_

Barry Crimmins

words to live near

instagram

Screeds

Diversions Tuesday, July 4, 2000

Diversions
A satirist at rest tends to stay in motion.

Mark Twain, carcass-free dining, gardening and various sports are just some of the diversions that keep me busy during the 23-24 hours I don't spend on the stage most days. This page will feature my extracurricular passions.

I particularly love baseball. Here is an essay I've read aloud at a few shows.

Ralph, Phil and The Mick
By Barry Crimmins COPYRIGHT 1996

I have loved the New York Yankees my entire life. I have listened to, watched or found some way to be updated on the scores of nearly every Yankee game since the 1960 season. That was the year I made my First Communion and received a transistor radio from my parents in honor of the occasion. My father was a traveling salesman and I had three sisters and no brothers. With Dad so frequently on the road, that radio became a large part of my connection with the male world. My mother knew her baseball but not well enough to overcome her Massachusetts heritage and Red Sox roots. Dad had been jilted by our national pastime, having been a boyhood supporter of the Boston Braves. His devotion did not make the move to Milwaukee with the franchise.

So even when he was home, I spent a lot of time alone with the Yankees and their broadcasters. My hero of heroes was, not surprisingly, Mickey Mantle. By 1968 that radio was in worse shape than The Mick's perennially injured knees, it's black plastic cracked, gold speaker mesh dented and the handy clip-on battery holder longer gone than any of Mantle's tape measure homers. But like Mickey, the radio always came through in the clutch.

1968 was the year I made my first trip to Yankee Stadium. On August 25, I will return to that noble edifice. You see, they are unveiling the first new monument in the Stadium since the Forties. It will commemorate the late, great Mickey Mantle.

I had seen the Yanks on family vacations in Boston a couple of times and in Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame Game but had waited forever, a lifetime, to go to the Stadium. Finally on a late June day just prior to my fifteenth birthday, my ordeal was about to end. My father and I arose at 5:00 AM so that we could make the six hour drive from our home in Skaneateles, New York to see the Yankees play the Detroit Tigers. Somehow Dad had acquired mezzanine box tickets, which, in the old ballpark, were the poshest of the posh. Gorgeous weather accompanied us as we wound our way from the idyllic rolling hills of Central New York to the most prominent pasture of all in the Bronx. As we rounded a curve on the Major Deegan expressway, Yankee Stadium materialized. It was even more imposing than I had imagined. It was massive, stately, historic, majestic. Most importantly, it was the home of the Yankees and somewhere inside Mickey Mantle was being mummified with tape in preparation for the game I was about to see. I told myself then and there that when I grew up, I would not be a stranger to these surroundings. As we pulled down the ramp and looked for parking, I never broke eye contact with the magnificent structure, fearing that if I let it out of my sight, I may have had to wait another 14 years before it appeared again.

Upon parking Dad's '65 Chrysler wagon, we ambled through the shadows of the Stadium to Manny's Baseball Land. I had learned of Manny's and become a faithful customer through ads that appeared various baseball publications. For years I had dreamed of the day I could go into his "Land" and browse for hours and buy all of the memorabilia I wanted. Maybe I would even meet and become close with Manny, from whom I would be able to score great Yankee tickets. But throughout the Land, Manny was nowhere to be found. There wasn't room for him. Manny's "Land" turned out to be a literal hole in the wall. My first experience at his diminutive establishment consisted of purchasing a 1968 Yankee Yearbook from a decidedly disinterested clerk.

I recovered quickly from my disillusionment, nothing could ruin this day for me. As we walked toward the ballpark, it got larger and larger and I cranked my neck back further and further, mouth wide open. I was in full tourist gawk. We strolled into Yankee Stadium via the entrance that was especially for members of the Stadium Club. The tickets we had belonged to some corporation and were season seats which permitted us into the Club, which seemed to me the most exclusive restaurant in the world. Once inside, I absorbed a lot more of my surroundings than my lunch -- the place was a miniature Hall of Fame.

After eating, I was absolutely beside myself with anticipation. Dad paid the tab and finally headed inside the ballpark. Our seats were at press box level, between home plate and the visiting dugout. The Stadium more than delivered on its exterior promises. After years of watching on black and white TV, whoosh, I was in the Emerald City. It was plush and green and there were humongous score and electronic message boards. Public address announcer Bob Sheppard's dignified voice boomed clearly and I could understand every word he said. The mezzanine box seats were comparable to those found in a movie theater. There were even waitresses. This was tremendous!

Unfortunately, all of the baseball we saw at Yankee Stadium that day consisted of this: Ruben Amaro playing catch with the bat boy in what was quickly becoming a torrential downpour. When they canceled the game 45 minutes later (that was made up in a weekend series with Detroit during which Rocky Colavito, an outfielder, pitched and won for the Yanks) , I was inconsolable. I had waited my entire childhood to see the Yanks play at the Stadium, to see the Mick hit a homer in the Bronx. Instead, I got to see Ruben Amaro play catch with a bat boy. As we slumped out onto the soggy streets, I made sure that father understood how much I appreciated his heroic efforts to get me to the park and obtain such premium tickets. But on the long ride home I went into a deep depression that was to last for quite awhile. I was never going to get to see the Yanks play at the Stadium. Worse, Mick was in the twilight of his career and if I ever did get back, he might be gone.

