Readers recall magical ballpark moments

The McDonald family ? Renee and Scott and

The McDonald family — Renée and Scott and their sons, Ryan, 6, and Thomas, 7 — in the rightfield stands at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 20, 2010. (Credit: Mark Yashowitz )

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Beyond the heart-thumping competitive aspect of various sports are the all-important fans who support their hometown teams or favorite players and cheer each goal, point or home run. Many fans have stories to tell of a magic moment in sports that has little or nothing to do with who won or lost the game.

Here, Act 2 readers share these special moments as sports fans. And like the recorded stories of sports legends, some of these memories have lingered for decades.

 

Yanks lost but won our hearts

The Friday night before Renée, my sister, went into the hospital, I went with her family and a good friend of mine to see the Yankees play the Mariners. Unfortunately, the Yankees lost, 6-0. There was no Mariano Rivera, no big hit, just an "L" in the loss column. Who would have thought this game had such meaning for the next 14 months and years to come?

A few days before the game, I had convinced Renée and Scott McDonald, her husband, to take me to Yankee Stadium so I could see the team's new home. Even though she wanted to spend time with her family, Renée didn't put up a fight and said I could bring a friend.

My friend and I found the cheapest seats online. While Renée was three rows behind Nick Swisher and the WB Mason sign, my friend Erik and I were one row from the parking lot, out in leftfield. The players seemed so tiny.

Erik and I explored the stadium for the first three innings, stopping only to see some on-field plays. During the top of the fourth inning, we went to our seats and stayed there for the next three innings. Then, I called Renée and asked her about her seats. She invited me down and sneaked us into seats one row behind her, Scott and the boys.

As we were leaving, I took a picture of Renée and her family standing next to the rightfield wall. She took one of me with my nephews, too. Unfortunately, I did not take one of me with her.

A week after that game, Renée was diagnosed with Stage Four glioblastoma brain cancer. I felt as if I needed to do something, so I decided to write to the Yankees; everyone in every department that came to mind, explaining the horrible situation about Renée's diagnosis and how, if I had the opportunity, I'd sneak down to those seats again. I also thanked them for that one last memory with Renée and her family.

A day or two later, as I was driving home from work, my wife, Megan, called me and said there were two envelopes from the Yankees. She waited patiently for me to get home to open them. Inside were five Yankee hats, two pennants, two matchbox cars with Yankee stripes, five child-size World Series ring replicas, and two "Build a Bear" Yankee bears!

I was beaming! I went to Renée's house, where the mood had been somber since she came home from the hospital, before she went to Memorial Sloan Kettering. For 15 solid minutes, we all smiled, cheered the Yankees and forgot about Renée's cancer. The Yankees came through and are still winners in our book.

The picture of Renée's family taken that August night had become a memento of an evening at Yankee Stadium with the family and a symbol of her battle with cancer. It represented hope. It was posted for fundraisers and put on Facebook.

When Renée went to hospice, Scott's aunt turned that photograph into a blanket that Renée could look at every day. It symbolized strength. Renée died last October, when she was just 37. That blanket was beautifully displayed at the funeral parlor for all the guests to see. The picture is a reminder to all of us who knew Renée what kind of person she was.

--Mark Yashowitz, Wading River

 

Hank Greenberg hit one to my pal

The year was 1940. My best friend, Ed Temkin, and I wound up in the bleachers next to the rightfield bullpen in Yankee Stadium.

During batting practice, a Tiger hit a ball into the bullpen, and Ed reached over and grabbed it barehanded.

It must have been the fifth inning when the Tigers' Hank Greenberg smashed a pitch by the Yankees' Lefty Gomez into the same spot. Ed again reached over and pulled the ball in. What an experience!

I was 14 and Ed was 15. We played baseball together; 46 games that year — all pickup games with other teams in the area — and we won 26, using the two balls that Ed caught.

We lived on Hollis Avenue and 211 Street in Belaire, and attended Andrew Jackson High School in St. Albans.

At 85, I'm still a Yankees fan, but Ed roots for the Mets!

