In search of history behind enemy lines

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I make no bones about it. I’m a Red Sox fan through and through. But how could I pass up an opportunity to see history in the making? Our good Naugatuck friends Mary and Armand Boncal invited me and my wife JoAnn to Yankee Stadium on Saturday, July 24, where we hoped to see Alex Rodriguez stake his claim in Major League history.

I don’t make it a habit of going to Major League games anymore. Not after the last baseball strike wiped out the World Series. I swore off going to games ever since as part of a one-man protest.

I used to go to Fenway Park at least seven times a year faithfully. And I have seen pieces of history unfold before my very eyes over the years. I witnessed firsthand the Red Sox clinching the Eastern Division in 1975 on the last day of the regular season.

That was back in the day when there were only two division winners and no wild-card teams. They used to allow fans to storm the field back then — well, sort of. Let me tell you, it was pure bedlam. A scene I will never forget. I even saw Carl Yastrzemski’s last game and cried like a baby.

So when the Boncals called us and asked if we would be interested in going into enemy territory at Yankee Stadium, I didn’t even blink as I shouted to my wife that we were going. Actually, I jumped up and down, a little bit anyway. I’m really not in my best jumping-up-and-down shape anymore.

It had been so long since I’d attended a major-league game, I didn’t realize how much things had changed. First of all, there was no bumper-to-bumper traffic jam to contend with, and not because everyone else was staging his own one-man protest against baseball. We are living in a new era of technology. We took the train that drops fans off about 200 yards from the front door.

Armand told us that the train ride usually takes about an hour and five minutes. Well we must have been on the slow train from China, because after the conductor drove the train about two miles past the Stadium, he had to back up and give us the scenic tour in one hour, 35 minutes.

It’s always good to go with someone who knows the terrain. Armand could have made it as a New York City tour guide. I forgot what 40,000 people looked like crammed into a two-block area. We followed Armand’s voice when he yelled, “Follow me.”

There were several lines forming, of about 150 fans each, to get into the Stadium. Our tour guide raced right by them darted down the next street, and after a quick stop at the Dugout Restaurant we headed for a side gate. There were exactly four people in front of us to get in. Now that’s knowing where you’re going and how to get there.

As everyone made a charge for the stairs, our tour guide deftly slipped the crowd and headed straight for an elevator. “Terrace please,” Armand said, and the elevator operator punched in our coordinates.

There we were in the terrace, Section 313, sitting in cushioned fold-out chairs overlooking a railing just past the Yankees’ dugout. I couldn’t believe my eyes. These seats were unbelievable. And every time you went to get up the usher would swiftly move the chair out for you and dust it off.

Even though the temperature at game time was 89 degrees and it kept soaring, we had a great time. Even as the field temperature grew to 110 by the top of the fifth inning, according to the scoreboard.

The only one who wasn’t soaring was the man of the hour, A-Rod. He hit career home run number 599 the previous Thursday against Kansas City relief pitcher Robinson Tejada: a solo shot to right field in the seventh inning of the Yankees’ 10-4 win.

There were still three games left before the home stand was over, more than enough time for A-Rod to launch him self into major-league history. It was practically a given, as his first career home run was against these Kansas City Royals in June 1995. And Saturday’s starting pitcher, Kyle Davies, had offered up home run number 500 in August 2007.

So the scene was set, but players knocking at the door of baseball lore sometimes get star-struck. So it was with A-Rod, who ended the day 1 for 4, only managing an infield single. But the Yankees certainly had everyone ready to jump to their feet as they got two on with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

Mark Teixeira strode to the plate and came within an inch of beating out an infield hit that would have loaded the bases. What a way it would have been to break into MLB history, as A-Rod was on deck and would have come up looking for a walk-off grand slam for number 600.

It just wasn’t meant to be. The next day, A-Rod again was kept in the ball yard, going 2 for 4 before the Yankees embarked on a seven-game road trip with four in Cleveland and three in Tampa Bay.

History will have to wait for A-Rod, who is trying to become the seventh player ever to break the 600 mark and the youngest player ever to reach that milestone. A-Rod turned 35 on Tuesday, July 27. Babe Ruth smacked number 600 at the age of 36.

It’s been 11 games since A-Rod took one out of the yard as he struggles to send number 600 into the stands. A-Rod went 3 for 25 over a disastrous road trip, making his slide since his last dinger reach 8 for 47, dropping his average to .266 on the season.

The Yankees returned home on Monday against Toronto for the first of three but A-Rod was shut out as he went 0 for 5. Don’t worry, there will be more than enough incentive to break into baseball history, as the Yankees face Boston to finish up their current seven-game home stand with matchups Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday in the Bronx.

I didn’t get to see history being made, but my friends think they convinced a hard-nosed baseball fan to give up his one-man protest and attend another game sometime down the road. Even with the sticker shock of a $5 pretzel or a Philly steak sandwich and a bottle of water for $15. Yes, things have changed since the last time I went to the ballpark. But the next time I save up about $200 I think I’m going to call Armand and see if he’s got tickets for another game in enemy territory.