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I was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1947, the year that Jackie Robinson broke the color line of Major League Baseball. For as long as I can remember, I have passionately loved the game. Like most city and Long Island boys of that era, I played baseball or its derivative street creations such as stickball, punchball, kickball, wiffleball and stoopball almost every day of the spring, summer and fall. We played with innocent and reckless abandon from the early morning when the dew still shimmered on the grass until the twilight when you could barely see the ball. We mimicked radio announcers calling the play by play of our games, screaming "up the middle for a base hit, going going gone, and striiiike three you're outa' here." We also collected, traded, flipped and scaled baseball cards and endlessly discussed the intricacies and strategies of America's favorite game.
My earliest recollection of professional baseball was as a little child sitting in my grandfather's living room, watching a Pittsburgh Pirate/Brooklyn Dodger game on a 9" black and white television screen. At that moment, I could never have imagined the tragedy that I would experience as an adult or how baseball (the game and the object) would provide such an opportunity to help me heal. But that's for later.

Attending a ballgame at Ebbets Field was like visiting a religious shrine. "Dem Bums" were like Greek Gods to us kids. We endlessly debated whether the greatest centerfielder of our time was Duke, Mickey or Willie. One of my most cherished childhood memories is when the Dodgers, after years of futility, finally beat the Yankees in the '55 World Series to win their only world title as a Brooklyn team. Seeing the replay of Bobby Thompson's bottom of the ninth inning "shot heard around the world" winning the '51 pennant for the New York Giants still hurts. The announcer screaming, "the Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant'" was one of the low points of my baseball life as a Dodger fan. Then, they did the unthinkable. In 1958, the franchise broke the heart and soul of Brooklyn by relocating to LA. In 1966,mMy hero, Sandy Koufax, retired. Except for rooting for New York Mets during their Gooden/Strawberry championship run of the 80's, and attending some Met games, I changed my allegiance to the New York Yankees, and have remained loyal all these years.

In the "Bronx Zoo" of the 70's, I was thrilled when Billy's antics, Reggie's lumber, Munson's heroism and Guidry's lightning plowed over opponents and won the World Series in '77 and '78. I suffered through the lean years in the 80's and basked in the glory of the 90's. Through it all, I have remained a true and loyal Yankee fan.

Beyond the game, the players, the diamond and the field, we fans have a particular fascination with the stitched white, leather-covered, baseball. We love to smell it, look at it, touch it, finger it, roll it, hold it, rub it, spit on it, grease it, throw it, catch it, pitch it, hit it, collect it, and have it autographed and encased in a plastic globe for eternity. The remote possibility that one may attend a major league game, and catch a ball in the stands, creates a palpable anticipation throughout the stadium. It doesn't matter who the batter is, how hard he hits the ball, or if it is fair or foul, catching one of those slippery circles, and holding up in the air for all to see, is definitely a source of ecstasy. For me, it took almost forty years of trekking to ballparks to snag, what I then believed, was the ultimate souvenir.

In June of 1986, at Shea Stadium, during a New York Mets/Philadelphia Phillies game--although "catching" the ball is not exactly the way to describe what happened. That day, my family and I were seated in field box seats between home plate and third base. In the top of the third inning, while the visitors were batting, my three children requested that I do a "food run", and I obliged. Of course, everyone else had the same idea, and I stood in line for quite some time. Then, with both hands full of trays of french fries, pizza, ketchup and soda, I turned from the counter and headed back toward the seats. Suddenly, I sensed a lot of commotion, and noticed that several people were screaming and frantically running toward the condiment table and me. I looked down, and there at my feet was a spinning baseball that had been lined foul off the bat of a player and ricocheted its way into the food court. Without a moment of hesitation I dropped the tray to the ground, pouncing on and scooping up the ball. Leaving grumbling, unhappy faces behind, I ran like a ten-year old back to the seats to show my children my trophy. "That's great, dad ", my proud and grinning fourteen-year old joked," but where are the fries. From that moment on, every time I looked at that ball on my son's bookshelf, I was reminded of that moment shared with my three children. I have never regretted dropping that tray.

On Thanksgiving night in 1989, on the way home from dinner, my mother, Alice and two of my children, Blue and Dovee, were killed in a car accident. My youngest son, Noah, and I were severely injured, but had survived the crash. Suffice it is to say that it is a time in my life about which it is still very difficult to write. Fortunately, time, the unconditional love and support of my second wife, Abby, and the subsequent 1994 adoption of a thirteen-month old Russian baby we named Justin, helped to heal Noah and me. Collecting baseball memorabilia, playing baseball with him, being an assistant coach for his minor, major and Babe Ruth teams and taking trips to Yankee Stadium to watch the Bronx Bombers were an important source of comfort during our recovery period. We were even lucky enough to arrange a meeting with Noah's hero, Don Mattingly, who was gracious enough to sign that ball that I had "caught" at Shea a few years before.

The summer of 1998 featured the Marc McGuire and Sammy Sosa homerun derby, which blasted past Babe Ruth and Roger Maris. It was beyond any fans wildest imagination. But, for Yankee fans, it was an even more special and historical, even mystical dream season. The bombers broke the all-time major league record including the post-season when they won 125 games and lost only 50. Due to the longer distance from our new home in Woodstock to the Bronx, we obtained tickets for only two games.

The first game was a shutout win against the Baltimore Orioles. It was Justin's first Yankee game. He was mesmerized by the noise of the crowd and cries of the beer hawkers, the beauty of the field and its diamond centerpiece, and the silent motions of the uniformed men in pinstripes playing the game. I'm not sure how much he actually understood, but, I can say that it was during the seventh inning stretch and the traditional "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" that my son was bitten by the baseball bug.

For the rest of the summer, every shower he took ended with a rendition of that famous song. He couldn't get enough of playing ball with his dad. When he wasn't playing, he watched baseball videos and movies including "Angels in the Outfield," "Sandlot," and "Rookie of the Year." He learned the lingo and to how to play all the positions. He loved to slide into imaginary bases, and he copied all the baseball moves like a pitcher shaking off a sign and a batter tapping the bat on his cleats. Like the Babe, he often pointed his finger to the outfield fence. As a character in one of the videos, he shook his butt and yelled "2,4,6,8, pitcher's got a bellyache." However, none of this behavior could have prepared me for what occurred during the seventh inning stretch of a late September loss against the Cleveland Indians.

With his recently purchased shiny red Wilson glove on his left hand, from the moment we parked in the River Road parking lot, Justin impatiently questioned me over and over when we were going to sing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame." "Soon," I answered a hundred times. Eventually, the middle of the seventh inning arrived. When the organ music began, his tiny smile stretched across the stadium. Our little American citizen stood up on his seat, entangled his body in our arms, and proudly and loudly sang baseball's national anthem.

I cannot describe the emotions that I felt when I looked at my family, frozen in that moment in time, absorbed in the sights, smells and sounds of 50,000 people up on their feet smiling, swaying and singing. I thought of the ketchup-stained autographed baseball in Noah's room, and I felt a deep sense of the connection between the game of baseball, the children I have lost, my present family, and the millions of

fathers, sons and daughters who have shared this special sport. That night, even though I didn't catch a ball, I did go home with the unexpected "souvenir" of realizing why generations of American families have considered baseball to be their "national pastime."
Excuse me, but I have to go now. My son is calling. He wants to play ball.

Dennis Wayne Bressack,
April 20, 2000
Woodstock, NY 12498