A TRIBUTE FROM THE HEART;
YANKEE FAN COUPLE SAYS GOODBYE TO STADIUM
BY ATTENDING ALL 81 HOME GAMES
ESPN Cameras Capture It!
They Did It! Home Game 81, September 21'st 2008
Phil Dippel (2nd Row Center without hat) and Wife, Susie (far right with camera)
Say Goodbye to Yankee Stadium By Attending All 81 Home Games in 2008
(Article Written By Freelance Writer, Sandy Grossman)
THANKS FOR COMING!
At this year’s historic All-Star game at Yankee Stadium in July, Alex Rodriguez left the park after the fifth inning following his removal by Red Sox manager Terry Francona (no truth to the rumor that he was meeting Madonna); during his broadcasting career, the late Phil Rizzuto made it a nightly habit to leave early during WPIX telecasts to beat the traffic on the George Washington Bridge on his way home to New Jersey; and it was said that in the early 1920’s Babe Ruth once wolfed down a dozen hot dogs in between games of a doubleheader at the House that He Built and had to be rushed to the hospital with a severe case of acid indigestion. (R-O-L-A-I-D-S didn’t spell relief until 1929.)
When the Baltimore Orioles’ Adam Jones deposited a dead-center fastball from Yankees’ rookie pitcher David Robertson into the left field stands on July 28 for a sixth-inning grand slam and an 11-0 lead, Yankee season ticket holders Phil Dippel and his wife, Susie, were left with the $64,000 question: Should we stay or should we go?
Around them, swirls of people with bowed heads and deflated bodies made for the exits following the blast, their muffled curses speaking volumes. But if Phil and Susie left along with them, how would Phil record the final scoreboard tally on his Nokia cell phone or Susie take shots on her Nikon – something that they had done without fail for the first 55 games of this, the Final Season at Yankee Stadium?
Their “Yankees family,” some 30 friends and acquaintances the Dippels have shared the better part of the last twelve baseball seasons with in their field level seats – “Our summer home, our cottage up north,” says Susie Dippel – would certainly understand if they called it a night.
But would each other?
Last winter, Phil Dippel told Susie that he wanted to honor the Stadium – and his remembrance of good times there with his family, including those with his mom, dad, and sister, all of whom had passed away – by attending every Yankee home game this year. Susie soon bought in. “The toughest part for me, I knew,” said Susie, “was getting through the cold in April.”
It would be more, however, than just attending each game. They also planned to videotape all the games on TV, including pre- and post-game shows, and shoot all kinds of photos of on-and-off the field action, the Met Life Countdown, pictures of friends and fans, discarded garbage, the Bleacher Creatures, the cracks in the floor, the duct-tape on the seats . . . anything.
The Dippels might archive everything one day and put it on the web or on a blog and, well, maybe not. They had no real plans for the thousands of pictures they’d eventually shoot or the film snippets they shot. “We just wanted to do it,” said Phil. Maybe in the future if there was a little Yankee slugger at home to show the stuff to . . .?
But what would happen in the face of adversity? What would happen when your team was down 11 runs and one or the other got antsy and wanted to leave? Why deal with the agita?
What would happen to the Dippels’ cherished vows?
Hadn’t they promised each other that for better or for worse, in the regular season and into the playoffs, till Yankees death do they part that they would attend all 81 home games – and then some – and stay for every single inning and every single pitch?
Wouldn’t it seriously affect their relationship – and their streak! – if one of them insisted on leaving that day? And what if the ball hit off the bat of Melky Cabrera, the one that ping-ponged off a railing and smacked Susie in the head in the July 23rd game against the Twins had required a bit more than an icepack? What then? (Susie was fine and suffered no ill effects.)
FABLED YANKEE COUPLE FILES FOR DIVORCE
DUE TO IRREVOCABLE DIFFERENCES
“He forced me to stay at Yankee games,” claims wife.