--Sy Razler, Lindenhurst

 

Ted Williams and his team signed my ball

In 1951, during the exciting National League pennant drive, I attended a Brooklyn Dodgers-New York Giants game on Labor Day weekend at the Polo Grounds.

This was one month before Bobby Thomson's famous playoff pennant-

winning home run, called "The Shot Heard Round the World." I caught a ball in the rightfield stands off the bat of Dodger Andy Pafko. This game was won by the Giants as rookie Willie Mays made a catch in fairly deep right-centerfield, twirled around and threw out Billy Cox trying to tag up and score from third base.

About a year later I was attending a game at Yankee Stadium with my caught ball, and a woman approached me and said she was the traveling secretary for the Red Sox. She offered to have the team autograph my ball.

We agreed to meet the next day at the Hotel Commodore, now the Hyatt, in New York City after the game. On the way home that day, I thought I had been scammed, but, sure enough, the next day this lady shows up with the ball signed by the entire team, including Ted Williams. I still have possession of this ball, 61 years later, although my sons used it to play catch, and some of the signatures have faded.

--Joseph M. Miller, Smithtown

 

A double thrill from Héctor López

One of my greatest sports memories started the first time I went to the old Yankee Stadium in 1965 or 1966. I was about 12. My father took the whole family, including my mother, younger brother, younger sister and me. We were all so thrilled — and then we discovered our seats were behind a steel support.

My father went back to the ticket booth and somehow got field box seats in the first row just beyond third base. They were fantastic. We were at the stadium early and were able to watch batting practice.

When Héctor López was up, he hit a foul ground ball along the third base fence. Amazingly, my father bent down over the fence and caught it. He then immediately did a complete flip over the fence, but hung onto the ball.

I can't begin to describe how excited we all were. My father, Sal Massa, had just demonstrated his skill from all his years playing baseball. He was a pitcher who had tried out for the Yankees and later pitched on weekends in the Long Island league. I am told that when I was very young, I attended many of those games with my mother. When I was older, he would tell me how he struck out future baseball great Carl Yastrzemski and his father in the Hamptons.

My father gave the ball hit by López to my brother, and it is now lost. About two years ago, my husband discovered that a relative of Héctor López worked in the court system where he worked. I got the idea we should get López to autograph a ball that said something like, "To Sal, you made such a great catch of my foul ball."

López was very gracious and signed the ball that I sent to my father in Florida for Father's Day last year. My father was thrilled.

Since the time my father caught the ball and gave it to my brother, I had yearned to catch my own ball. My wish came true in 2001. My husband and I were in box seats behind home plate on the third level when a foul ball hit by Carl Everett of the Boston Red Sox landed by my feet. I grabbed it and I was so excited at the time, but I have kept the ball in a drawer and not displayed since it is a Red Sox player's foul ball. I still attend many games with my husband and am still waiting to catch a ball hit by a Yankee.

--Linda Massa Fairgrieve, Mineola

 

Scooter was our consolation prize

In 1986, the Yankees had a contest, and as one of 100 third-place winners, I was to be able to photograph the Yankees at batting practice. I thought this was a great way to facilitate my fantasy of meeting and perhaps marrying Dave Winfield. My 6-year-old son, Errol, and I set out for the Bronx in my co-worker's car that broke down on the Long Island Expressway.

A tow truck driver deposited us near a subway station with explicit directions to the D train. The subway did not move for over an hour due to mechanical failure. Eventually, we arrived at Yankee Stadium in a steady drizzle. After a few hours, most of the crowd went home except us "winners," who sat there, getting soaked.

Because of the bad weather, there was no batting practice, but we received a consolation prize of sorts. Former Yankee shortstop-turned-

announcer Phil Rizzuto (already married) came into the stands, and we got to take pictures with him. We were all appropriately thrilled, and Phil was happy to meet my son -- "somebody shorter!" The game was called around 10 p.m., but I have the priceless memento from Aug. 25, 1986 of my son, Errol Menendez, and Phil Rizzuto.

--Ann Rita Darcy, Huntington Station

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