On a Friday night some weeks later later, I bounced home, buoyed by a victory by my summer baseball team. I was going to catch a quick shower and head to the movies with some my teammates. There were vague plans to meet up with some girls. I was coming out of my funk. As I stepped out of the shower my father pounded on the door and said, "Ralph Cheche (pronounced "Checky") is on the phone and he wants to talk to you."

This was odd. Ralph Cheche was my father's friend and he had never called me before. I loved him because he was funny and when he was around my father was always in a better mood. Dad, you see, often had a demeanor not unlike that of Bob Dole. Impatient W.W.II guy stuff. Ralph was a Korean war veteran. While overseas he had contracted a bizarre condition that had caused him to lose all of the hair on his body. He resembled a hairless, somewhat more svelte version of the insult comic, Jack E. Leonard. I had traveled with my father and Ralph to numerous Syracuse football games and several Sports Smokers -- fund raising events that inevitably featured a speech from some sports luminary. We had seen Yogi Berra at one such gathering and Paul Brown at another the previous winter. We had also gone to four or five Army/Navy games over the years with Ralph. Outside of making it to Yankee Stadium, I had not been deprived of many sporting events.

I grabbed the phone and said hello. Ralph asked me what I was doing that weekend. I mentioned a yard work job that I had to finish either Saturday or Sunday.

Ralph Cheche said, "Finish it Sunday. We are going to a ball game tomorrow."

I answered, "Great. Who's playing?"

He asked, "If you could see anyone play tomorrow, who would you like to see?"

I replied, " Well I guess the Syracuse Chiefs ( a local minor league baseball team) but they play tomorrow night. I could still work and go to the game."

Ralph said "If you could see anyone, it would be the Syracuse Chiefs? Well I guess you wouldn't be that interested in going to New York to see the Yankees. What if I told you it was Old-Timers Day. My brother and I have an extra ticket and thought you might want to join us but if you really want to see the Chiefs....."

I responded with great urgency, "What time do we leave Mr. Cheche?!!"

Ralph answered, "I'll pick you up about 8:00 AM."

"But Mr. Cheche, it's a day game. We could never get to Yankee Stadium in time if we drive down that late."

"That's why we are taking my brother's plane." Said Ralph, no longer suppressing a laugh that was genuine and kind.

All I could utter was, "Wow. We'll be ready. Thanks, Mr. Cheche"

But we didn't need to be ready. My father claimed he was busy and couldn't make it. But Ralph only had one extra ticket -- a seat he doubtless offered his dear friend ,my father, first. But Dad must have told Ralph to take me instead. Phil Crimmins had always given me a hard time about rooting for the Yanks but I know he was glad for me that I had found a rightful place as a booster of the greatest franchise in history. That day, my father passed up his trip to Old-Timers Day so that I could attend the game. He never once implied that he had any interest in going but upon my return his cross-examination of me about every detail, indicated otherwise. Thanks again, Dad.

We flew into Teterboro, New Jersey and parked our plane right next to Frank Sinatra's Lear Jet(!) We got a cab and headed for the Ballyard in the Bronx. The sun shone brightly all day. It sparkled on the Stadium, on the Old-Timers, on Mickey Mantle's two homers, on Stan Bahnsen's brilliant performance, and it particularly shined on Ralph Cheche's bald head. The Yanks lost 3-2. Mickey accounted for all of the New York runs with his home runs. It was the last time he would ever hit two in one game. I had gotten back just in time.

After the contest, we went to Manhattan to get some dinner and when we came outside, it was overcast and foreboding. Mr. Cheche's brother made a call to some official weather place and it was decided that we should spend the night since flying would be dangerous. On this excursion, inclement weather had become my ally. I was going to spend the night in New York! After we checked into the hotel, Ralph took me on a cab tour of Manhattan. That evening we went to see some long-forgotten singer in a nightclub where Ralph was welcomed like a long-lost relation. I was living it up with the boys in the Big Apple! We had a great night recounting our various trips to other events and discussing in detail the great Yankee teams of the past and many of the players we had seen that day. Nobody suggested we stay for the game the next day and I certainly knew it would have been inappropriate to lobby for more baseball. But the thought crossed my mind.

We got up early the next morning and flew back in ideal conditions. That afternoon as I weeded, clipped, mowed and trimmed, I listened to the Yanks get trounced by Minnesota 11-2. As bad as the game was, I paid attention to every pitch. I felt much more a part of things now, even as the Yanks were losing their fifth in a row. Hey, it was a losing streak, but damn it, I was involved.

In the past few years Mickey Mantle, Ralph Cheche and Phil Crimmins have all passed away. I have grown up and worked in show business for almost a quarter century. Sometimes my connections are even better than Ralph Cheche's or my father's. I have been fortunate enough to obtain tickets and special access for many people to lots of events. They often say, "You don't know how much this means to us."

I just smile, think back to my father, Ralph Cheche, Mickey Mantle and the summer of 1968 and say, "I bet I do."

updated: 14 years ago