* * *
Married in 1995, native New Yorkers Phillip and Susie Dippel took different paths to Yankee fanaticism. Phil’s father took him to his first game at the Stadium in 1969, though his dad was a lifelong Cleveland Indians’ fan.
“Everyone in his Manhattan neighborhood worshipped the Yankees,” Phil says of way back when. “They won all those championships and it was easy to root for a winner. He just wanted to be different.”
Sorry, pops, but Phil didn’t care who buttered his bread. “I was a Yankee fan from the start,” he says, but admits it was hard, real hard, during the lean years of the 1960’s and early ‘70’s to remain steadfast. “But that’s the meaning of a true fan,” he says. “One that sticks with the team no matter what.”
Susie, who works for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) in Information Services, was originally on board as a Mets fan before her Yankee epiphany. Her fourth grade teacher, Mrs. McGowan, used to give her own Happy Recap during the 1973 season, a year in which the Mets would eventually lose the World Series in an exasperating seven games to Charlie Finley’s Oakland A’s. But then the Mets hit the skids, the Yankees started winning – and along came her knight in shining pinstriped armor.
One need only step foot into the Dippels’ Park Slope, Brooklyn, home to see how deep their passion runs for the Bronx Bombers. Men might be from Mars and Women from Venus but these two diehards are definitely on the same planet when it comes to their favorite team. Their apartment walls are lined with classic Yankee photos like “The Dive” by Derek Jeter against Boston in 2004, Chris Chambliss’ majestic walk-off homerun to win the pennant in 1976, and the mighty Reggie at the Bat for his final homerun in the 1977 World Series. Their living room is topped off with a couch-long aerial shot of a radiant Yankee Stadium on October 30, 2001. That night, President Bush threw out the first ball in Game 3 of the World Series and gave the Yankees – and the world – a huge boost following 9-11.
Strewn on multi-tiered shelves – sorry, no white facades – are a myriad of Yankee souvenirs and Stadium giveaways from DVDs, autographed baseballs, key chains, thermoses, license plates, figurines, lunchboxes, and a giant Yankees’ Mr. Potato Head coated with a thick layer of dust. There’s even a chorus line of bobblehead dolls of Yankees past and present. The bobbleheads of Roger Clemens and Joe Torre are conspicuously turned around, so you only see the numbers on their backs.
“Hey, they’re no longer on the team,” says Phil. “Sorry.”
Of course, where Phil has a zillion tickets from past games helter-skelter on the shelves – some overflowing from Yankee mugs, others stuck in between old programs and yearbooks, and still more in tattered envelopes, Susie has hers neatly filed away in old-style library card catalogs.
“Phil needs to get things in order,” says Susie, rolling her eyes.
“Yeah, I guess I do,” answers her dutiful husband.
JOIN THE CROWD
In 1996, the Dippels watched as Charlie Hayes clutched a popup for the final out to give the Yankees their first World Championship in nearly 20 years. Within moments, they were headed uptown on the 4 train from their then Manhattan apartment to join the Stadium faithful for the celebration. “We knew then that we wanted to get season tickets,” said Susie. “We wanted in.”
In 1997, long before every game drew 50,000-plus, they could’ve had seats behind home plate or the Yankees dugout but chose a pair deep down the right field line, closer to the foul pole than the infield dirt. Susie insisted – and Phil had no qualms. She simply wanted to be part of the 21-Club – seated alongside her favorite player, right fielder Paul O’Neill.
“It always looked like he cared,” she says of the fiery star. “He always tried so hard whether the Yankees were winning or losing. Plus, he was just so entertaining! We loved it when he would practice his swings or practice throwing out people at home plate in between pitches; he’d never sit still! Okay, so maybe he shouldn’t have gone off on those water coolers . . .”
A few years back, Phil, a video rentals manager for a Manhattan-based firm, gave Susie a Christmas present that she could’ve only dreamed of, and he got it all on tape.
Was it a mansion? A yacht? A villa in France? A string of polo ponies?
