Lacing up at the Cathedral a rare experience
This afternoon, I donned my trusty Bauers and skated to center ice at Yankee Stadium. That's not a sentence too many people will ever get to say. But since the NHL started the tradition of playing games outdoors, it has also become customary to allow the media a chance to skate on the ice in the days surrounding the game.
No one ever believes me when I tell them it was my grandfather, Yogi Berra, who got me into hockey, and his retired No. 8, visible from every part of the rink, was a visual reminder of that fact.
Grampa is a huge sports fan, and he loves his hometown teams from St. Louis; none more than his beloved Billikens. As a kid, he longed to be a Cardinal, and he was also a fan of the St. Louis Flyers, a minor league hockey team that played its games in a rink across from Forest Park. Gramp even skated with them a few times during the baseball offseason; the photo above made it into the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Grampa got a call the next day from then-Yankees general manager George Weiss: "You better get your [rear end] off them skates," Weiss said.
In 1982, Gramp's longtime buddy John J. McMullen brought the Colorado Rockies to the Garden State and renamed them the New Jersey Devils. (McMullen also owned the Houston Astros.) I was 5 when Gramp first took me to a game, and as a kid, I would regularly visit what was then called the Brendan Byrne Arena (now the IZOD Center) in East Rutherford, N.J., to watch hockey games with both of my grandparents. Around the same time, my mom taught me to skate.
I went on to play boys' hockey in high school and men's club hockey in college. I was even the captain of the boys' varsity team during my senior year of high school. (I was never as good as my Uncle Dale, though; he was a four-year All-State hockey player in high school.) I remember being hit during a game my grandparents came to watch, and I bruised my tailbone, which is pretty painful. I was cursing a blue streak as a teammate helped me off the ice, and I was horrified to see my grandparents waiting on the other side of the glass. Gram was appalled. Grampa, though? He was laughing his head off.
As a member of the media, I've been lucky enough to skate in some pretty amazing places: Joe Louis Arena, the old Maple Leaf Gardens and Wrigley Field, to name a few. I even had the opportunity to play in Wayne Gretzky's fantasy camp, during which I shamelessly hooked legendary defenseman Paul Coffey and scored a few goals off feeds from the Great One himself. So when given the chance to skate at Yankee Stadium with the rest of the media following the NHL's two Stadium Series games at the House that Ruth Built, there was no way I was going to say no.
Yankee Stadium has seen a lot of things. Of course, there have been all of those World Series championships, but ballgames are supposed to take place in ballparks.
Football, not as much, but Yankee Stadium was the site of Knute Rockne's legendary "Win one for the Gipper" speech in 1928, and the 1958 NFL championship, which is often called "The Greatest Game Ever Played."
Pope Paul VI said Mass at Yankee Stadium in 1965. Nelson Mandela visited shortly after being released from prison in 1990. Thirty championship fights have been fought there, featuring Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali. The ballpark has hosted rock concerts and even the circus.
But never had Yankee Stadium -- this one, or the old one -- hosted a hockey game before last Sunday afternoon.
On Thursday, I got to take a few turns around that pretty sheet of ice stretching across that famous infield underneath that iconic façade.
Not even Grampa can say he did that.