“Hey Dad, it’s the fifth inning and he still hasn’t given up a….” I said before I was stopped short.
“Are you crazy??? You’re going to jinx him!” my Dad shot back.
It was a month after my ninth birthday. What the heck did I know? You can jinx a pitcher throwing a no-hitter by talking about it? I didn’t know that on September 4, 1993, but I learned that day you absolutely do not talk about it!
At the time my Dad lived in West Haven, CT and we would take the trip down I-95 to I-87 to go to Yankee Stadium rather frequently. Back in those days, tickets, parking, a hot dog and soda didn’t cost a week’s pay. As always, I was excited to go see the Yankees play. We would listen to WFAN 660 along the way. My Pops always listened to sports radio. He would call me a Goober because I would sing the jingle “Sports radio 66, THE FAN! W-F-A-N, New York!” You guys know what I’m talking about! Anyway...
We were heading to the game that day, without tickets, to see the Yankees take on the Cleveland Indians. It was an afternoon game and "the one-handed pitcher", Jim Abbott, was starting for the hometown Yanks. He was to face a tough lineup that included guys like Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and Sandy Alomar Jr.
To be honest, I never realized how stacked that lineup was. That makes that day that much more special.
The day was, as Abbott put it, “… a cloudy day. A day game, the kind of game I like to throw.” If he liked cloudy day games, he proved it that day.
Yankee Stadium to me is like a grown man’s Cinderella’s Castle. It's
magical. From the big NY behind the plate, to the organ, to the vendors
yelling "Get your hot dogs here!" to the sticky ground from split soda
and beer mixed with peanut shells.
We arrived at the Stadium and had to find some tickets. If my memory serves me right, we bought some tickets off a scalper outside the stadium and he told us we had great seats. Lower level on the third base line. He showed us a seating chart and that sealed the deal. Awesome. Good price, good seats, right?
It turns out we were alittle misled. We were actually out by the left field foul pole...welcome to the Bronx... right?
My Dad wasn't happy, but have no fear though; he was always the master at making his way to better seats! We ended up sitting behind the third base dugout in the lower level under the overhang. They ended up being almost perfect! I remember being nervous because we were pretty close... I was afraid of a foul ball nailing us. My Pops told me not to worry.
Early in the game, Paul O’Neill sliced a foul ball that just missed the protective net and screamed over our heads! But we were alright. No harm, no foul. But if I was nervous before, I was scared as hell right then!
I remember my childhood hero, Don Mattingly manning first base that afternoon. He went 1-3. Donnie Baseball was always my favorite. Still is to this day. I was the bat boy for a youth team my Dad coached when I was about four years old and I wanted to be number 23. My Dad and his friend thought it would be funny, since I was a little guy, to make me number 2/3. Still to this day, people from my hometown of Windsor, CT will occasionally remember me as the bat boy and call me ‘two-thirds”. I’m 30 years old and about once a year someone will bring it up. As goofy as it is, I still enjoy it.
In terms of specifics about the game, I don't remember all that much. Randy Velarde hit a home run and I remember looking at the scoreboard in the fifth and nearly ruining the no-hitter. I recall a great diving play at third base by Wade Boggs to rob the Indians of a hit. Most importantly, I definitely remember the final out.
The whole stadium was on our feet, screaming and cheering for that one final out, as we had done for the final three innings. It was a ground ball off the bat of Baerga, a curve ball down and away. Baerga slapped it to short where Velarde fielded it cleanly and flipped it over to Donnie for the final out. Mattingly then raised his hands in the air as the team rushed to the mound to congratulate Jim Abbott. As Scooter would say, “How do you like that?!”
My Pops and I at Yankee Stadium is always a great day. But the added benefit of seeing Mattingly, a Yankees win and an incredible pitching performance by a man who was born with one hand, well, it was even more incredible. Jim Abbott never made an excuse for why he couldn’t do it. He just went out and did it. It will forever be one of my greatest, special moments of my childhood.
The former first round pick, who made his MLB debut without ever pitching in the minors, had his greatest day on the biggest stage in baseball. With the exception of the five walks Abbott allowed, he was nothing short of spectacular that Saturday afternoon in 1993.
It is a day, I’ll never forget it. Thank you Jim for that day. It was just plain awesome!
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