The gift wasn’t quite that Ralph Kramden-esque, but something much more endearing for his better half: Paul O’Neill’s actual glove that he used during the 2000 season. Romantic Phil won it in an auction on PaulOneill21.com, a website devoted to O’Neill’s “Right Field Charities.” The glove currently resides in a big Glad bag in a closet in their packed and stacked apartment. Where would they put it if it was encased in glass anyway?
The Dippels have watched history unfold from their Paulie seats like a series of courtroom dramas. From the 1998 Magical Mystery Tour in which the Yanks set a then-record 114 regular season wins en route to their 24th World Championship (of 26) to Ripley’s Believe it or Not! moments: the twin Davids – Wells and Cone – hurling the only regular season perfect games in 1998 and ’99; Roger Clemens playing Bat Man with Mike Piazza in the 2000 Subway Series; Aaron Boone’s miraculous homerun in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS against Boston; A-Rod’s 3-homerun, 10 RBI assault against the Angels in April 2005; and many more great memories kept under brain lock and key.
The Dippels have seen their share of incredible victories, experienced World Championships in 1998, 1999, and 2000 and consider themselves blessed to be a part of it all.
They’ve witnessed incredible consistency from former players like O’Neill and his retired brethren: Bernie Williams, Tino Hernandez, Scott Brosius, et al, and current superstars like Derek Jeter, A-Rod, Andy Pettitte and the peerless Mariano Rivera, the Yankees gunslinger who continues to notch saves on his belt at an incredible rate. Ball game over! Thhhhhe Yankees wiiiiiiiiiin!
The disappointments have been there, too, punctuated like a big exclamation mark with the team’s collective collapse this year. Phillip Dippel has a theory for the best team that money couldn’t buy: “I think it’s the ‘Curse of the Cranes,’” he says.
Midway through the 2007 season, as the new Yankee Stadium was in its construction infancy, the cranes that were being used to turn a patch of the South Bronx in 2009 back into a modern-day 1923 first appeared on the sight lines of Mr. Dippel and the right field faithful.
“The day that first crane went up – and we could see it from our vantage point out behind the left field stands – the spirits of Yankee Stadium must’ve been pretty mad they were building a new park,” Phil said, shaking his head Yes! Yes! Yes! to no one in particular. “If you want to believe it, the spirits didn’t want their memories taken away, and they were mad they were building a place across the street.” Soon after, more and more cranes appeared.
“And look what’s happened since!”
The Yankees made an early playoff exit in 2007 and this year, well, fughedaboutit.
“It’s the cranes! I’m telling you!”
Through it all, the action has taken place from the comfort of the best seats in the house, bar none.
“No doubt about it, this is the best section in the Stadium,” says Phil, his cherubic face beaming. “Here are the truest fans, the ones that care the most, the ones that bleed Yankee blue. Sure, we complain. Sure we curse and scream but that’s all because we care so damn much. I know sometimes they say that the players don’t seem to care as much as the fans do when they lose, but I can almost understand it. They have to play another game the next day, and if they get too caught up in things . . . well, that’s no good either.”
Where Susie is calm, cool and complacent and usually doesn’t let her feelings show until there’s an official ‘W’ or ‘L’, Phil is a bit more animated, as are many of his fellow male fans – winning or losing. “When we’re winning, the fist-bumps, the high-fives, and the beer really start to flow,” says Phil. When the Yankees are losing, they toss around expletives like discus champions. The women, expectedly, remain a bit more “tame.”
“Phil takes losses very hard,” says Susie. “It usually bothers him until the very next game. I tell him, ‘it’s still only a game,’ but it doesn’t seem to help.”
“She usually lets me blow off steam,” says Phil. This year, he’s been in a foul mood far too often, both home and home. “If we’re home and watching the Yanks on TV, she’ll just go into another room.”
“It’s been tough this year, especially with all the expectations.” says Susie. “We both takes losing very hard, believe me.”
Phil knows that he probably takes it a bit too hard in the scheme of things, but he can’t help it. “I am what I am,” he says. “What can I say? This is me!”
