Monday, October 26, 2009

Celebrity Baseball

I posted this on November 6, 2006 - just seven months after Jimmy died.  These days there's a new stadium for all, new seats for us (cheaper, of course) and reminicing is easier. Today my cousin Sharon asked me to re-print this because it was one of her favorites. She said that it's impossible for her to watch a game without seeing Jimmy holding up "the duck."  Last night, my son Doug was at the game and I know he helped the Yankees win because he brought along "the duck." 

                                                      Jimmy holds the duck...and me.

 
Each season brings it's own memories. This year's World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers made me react as I do every year...."Who cares?"

Catching glimpses of the World Series on my way to another channel and smacking a carpenter ant with the newspaper opened by chance to the Sports page brought back the memory of game two (or was it three?) of the Subway Series in 2000.


I was sitting next to Jimmy in a seat he could have scalped for big bucks or given to one of his begging buddies. I felt unworthy.


“I know you don’t care about the game, but if I come home and tell you I saw celebrities you’ll kill me!” Jimmy said. What a sweet man and so self protective!


Yankee Stadium was vibrating inside and out. It was the first time two New York teams faced off since the Yankees beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series. Even I could see this was a big deal and it would draw a Kodak crowd.


From the second we parked our car in the lot for season holders and ball players I was on high alert for a celebrity citing. Famous people start and end at this point and I was ready for the fake bump in, a little system I invented, but never had the nerve to do.

Basically, you inch towards a celebrity pretending not know it’s them and then stumble into them. This forces them to say “That’s okay” to your “I’m sorry” which I feel qualifies as a ‘conversation.’


Jimmy’s seats were the legend seats, first row behind the blue wall, with an incredible view of third base straight ahead if you want to see the players run home or even greater view of the Saturday Night Live seats to the right, if you wanted to see what Jack Nicholson smears on his hot dog. Guess which way I faced the entire game?


Jimmy’s loud heckling voice had been known to rattle the opposing team as they warm up just a few feet from us and because he was funny he got the crowd laughing and hooting along with him. At crucial games he brought out ‘the duck’ a tiny (one inch high) yellow rubber duckie. He waited until the Yanks really needed help and then he stood to face the sea of fans throughout our section and beyond. He raised his hand way up with that little duck between his big thumb and index finger and then waved his arm back and forth. 

That movement let the crowd believe that his good luck duck was about to turn the Yankees luck around.  More endearing to me was that he added “I want to show the duck the crowd.”  It was as though Jimmy believed the duck needed the energy of the fans to work his magic.  This is the man I miss.  Right here.

We never named the duck. He was always simply, ‘the duck’ and superstitious fans near ‘the seats’ would yell to Jimmy “We need the duck!” Jimmy told me once, an employee of Yankee Stadium came by and with a straight face said, “Mrs.Torre would appreciate it if you bring out the duck now.” I always thought he made that up...

This day we sat near P. Diddy (then known as Puff Daddy) who sat next to the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Jimmy yelled over,“The two best rappers in New York!” They smiled and waved and I’m sure I heard the Reverend say, “That’s The Duckman.”


Penny Marshall, a huge Yankee fan, was nearby, too. Jimmy introduced us. She posed for a photo with me as she whined about the score.  Jimmy leaned over and used Tom Hanks line from her movie “A League of Her Own”, “There’s no crying in baseball.” She laughed. Jimmy made Penny Marshall laugh. Then she said, “Yeah, I knew I should have cut that line.”


My husband was having a conversation with a celebrity and he didn’t even have to do the fake bump in. Suddenly, I was loving baseball. I had no idea the game was so much fun.


The best was yet to come, though. The game was over and the Yankees had won it 3-1. People in all variations of Yankee wear (and Mets, of course) wear were bopping out of the stadium to Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.”  We get to our car and we are sitting in a maze of cars, vans and limos and there's one frustrated policeman attempting to direct the traffic.


Jimmy jumped out of the car and ran over to help him. As I rolled down the window to yell “What are you doing?” I saw Paul McCartney hop out of his limo and heard him say in that adorable English accent, “I’m going to help the big guy.”


There they stood side by side, my husband and my favorite Beatle, waving their arms like they were conducting an orchastra. The cars began to move.  I stared as Adam Sandler run over to shake Sir Paul’s hand. Because Jimmy seemed to be Paul’s pal he shook his hand, too. Bill Murray appeared and did the same.


I watched Paul McCartney stroll back to his limo, slapped five with my Jimmy, give him the thumbs up, a you're my buddy punch on the shoulder and say to him almost rhythmically “I think it was the duck.”


I went home with a celebrity that day and of course he got lucky that night.

As I write this in my office, in an extra bedroom in my house, on the wall to my left is an 8X10 photo of Jimmy and me standing at the 'seats' at Yankee Stadium with the little duck - the one at the beginning of this entry.  We're both laughing because it's almost too small for the camera to capture.  The actual duck hangs
across that picture secured by a string and a push pin on the wall.

It's all about the memories, now, not just for me, but for all the people who my husband touched with his loud mouth, but mostly with his gentle heart.