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Bob Costas Shares Cherished Memory: 'That September day in 1959 will always be among those I recall most fondly'

The legendary sportscaster reminisces about a special Yankees game with his dad


spinner image yankee players on baseball field and people in stands; polaroid picture of current bob costas on left side; picture of young bob costas with his former baseball team in upper left corner
From Top Left: Alamy; Costas; Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

In this moving essay that ran in the May 2023 issue of the AARP Bulletin, Bob Costas reminisces about going to his first major league game with his father.

To appreciate what follows — a boomer’s first vivid recollection of a visit to a major league baseball park — it’s important to understand that post-World War II, and well into the ’60s, the vast majority of ballgames were not televised. And those that were came to us in black and white. We experienced the game primarily through the word pictures painted by classic radio broadcasters. The grainy TV images — no replays, no multiple angles or reaction shots — actually conveyed less of what it might feel like to be at the ballpark than a great radio announcer could. What was missing, most of all, were the colors.

Many fans of a certain age have likened walking for the first time up the tunnel leading to their seats to the moment when Dorothy is transported from black-and-white Kansas to Technicolor Oz. Like entering a different and, for a kid, enchanting world. The emerald green grass, the burnt orange of the infield dirt and outfield warning tracks, the pristine white baselines and outlines of the batter’s box were beyond striking.

In my case, I was 7, and all this flashed before my eyes on a September Saturday in 1959 at Yankee Stadium. Add then to the thrilling sensory overload, the sheer enormity of the place: 461 feet to dead center, 457 to left center, 402 to straightaway left. The triple-decker grandstand, topped off by the distinctive latticework facade. To me, it felt like a baseball cathedral. After all, the House that Ruth Built was then the most awe-inspiring, fabled ballpark. Still, in their own way, millions of kids had essentially the same rush of wonder and delight entering Cincinnati’s Crosley Field, Detroit’s Tiger Stadium, St. Louis’ Sportsman’s Park, Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field, and the Grand Dames of the American and National Leagues, Fenway in Boston and Wrigley in Chicago.

The game was uneventful: Orioles 7, Yanks, 2. Mickey Mantle didn’t play, which temporarily dampened my spirits. But not for long.

It all comes back to me decades later: The seats in the lower left field stands (a buck fifty), the hot dogs (a quarter), the scorecard (a dime and a nickel) and my dad teaching me how to keep score: “No, Bobby, the third baseman is 5. The shortstop is 6. A strikeout is a ‘K.’” Why, Dad? The swirl of cigar smoke, the men in white shirts and fedoras, the vendors’ cries of “Beer here! Ice-cold beer!” My Mantle model glove at the ready in case a 450-foot homer somehow found us. Was there any better place than this? Not to me. Not then.

And then, somehow, it got better. Back in the day, after the game, fans exited the ballpark by way of the field. That’s right. They opened the gates and let you walk on the warning track around the circumference of Yankee Stadium. Holding my dad’s hand, I peered into the Yankee dugout. Empty now except for a few scattered towels and two bats still in the rack. “Mickey Mantle sat there? Yogi Berra! Whitey Ford! And I am this close?” I may actually have been trembling.

A brief moment of disillusionment came when we arrived at the “407 ft.” sign painted in white on the wall in front of the right field bleachers. I was confronted by sacrilege: Dopey scribblings defacing the numerals. “Tony loves Angela.” “F--- the White Sox.” “Tom was here. 5/13/58.” What manner of heathen or heretic would deface a shrine in this way? These were irredeemable souls who would apply graffiti to the Sistine Chapel. Which I am sure would have been my next thought if, in 1959, I had any idea what the Sistine Chapel was. Still, to me, we were standing on the most hallowed ground imaginable. Which brings me to what happened next.

These days, Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park is located beyond the center field fence, and houses numerous monuments and plaques honoring generations of Yankee greats. But then there were only three. And those three monuments were on the field itself. On the warning track, just in front of the flagpole and the 461 sign. They stood there in solemn tribute to Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and their manager, Miller Huggins. All were truly immortal. All were long since gone.

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Now I ask you, what would a baseball-worshipping 7-year-old kid think about this? I was convinced they were buried there, that this was the sacred Yankee burial ground. And that the “monuments” were their headstones. Worse yet, it occurred to me that someday Joe DiMaggio would join them there in truly dead center field, and eventually, inevitably, so too would Mantle, my favorite player.

The enormity of this realization was too much. I began to cry. My father tried to assure me that yes, these men had died, but they were buried elsewhere. I was having none of it. The occasion called for reverence. So, choking back tears, I respectfully touched all three monuments and whispered what passed for a prayer for each.

As we continued along the warning track toward the left field bullpen gate, which opened onto the street where we would catch the subway out of the Bronx, my dad tried to change my mood. He hoisted me up over his head, got me giggling and placed me on his shoulders as we bobbed along toward the exit. I recall that he smelled like Old Spice, the era’s fragrance of choice for American men.

Soon enough, I had made my peace with the place of Ruth, Gehrig and Huggins in the beyond. The Yankee loss didn’t bother me either. Just being at Yankee Stadium “in living color” for the first time was beyond exciting.

Dad took me to many games after that. But he died just 11 years later. He was 42. I was 18.

Of all the playoff and World Series games I have been lucky enough to broadcast, many with my own son at my side, I was never able to take my dad to a single one. Maybe that’s why, among the thousands of games I have attended, that September day in 1959 will always be among those I recall most fondly.

 

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