The Dippels have created many lifelong friends with their fellow diehards, and that’s one of the things they’ll really miss in the new Yankee Stadium. If truth be told, the Yankees may have simply out priced many in their section with estimates of triple the price they’re now paying for their seats. Thanks to the Yankees “Seat Relocation Program,” Phil and Susie will probably be fugitives in the upper deck. “I don’t think the Yankees are gonna really worry about 30 people and put us all together,” says Phil, “so it probably won’t be the same ever again. I almost wish they weren’t even building a new Stadium because along with seeing the Yankee games, Susie and I looked forward to seeing all our friends. That was so much a part of what made this place special.”
The Dippels became friendly with security personnel, vendors, and other stadium workers, as well, and for the last few winters put together a Stadium Tour for all their comrades. A good time was always had by all.
“It’s a way to give back for our good fortune,” says Susie.
* * *
After David Robertson threw his gopher ball on July 28, Phil looked at Susie and Susie looked at Phil and they each gave one another mental shrugs that said Whatcha gonna do? and finished watching the game to its inevitable conclusion. Phil got a shot of the final score on the Stadium scoreboard, Susie took a shot of the players leaving the field, and at the end, those left in the section said good night, see ya' tomorrow, same old Bat Time, same old Bat Channel. Then the Dippel's trudged home, barely issuing more than grunts and groans on the 45-minute subway ride to Brooklyn. Susie was pretty sure the sun would rise tomorrow. Phil probably didn’t care if it burned itself out. (They’d experience a few more trying times like this the rest of the season.)
On September 21, during the Final Yankee Stadium game in the Final Season at the original ballpark in the Bronx, Phil and Susie Dippel were right where they were at the end of Opening Day back in April: in their right field seats waiting for Frank Sinatra to sing New York, New York, waiting for the final curtain to be drawn on the season, on an era, on a lifetime of Hollywood moments.
“I only wish this was like the movie Groundhog Day,” said Phil. “I didn’t want this season to end; these 81 games seemed much easier [to do] than I thought and it went way too fast. I just wish everything could just stay the way it is. Maybe if Yankee management put the entire section together, even in the upper deck, I’d feel a heckuva lot better. Who knows how I’ll feel when the time comes next year? Maybe I’ll feel better. For now I’m sad.”
These little town blues, are melting away
I’m gonna make a brand new start of it - in old New York
And if I can make it there, I’m gonna make it anywhere
It up to you - New York, New York.
And the Steinbrenners.
Sandy Grossman is a New York City school teacher and writer, and has been a vendor at Yankee Stadium since 1973. Through the years, he has sold a hotdog to Phil and his wife on occasion – and he hopes he gets a chance to sell to them again next year – even if they’re in a different section. He can be reached via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
YANKEE STADIUM SPEAKS!
To my treasured Yankee fans and supporters. After eighty-five years of silence, I think now is the time for me to speak. During the past few years, I have seen many articles concerning my future as home of the honored New York Yankees. Many people have made some very valid points for all positions, so now let me make my own.
This coming season will mark the 85th year that I have stood on the corner of 161st and River Avenue. I have seen your grandfather take your father to his first game. I have seen your father take you to your first game. And now I have seen many of you take your children here. My walls have seen and heard all the joy that these first experiences have given all of you. Please, don't knock down these walls of memories.
I have played host to players who only come along once in a lifetime. Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Jackson, Munson, and Mattingly all made me famous. I am the envy of all stadiums and sporting arenas in the world. What a pleasure it has been to see these heroes perform during the past eighty-four years. When you walk inside me, you can't help but feel their presence. Please, don't knock down these walls of memories.
Yes, I have had many face lifts during the years as your baseball home. These touch-ups, including the massive one during the '74-75 seasons, have only more enhanced my charm. The Yankees christened the 1976 renovation with an American League pennant. Oh, Chris Chambliss, when you hit that home run, this place rocked! Now that's the only kind of movement I want to see. When people walked out of here that night, I saw smiles which I haven't seen since 1964. Please, don't knock down these walls of memories.
