Editor's Note: Barnegat resident Andrew Gibson remains a true Yankees fan. For Andrew, it doesn't need to be spring or summer to think baseball. In this guest column, Andrew shares a story that will surely leave you hanging with thoughts of how it all really ended.
Capture a moment On a late summer afternoon in the early evening, a black Chevy pick-up truck comes roaring through the side streets of a small New Jersey shore town. The truck is loud because it has no muffler or tail pipes. The windows are rolled all the way down because it does not have a working air conditioner. Meanwhile, the bed of the truck is scratched from hauling loads of scrap metal; the right rear side is dented from a hit-and-run accident several years back. The bumper is also bent, and the back window has been replaced by Plexiglas.
The town is quiet this time of year because most of the tourists had gone back home, and all the kids were going back to school soon. The sky is a pretty light blue, with a slight tinge of orange and raspberry red. There is one tiny white cream puffed shaped cloud sitting just above the setting sun. It is 90° or so, and the hot summer sun is refusing to set.
The pick-up pulls around the sports complex behind the elementary school, passing the football and soccer fields. The vehicle comes to a stop in the fire lane right besides the baseball diamond where the local high school varsity team had lost a heart breaker to their crosstown rivals just a month before. The truck is parked in the long shadow of the flagpole near a deserted snack stand. The motor remains running and the humming from the engine echoes off the brick school building and a few seagulls disperse because of the commotion.
A squirrel is frantically deciding whether to eat the piece of bread he found in the dumpster he's sitting on, or duck back inside it for cover. It all happens so quickly. As the passenger side door of the truck swings open, out jumps an eight-year-old boy. His name is Andy. He is wearing his Little League baseball gear. From toes, to earlobes, plus a hat, he is dressed like a real New York Yankee. He has his brown baseball glove in his right hand and his bat in his left.
The young boy trots onto the field and begins tossing the ball up in the air to himself. The grass in the infield is long. It hasn't been cut since the season ended. The grounds in the outfield are no longer green and has many burn marks. The bases have all been removed and put in storage. Andy takes to marking an "X" in the dirt where the bases should be.
The field is very large. It has a fence that creates a barrier between the outfield and the road about 100 yards away from home plate. Some local businesses have signs hung along the fence. Andy likes to take in the high school games, and sometimes his mom will allow him to stay after school to watch. Andy had only ever seen one boy hit a home run on this field.
The backstop is a giant metal cage that is half rusted out and bent. There are two dugouts, and they are littered with paper cups and sunflower seed shells. The driver of the truck, Andy's father, still sitting in the truck, was listening to the baseball game on the radio. He shuts off the truck, and joins his son on the field. Dad is about fifty years old. He is a tall and strong man. Andy's father has rough hands and scars on his legs and arms from doing construction all his life. He is wearing green cargo shorts, a Yankees T-shirt with the number two on the back, and an old pair of flip-flops, that had almost as many years, and miles as the truck did.
As Andy runs from base to base, and kicks dust into the air, his father unpacks the red lawn chair, blue igloo cooler, and his radio from the bed of the truck. The radio is gray with three big silver knobs. It has a tape deck that doesn't work, and it has no antenna. A bulky piece of tinfoil limps over the top of the carrying handle to replace it. The radio only has one speaker, and it only gets one station. The father flips on the power button to the on position, and he fiddles with the tuning knob until all the static is gone. He hears the baritone voice of the commentator he has listened to for almost 30 years.
"What's the score now dad?” Andy asks, as he fixes his hat to a comfortable position on his head that desperately need a haircut. His mother let him grow it out over the summer, but he knows it will all be gone when school starts up in a few weeks.
"The Yanks are still losing buddy." The dad replies, as he kicks off his flip-flops. “Alright, let's see what you got.”
Andy, now standing on the front of the pictures mound, hurls the ball, and it makes a loud smacking sound as it hits his father's glove.
"Nice," Andy's father says. He tosses the ball back to Andy, and it hits the top tip of his glove, and rolls out into the outfield.
"Keep your eye on the ball dude." His dad chuckles a little, as he reaches into the cooler for a beer. Andy slaps his glove and takes off after the ball. His dad opens the beer, and takes a big sip. He walks over to the radio, and turns it up a little louder.
Andy, now back on the mound, throws the ball back, again making a loud thud. "Whoa! “His father takes his left hand out of the glove and rubs his palm. "Pretty soon we are going to have to start calling you Andy Pettitte.” The father throws the ball back. As Andy catches it, he smiles at the compliment.
"Who is up now?" Andy asks. "Gardner. Jeter is on deck.” His dad walks back to the radio and adjusts the big knob again. He finishes his beer with a long chug, wipes off his chin, then crumples the can and tossed into the cooler. Andy's father takes out another beer, opens it, and has another long sip.
The son throws the ball in, and says, "Throw me a high fly one, Dad.”
“Alright, here you go." Andy's father arches his arm back and sends the ball soaring into the endless blue sky. The young boy gets under it, placing his hand in front of his eyes to shield the sun. He catches the ball. His father smiles at his son.
Andy started playing baseball when he was five years old; his dad taught him everything he knew. Andy's father was a big Yankees fan and naturally, so was Andy. His father listened to every game that he could on the radio. He liked to listen to the games on the radio rather than watching them on TV. On the radio, the announcers were more poetic, and they described the drama of the game in such a way that it made him feel like he was actually there in Yankee Stadium. It was as if he was sitting in the bleachers waiting to catch a homerun or a foul ball.
The father and son would listen to the games together when they were doing yard work or cooking dinner. And, whenever they were in the truck, the game was on. When the Yankees made the playoffs, it didn't matter if it was a school night. Dad would wake Andy up, so they could listen to the last inning of the World Series together.
"Okay, Jeter is up. Come on over here. Let's see if he can do it." Andy runs over to his dad, and sits in the lawn chair. His father gave him a scolding look, and Andy popped up and smiles, saying "Just kidding. " The father sits down, and takes a sip of his drink. "You're too young to be sitting," Andy's dad tells him. "You haven't earned it yet."
"Do you think he'll do it today dad?" "You never know, but I hope he does." They are both hoping that their favorite player, Derek Jeter, would make his 3000th career hit. Andy had grown up listening to Derek Jeter. Derek Jeter was Andy's hero.(Other than his dad of course.)
Just then, a crack of a bat, and the announcer started screaming. "There it goes... It is high...It is far..." "Here we go Andy...this is it." The father turns the radio all the way up. The announcer bellows "It is gone." Derek Jeter just hit a game-tying homerun for his 3000th career hit.
Andy takes off laughing and smiling. He throws his glove and hat into the air, and starts running around the bases as if he had just hit the homerun. The young boy dances in the base path, and waves to the empty field. He imagines himself running the bases in Yankee Stadium.
Andy still hear the radio. He can hear the fans at the ballpark screaming, and pretends that the crowd is cheering for him. As Andy rounds third-base, he can hear the announcer say “Isn't it amazing, that a man can capture a moment like that?"
The horror comes when Andy passes third base. He realizes his father is slumped over in a heap on the ground next to home plate.
The young boy runs to his father. "Dad?"
No response. “Dad?"
Andy reaches for the cell phone in his father's pocket and dials 911.