There are not many absolute truths in life. I can tell you that I am sure of a couple. The earth is round, the north won the Civil War, and I was born a Yankee fan. While I may not remember my earliest years, photographs show that I was clad in Yankee gear from a very young age and I have been told that among my first spoken words was "Mattingly". Perhaps it came out as "Maggiggee", but the evidence speaks for itself. I remember rushing to finish my homework by 7 to watch Yankee games on either WPIX Channel 11 or MSG. The piercing sound of Phil Rizzuto's voice and his "holy cow!" call were staples of my childhood, as well as the calming commentary from Bobby Mercer. At this point in time, I came to experience another Yankee vocal legend, Bob Sheppard.
When any kid attends his first Yankee game, the excitement can be felt by everyone around him. Of course, that excitement wasn't shared by anyone else, as I attended my first game during one of the darkest times in Yankee history. The year was 1991 and the Yankees were proverbial losers at this point, failing to win even 75 games that year. The team's best pitcher was Scott Sanderson and the lineup featured such Yankee legends as Mel Hall and Jesse Barfield. Still, I attended the game in hopes of feeling the magic my family told me about. The Michaelangelen beauty of the field appeared to me as I stepped foot through our gate for the first time. I breathed the summer air and gazed out over the green pasture towards the blue walls and into Monument Park. I dreamed of one day having my plaque featured there, as it was still possible in my young mind to play amongst these adonises of the baseball genre. Amidst all the sights was the sound of one voice: "Welcome to Yankee Stadium" it said, though I didn't think anything of it. All I knew was that I was in the presence of my heroes.
Of course, the Yankees lost that day (it was pretty common back then), but I was hooked like a bass on a fishing line. No matter what else was going on in my life, the Yankees would always be there for me. However, I would soon find out that being there for me meant changing over time, and some changes were a lot more difficult than others.
Going to games every year, I had to adjust to players coming and going. Luckily, change was positive at first, as childhood dreams became reality. The Yankees delivered 4 World Series championships in a period of 5 years. But all good things come to an end, and when Luis Gonzalez delivered the bloop single in game 7 of the 2001 World Series, the dynasty was over, and so too was the new Sheppard opening "Welcome to Yankee Stadium, Home of the 2000 World Champion New York Yankees".
In an effort to recapture the magic of those championship years, the names and faces of the organization began to change at a pace about as frantic as a typical day on Wall Street. No matter who donned the pinstripes, us fans continued to hope that the motley crew of that year would be the 25 to return to the promised land. Through it all, Sheppard was there to annunciate each and every name over the loudspeaker. He was the constant, a reminder of the better days of Yankee baseball even in the darkest of times.
I wasn't there for Sheppard's last game in 2007. It would have been an honor to do so, as by that time, I was old enough to appreciate and understand Sheppard's place in Yankee lore. It's almost fitting that the Yankees played their final season in the original Yankee stadium the next year, as the stadium somehow felt a little emptier without Mr. Sheppard around.
As I watch my Yankees today, I come to realize how far they have come in my lifetime. However, when I think of my fondest Yankee moments, they come from the great teams of the late 90's. From the gritty players, the calming manager, the passionate radio and television broadcasters, that time period is something I will never forget. Despite all the struggles thereafter, I was always reminded of those glory days when I heard the voice of Bob Sheppard. For some reason, hearing his voice at the beginning of games always gave me hope that the Yankees were destined to win.
I remember when Mickey Mantle died and the Yankee nation wept. The same went for Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, and Bobby Mercer. As every legend went down, Bob Sheppard asked us to rise to remember these great men. What even Sheppard himself didn't realize was that his place in Yankee history is equal to those who accomplished so much on that baseball diamond in the Bronx. From 1951-2007, Sheppard was the voice of Yankee Stadium, and for me, he was the voice of hope and a reminder of the best years of my baseball watching life. He has been called "the voice of g-d" and perhaps now, he is up in heaven saying "now batting..............numba 1.....................g-d.....................numba 1". I think even g-d would appreciate the honor of being introduced by Bob Sheppard.