Hey Yogi, let's hope Old-Timers' Day ain't ever over
You arrive at Yankee Stadium Sunday thinking that maybe this whole Old-Timers' Day thing has run its course.
And then you see Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford emerge from beyond the centerfield wall in an oversized golf cart and ride around the warning-track dirt, waving and smiling and soaking in well-deserved adulation.
You see the cart turn and go down the third-base line and rest behind home plate. You see the early-arriving crowd stand and applaud.
You see the 88-year-old Berra and the 84-year-old Ford, wearing Yankees uniform tops over their civilian clothes, and you realize how lucky some people here are to have seen them play, and how lucky everyone here is to see them today.
You realize that Berra, once a constant presence around Yankee Stadium after he patched things up with George Steinbrenner, hasn't been around much lately.
You remember that he didn't make it to the playoffs last year. You remember writing about his desire to be there if the Yankees made it to the World Series. But they didn't. He didn't make it to spring training this year, either.
You remember seeing him often in past years walking around the clubhouse, stopping to say hello to Jorge Posada or Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera, always with a smile.
You remember listening for Yogi-isms but not really hearing more than a few soft-spoken words.
You remember making sure you listened closely to those words.
You remember noticing how the current Yankees legends treat him. With affection. With deference. With respect. You are certain he has earned it for more than just his baseball career.
You listen to John Sterling talk about Berra's war record. You think about what it must have been like for him to be part of the invasion force on D-Day, 300 yards from Omaha Beach, as a 19-year-old in the Navy.
You listen to the career milestones: 15-time All-Star, three-time AL MVP, 10-time World Series champion, 358 home runs. elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972.
You remember marveling that this tiny man once was one of the most feared hitters in baseball. You think about 10 World Series rings and you can't even imagine it.
You look around the stands and you see people taking those ubiquitous cellphone pictures. You know Facebook and Instagram and Twitter will be full of Yogi and Whitey photos in a few minutes.
You doubt that Yogi has a Facebook page or a Twitter account. But you'd sure like it if he did.
You think about the whole idea of Old-Timers' Day and what it still means to people.
You think about the fans waiting outside the stadium more than four hours before the first pitch of the "real'' game. Waiting on slow-moving security lines in the fast-growing morning heat, wearing uniform tops that said "Mantle'' and "DiMaggio'' and "Berra'' and "Jeter,'' even though no actual Yankees uniform has ever had a player's name on the back.
You know these fans aren't here this early to see Yankees vs. Rays. They will fill only about a third of the stadium when Old-Timers' introductions start, inexplicably, with Brian Dorsett, a catcher who played in 22 games with the Yankees in the lean years of 1989 and '90. Still, you hear cheers for Dorsett. And for the next Old-Timer, Lee Mazzilli, and all the rest, no matter how obscure or famous.
You hear a gasp when the 1970s Afro haircut of Oscar Gamble is shown under a Yankees cap on the centerfield scoreboard. You listen to cheers for the stars of the last Yankees dynasty of the late '90s and early 2000s.
You share the pride when military veterans Don Larsen, Bobby Brown and Jerry Coleman are honored together.
And then Yogi and Whitey emerge from centerfield. And all you wish for is to see them again next year -- and for many more years after that -- on Old-Timers' Day. On one of the best days of the year.