By PJ Shelley, Tour and Programming Director
Like many baseball fans, many of my earliest and fondest baseball memories were of going to games with my dad. My old man went to high school on East 164th Street in the South Bronx – two blocks from Yankee Stadium – so you can easily guess the team allegiance in my childhood home. Trips to “The House that Ruth Built” were frequent as I grew up eight miles away across the Hudson River in Teaneck, New Jersey. My first Yankee Stadium memory was watching in awe as Graig Nettles put on a clinic at third-base. I’ve witnessed Jeter walk-offs, Winfield rob a home-run, Bob Sheppard get a plaque in monument park, and a bench-clearing brawl after a pitch nailed Tino Martinez in the back. But there was also a visit from a player on an opposing team that created a memory I’ll never forget. It was the night Manny came home.
Friday, September 3rd, 1993 was my last weekend of summer. I was starting my senior year at Teaneck High School the following Tuesday. My old man scored a pair of tickets to that night’s game against the Indians. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would be one of our last games together at Yankee Stadium as I’d leave for college the following fall and my trips home would become less frequent.
The game started uneventfully; the Indians scored a run in the first. In the top of the second, as they announced Indians’ number six hitter, it seemed as if every fan in our section (and the rest of the stadium) erupted in cheers. My dad and I had no idea what was going on. A group of teenagers in front of us in Yankees’ gear had a large banner that read “Welcome Manny!” Confused, we wondered, what was this blasphemy all around us cheering for an Indian’s player? It was the pre-internet and pre-Yankee “Core Four” dynasty years, so we couldn’t whip out our smart phones to see why so many of the 29,000 in attendance were cheering. Fans were waving flags of the Dominican Republic and singing songs in Spanish. It was the night Manny came home.
Manny Ramirez (pictured below) was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; a hotbed of MLB talent. At the age of 13, he moved to the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan – less than a mile from Yankee Stadium. While Manny and Lou Gehrig both honed their baseball skills on the same baseball fields growing up, Washington Heights was a largely Latino community by the time Manny arrived. After being selected by the Indians in the first round of the 1991 draft, Ramirez was called up in September of 1993. In his first game, he went hitless in the DH spot. His second game, was at Yankee Stadium that evening.
I was already well aware that there were many neighborhoods near Yankee stadium filled with folks obsessed with baseball. One of my best childhood friends was Mike Pagan. Mike was born in Washington Heights to Puerto Rican-born parents and moved to Teaneck – a few houses down the block from me – when he was ten years old. We both lived and breathed baseball, so we bonded quickly playing stickball in our Jersey neighborhood every chance we could. Mike, who still had many relatives in Washington Heights, taught me how obsessed his old neighborhood was with baseball. Step into any corner bodega in the neighborhood, and baseball was the topic of conversation.
I’d later learn that Mike’s mom, who still worked at JHS 143 Eleanor Roosevelt in Washington Heights, had Manny Ramirez as a student at the junior high school. Mike’s mom admitted Manny was a bit of a troublemaker but also a good kid. “All of the neighborhood was proud when he made it to the big-leagues and became an All-Star.” And I think “all of the neighborhood” came out that night. We read in the New York Times the next day how all of Manny’s family, friends, high school teammates and coaches were at the game with us.
So what a thrill it was to happen upon Manny’s homecoming. In his first at bat in the Bronx, he’d face off against Yankee Melido Perez – also born in the Dominican Republic. With a T141, 34.5”, 31 oz. Louisville Slugger, he lined the first pitch over Paul O’Neil’s head in left field and it bounced on the warning track and over the fence for a ground rule double. Yankee Stadium again erupted in cheers. In the excitement, Manny thought it was a home run, so he continued to trot past second and round third before the umpires steered him back toward second. It was classic “Manny being Manny” years before the term was coined. Indians teammate Carlos Baerga came to the top of the dugout smiling and pointing to call out the rookie’s mistake on his first MLB hit.
In the sixth, he got to touch ‘em all as he hit his first actual home run in the bigs. You can imagine the cheers, which don’t usually occur when the opposing team scores. He followed that up with another dinger in the eighth. He finished the night three for four with a double and two home runs as the Indians beat the Yankees 7 – 3.
After the game, outside the stadium, the celebration continued as people were cheering and dancing to merengue music. This game was my dad and my introduction to arguably the greatest right-handed hitter of my generation. Manny would go on to play 19 years in the bigs, and the local kid would go on to beat the Yankees countless more times. Even so, this Yankee fan always had a soft spot for the kid from Washington Heights.