My Poppa, and Why Baseball Never Ends

Yankee Stadium train tracks
You and your grandfather Benjamin walk side by side as the No. 4 IRT line rattles thunderously overhead. The afternoon sunlight shafts through the railway tracks onto 161st Street in a flickering crosshatch of shadows.

Vendors line the street, a midway carnival selling baseball paraphernalia – programs and pennants and photos, caps and toys and balloons. The doors to all the bars are open, the aroma of beer and peanuts wafting onto the sidewalks.

The historic building looms over us. You reach Gate 2 and pass through the turnstile and take a winding ramp upwards. Your Poppa keeps his hand on the cusp of your shoulder to make sure you’re alongside him, there to have the time of your life.

We reach the upper deck in left-field and step out into the stands. You scan the panorama before you, and there it all is, with its trademark frieze overhead rimming the Bronx sky. You’ve come to Yankee Stadium on Sunday, October 11, 1964, to see the New York Yankees play the St. Louis Cardinals in the fourth game of the 1964 World Series.

You sit as far away from home plate as humanly possible without actually leaving the premises. Nosebleed city. The players look so small. All sounds from the field – the crack of the bat, a ball smacking into a mitt – are delayed a fraction of a second.
The game starts, and you’re feeling so giddy that you turn to your Poppa. “I wish this would never end,” you say. And for a moment you expect him to tell you it never will. Instead, he looks at you with a smile that also manages to be serious.
“Everything comes to an end,” he says.

You have no idea what he means. Certainly you doubt it to be true. How could it be? Everything will last forever. Of this you’re quite confident. The Yankees will always be the Yankees and nobody you love will ever die.

Your own father has long since lost interest in baseball, too busy with work to pay attention to a sport that his son now ranks in importance alongside breathing and eating. In any given October, your father has no clue which teams are competing in the World Series.

He once takes you to a game at Yankee Stadium, your father does, a doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins, and there proves once and for all his utter indifference to baseball. Somewhere around the fourth inning, with cracked peanut shells littered in his lap and some 50,000 vocal fans all around, he actually dozes off. Even with Harmon Killebrew warming up in the on-deck circle, your father is snoring away.

All the more reason for you to adore your Poppa. You can always count on his attention, never need to court his affection. He always seems glad to see you, asks after you, worries about you, dotes on you.

Above all, your grandfather fills in for your father, his son-in-law, on the baseball front. In the very best of scenarios, a 12-year-old boy who loves baseball gets to share his love with someone older. You get someone who will tell you about seeing Babe Ruth swat home runs and Joe DiMaggio roam the outfield. In this sense, he turns out to be the father you needed your father to be.

“Everything comes to an end,” your Poppa told you 48 years ago. And for a long time afterwards, you refused to believe him with all the brute will of an innocent who knows no better.

But after your Poppa dies – in 1981, at age 70, of cancer – you finally believe him. The World Series game you saw with him came to an end. The Yankee streak of World Series appearances came to an end that year, leading to a drought until 1976, by far the longest in team history. The Yankees fired manager Yogi Berra and announcer Mel Allen.

The original Yankee Stadium came to an end, too, the hallowed cathedral demolished before your eyes. The Bronx as we knew it – the Bronx where you were born and lived your first 28 months – came to an end by the mid-1960s. So did your boyhood.

Then again, maybe your wish – that the game would never end, that everything will last forever – has some truth to it, too. Nothing you love ever truly has to come to an end. The Yankees are still the Yankees. Baseball is still baseball. And your Poppa will always be your Poppa.

After all, he loved you enough to take you to see baseball games when baseball meant the world to you. You still wear his Swiss watch and, come winter, his plaid woolen overcoat. You think of him often, all the more so every time the start of baseball season rolls around. Nothing you love ever really dies unless you let it.

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