To people who say I should be torn down because I'm "aging", please read on. Last season, at the age of 84, I hosted over 4-million fans. It was an all-time franchise record. This season, I will surpass even that staggering figure. Please, don't knock down these walls of memories.
Today is my birthday and I can't help but to think back to what you, your father, and grandfather have seen here. The "Babe's" first Stadium homer. A dying man standing on my turf and announcing he was the "luckiest man on the face of the earth". A graceful center fielder who wore #5 on his back and became a piece of Americana. A shy boy from Oklahoma who almost hit the only fair ball out of my confines. Please don't knock down these walls of memories. Today, I'm remembering "our Captain" who crouched so proudly behind my home plate. Thurman, we all miss you. Reggie, I will never forget your third straight homer in Game 6 of the 1977 world series. In my "black" -- not an easy thing to do and how this place shook! Please don't knock down these walls of memories.
Yes, today, I'm fondly thinking back to the mid and late 1990's. In 1996, a young kid took over at shortstop and taught us all what "clutch", "class" and "winning" were all about. David Wells and David Cone joined Don Larsen to honor me with three perfect games in my historic home. Please, don't knock down these walls of memories.
As I stand here today, success just breaths through my walls. 26 world championships, 39 pennants, and now a string of 9 straight Divisional titles. I'm hosting stars like Jeter, A-Rod, Matsui, Damon, Williams, Posada, Johnson, and Rivera. What more can I ask for? Well, there is one thing. I would love to be your home for another 85 years. When you ride by me today, wish me a "Happy Birthday", and please don't let them knock down these walls of memories.
(c) Louis M. DiLullo 1998,2006,2007,2008
THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED
YANKEE STADIUM SITE, 1922
I made this journey numerous times in the past. Heading down route 95, through Connecticut, 287 West, to 87 South, passing Yonkers Raceway and onto the Deegan to Yankee Stadium. Each one of those trips were filled with excited anticipation. Today was quite different though. My mood today was very subdued as I made this dreaded trip. You see, today I was going to the demolition of Yankee Stadium.
As I turned onto the Stadium exit, I could see thousands of people standing behind the yellow police lines. This time though, they were not there to buy World Series tickets -- they were there to see some 75 plus years of memories soon to be erased. They were from all walks of life, young, old, black, white, male, and female. They were all standing there expressionless, as if they were waiting for their best friend to die. As I looked at all the people standing at the site, I wondered where these people were when Yankee Stadium could have been saved.
Four wrecking ball crews were poised to begin the task. A signal was given and the demolition had begun. I looked up at the spot where the "Yankee Stadium" sign was and heard a collective gasp from the crowd, as the steel ball started crashing down the concrete. While this was going on all around the stadium, we all stood alone with our thoughts. Before our disbelieving eyes, OUR Yankee Stadium was beginning to crumble.
With each part of the stadium systematically being crushed, so were the cherished memories we all had. As the cold steel ball hit the side of the stadium, out went the memory of a day when a dying man said, "He considered himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth." As the right-field bleachers came crashing down, out went all the homeruns a man they called the "Bambino" hit. Never, to be recalled again. Centerfield was now just a big black hole. The sacred ground of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle had been violated. With each passing of the ball, championship after championship was being wiped out.
Soon, all that was left was rubble. I couldn't believe it. A place, where so much joy was given to millions, was now just a pile of stones and dirt. It was too much to take as we all started to leave.
Before I left, I saw an old man in a wheel chair. His eyes, like mine, were filled with tears. "I saw it all", he said. "From Ruth to Tino, I saw it all". As I walked away, I heard him say, "But I never thought I would see this".
I took one last look at the site and shook my head in disgust, as a construction worker put out his cigarette butt on the area that used to be home plate.
Suddenly the Bronx became very dark and cold. Yes, the memories were gone. Forever.
(c)Louis DiLullo 2000
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