Press Box memories from Falcon Field and Yankee Stadium

By Pete Mohr | July 23, 2008

FALCON FIELD – Spring 2008. From its construction in 1927, Yankee Stadium became known as “The House That Ruth Built.” I hereby name the splendid (and sorely-needed) new press box at Falcon Field, “The Box That Jay & Jim Built.” Baseball parents Jay Sabanosh (son, Chris ‘09, designated hitter) and Jim Manship (son, Chris ‘08, co-captain and catcher) generously supplied design, materials and labor that significantly upgraded Falcon Field’s press amenities. Thanks again, Jay and Jim!

Last baseball season, at the request of Head Baseball Coach Tom Scala and (then) Athletic Director Monica Barrett, I had the enjoyment of being one-half of the press box team: Jay Sabanosh deftly operating the scoreboard, while I, as public address announcer, gave my best Bob Sheppard imitation. Bob Sheppard? If you read the front page Sports Sidebar, you’re aware that for 57 years, Bob Sheppard was the “Voice of Yankee Stadium.”

yankee stadiumDan Shulman is the excellent play-by-play announcer for ESPN Radio’s “Sunday Night Baseball.” From his All-Star pre-game show, I learned that Bob Sheppard, at 97, was not in sufficiently good health to be present. So Yankee Captain Derek Jeter, starting at shortstop for the American League, had Bob Sheppard tape the introduction for Jeter’s first at-bat. If Bob Sheppard retired (as I believe he did) before the start of the 2007 season, subtracting 57 years pinpoints 1950 as his debut season at the Yankee Stadium mike. In mid-June 1951, I, with my Montgomery, Alabama boyhood friend, Bill Marks, made my first visit to Yankee Stadium. We were on our way to a cold and rainy eight weeks at Camp Pemigewasset, near Wentworth, NH. My parents were escorting us.

My Dad was in the municipal bond business; and so, on an overcast Friday afternoon, courtesy of then Morgan Guaranty Trust Company’s Bond Department, we were in lower level box seats just beyond the visiting Cleveland Indians dugout. As we emerged from the entrance portal, I have two distinct remembrances: first, the awe-inspiring size of Yankee Stadium itself; and second, the dark gray color of the infield dirt. Immediately, I was engaged in matching program numbers with the Indians and Yankees warming up right before my very eyes! I was 14 – and thrilled!

With some disappointment, we had learned that the great Joe DiMaggio (Joltin’ Joe – The Yankee Clipper), had just returned to New York from his mother’s funeral in San Francisco and was not expected to play; but in the bottom of the 6th, two men on, two out, and the Yankees trailing by one run, came this distinctive P.A. intonation, each word reverberating with a resonance that would become Bob Sheppard’s hallmark, “Now batting for the Yan-kees … Number 5 … Joe Di-Mag-gi-o.” And out of the home dugout stepped Joe calmly swinging two bats. He discarded one, moved into the batter’s box, and laced the third pitch into right center for a two-run double that ignited the game-winning rally. What a moment! I would not become aware until some years later that we had seen DiMaggio play in his last season.

Fast forward to a Friday evening in early October, 1978. I’ve completed my business in the city. My only son, Jonathan, then 15, flys into LaGuardia from Atlanta. We rendezvous at Grand Central Station with one of his godfathers, Neil Chrisman, my Princeton 1958 classmate and clubmate (fraternity brother). We’re joined by Gerry Rigg, another Princeton classmate and clubmate. The four of us subway up to Yankee Stadium for the third game of the World Series, with the Yanks down, 0-2, after the Dodgers had blown them out in L.A. Neil and I were Dodger fans.

Hosted by Neil, we have great upper level seats looking directly down at third base, where Graig Nettles would turn this Series around with what is considered the greatest single-game defensive performance by a third baseman in Series history. The Yankees win, 6-1, and never look back, closing out the Dodgers in six games; but it’s the pre-game I remember most.

In the Yankee batting practice, “Mr. October,” Reggie Jackson, puts on a one-man Home Run Derby, jacking out nine in a row, each one amping up the crowd to a near-frenzy. Then, as so often happens at a hugely-important sports event, the crowd calms down into an expectant buzz, Reggie’s prodigious show seeming to leave even Yankee fans incredulous. Now comes the voice of Bob Sheppard: “Ladies and gentlemen,” he calls to attention, “let’s have a big New York welcome … for the Yan-kee Clip-puh … Joe … Di … Mag … gi … o!” From his box alongside the Yankee dugout, Joe D., dapper as always, enters the field to throw out the first pitch. Jonathan was visibly embarrassed by his 41-year old father’s excitement: “Son, don’t you understand?! That’s Joe Di-Mag-gi-o!”

For two unforgettable Yankee Stadium memories, I’m thankful: first to my father, who died in 1982, for encouraging my lifetime enjoyment of being a baseball fan; second, to Neil Chrisman, my long valued friend – and World Series host some 30 years ago; and last, but certainly not least, to Bob Sheppard, my unknowing P.A. mentor, who will always be “The Voice of Yankee Stadium.”

Photo caption: DEMOLISH YANKEE STADIUM? That’s correct, whenever the current season may end for the Bronx Bombers; and yet, for baseball fans everywhere, wonderful memories will last forever.
courtesy photo: Kjetil Ree (Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike 3.0)