My First Major League Baseball Game

I would have been four, maybe five, but probably four years old. The game certainly took place in 1961.

My father took me and my friend John, who lived across the street in our little neighborhood of new houses on quarter acre lots, to a game at Yankee Stadium.

I remember it was a sunny day. A day game. We drove to the Stadium, and for at least part of it talked about where John had lived before moving to Smithtown, out on Long Island. John grew up in the Bronx, home of Yankee Stadium, and while I don’t remember where he had lived in the Bronx, I do remember that he called the ground outside the floor. That made an impression on me.

This may not have been my first major league baseball game. I could have gone when I was younger, but I have no memories of that game. I would have been two or three, and while I’m sure I was a baseball fan even then, the experience didn’t stick. That is, I have no memory of earlier games.

In the first game I remember, we walked up to the ticket window. My dad always asked what the ticket seller had, and the man or woman would show him a few options. There was a kind of code that passed between them, shorthand grunts this way and that, first base/third base/mezzanine/upper boxes/field boxes, it went on and on. Finally, my dad would say, I’ll take… and the deal was made. It was always like this, going to a game with my dad. In his later years, when I would visit him in Florida, he would ask me what games I’d like to see. I’d tell him I would get tickets online, and he would say nonsense, wanting to drive out to Ed Smith in Sarasota or to the park in Port Charlotte and talk to the guy in the ticket booth about what he had for the day we’d be going. So, while I feel like I remember this happening on that day, I may be superimposing other memories on my first game. But I’m sure this happened.

We sat right behind home plate. In those days, in 1961, you could walk up to the ticket window and walk away with three seats behind home plate, on a teacher’s salary. (My dad was a high school teacher, baseball coach, and graduate student.) My dad had been a high school phenom, signed by the Boston Braves, and played for a year or two for their affiliate the Homer (NY) Braves. He liked sitting behind the plate, he said, because you can see the ball move, you got to see what the hitter sees.

Years later I was at spring training in Port St. Lucie, Florida. It was a day when Jason Isringhausen and Bill Pulsipher were going to throw in a make believe game, to gauge how their rehabs were going. Davey Johnson, the Mets manager, brought a folding chair out onto the field, set up right behind the catcher, just behind where an umpire would set up and watched them play their make believe game from the best seat in the house.

mickey-mantle-roger-maris-signed-photo-bb32eMy memory is that the game I went to with my dad and John was against the Kansas City Athletics. And on that day in the epic year of 1961, when two Yankees had one of the most exciting home run races ever, both Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle hit homers for us.

Maris’s landed in the upper deck out in right field. Not right down the line, but in that little section of boxes from which you could look straight down into the bleachers. Mantle’s blast landed in the bleachers, a little more straight away. My buddy John was a Maris fan and I favorited Mantle, and we argued whose ball went farther. We argued on the drive home, and in my yard and his yard in the days that followed.

My first major league baseball game was a memorable one.

There is one problem. A search of games between the Yankees and Athletics in Yankee Stadium in 1961 shows only one game in which both Mantle and Maris homered. That game took place on June 9. It seemed promising, but June 9 was a Friday and the game didn’t start until the fairly unkidfriendly time of 8:13PM. That wasn’t the game.

That meant that if the opponent really was the Athletics, only Mickey Mantle homered. Maris’s only homer against the As that season at the Stadium was on June 9.

Mantle’s other homers against the Athletics in Yankee Stadium came April 17th (too early in the year), June 10th (a day game, but overcast, he hit his 17th of the year to deep right), and August 2nd, in the second game of a doubleheader. The game started at 4:38pm, and it was overcast, which again doesn’t jibe with my memory.

So, maybe I got the weather wrong, or maybe the other team wasn’t the Athletics.

What other days in 1961 did both Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle each hit a homer in Yankee Stadium?

On June 11th, in the second game of a doubleheader against the newly hatched California Angels, Mickey and Roger each homered off starter Eli Grba, and Maris knocked another off Johnny James. All three homers were to deep right, the weather was cloudy, and game time was 4:56.

In a Saturday day game, on July 1 with a start at 2:04pm, against the Washington Senators, Mantle hit two homers and Maris one. The weather was cloudy, 84 degrees, but both Mantle’s shots were to left field.

The next day, the game started at 2:02pm. It was 92 degrees, cloudy, and Maris hit two to RF, one up the line, giving him 30 for the year. Mantle hit a two-run shot in the eighth to deep right. That’s a possibility, though wouldn’t I remember if Maris had hit two? Elston Howard and Moose Skowron also dinged in that game.

On July 25th, in a Tuesday game that started at 6:04, Mantle and Maris homered at home in the same game for the last time in that historic season. Maris homered twice, Mantle once, and they deadlocked at 38 homers apiece. Whitey Ford ran his record to 18-2 in that game. That’s all of interest, but tells me nothing about my memory except that it it isn’t perfect after 55+ years.

For the time being I think I’ll stick with the July 2 game. It was hot, there were clouds, the Yanks won, and the Senators and Athletics can easily be confused in their haplessness.

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