
Here are more Yankee Stadium photos along with a set from Citi Field. It’s where the Mets play–
Mullaly Skate Park in the Bronx (next door to new stadium)