My Dad, and the Yankees

A proud father with his daughter. (via Stacey Gotsulias)

A proud father with his daughter. (via Stacey Gotsulias)

On the evening of Thursday Sept. 25, 2014, I headed to the 86th Street station on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, which by that day, had become routine for me. My home for the previous two weeks had been a lovely apartment, in a nice, well-kept building on 89th Street. I had spent that time cat sitting for friends who traveled overseas. That was my last night with the felines before I’d be relieved of my duties the next day.

My journey, considered brief for most Manhattanites, was only two subway stops and a four avenue walk. My destination was room 8-537 of Weill-Cornell Medical Center’s burn unit. It had been that way for me since late August when my father was admitted to the hospital after developing Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, a rare and sometimes fatal skin disorder that causes a rash that spreads and blisters. It affects your skin and mucous membranes, so the inside of your mouth, throat and nose can also blister. It is extremely painful and because my father’s case was so severe, he had to be intubated and eventually had a tracheotomy in order to breathe.

By mid-September, my father had fully recovered from the SJS. In fact, he had brand new skin. Every place affected by the burns was replenished and he honestly looked the best he had looked in a very long time, but he unfortunately struggled with pneumonia that had developed in the hospital and was having a hard time shaking it. My father’s lungs were compromised from decades of smoking and every time the doctors thought the pneumonia was clearing, it would flare up again with a vengeance.

As I made my way across 68th Street and got closer to the hospital, I peered up at the sky, relieved that it had cleared because this wasn’t just an ordinary night of visiting my father in the hospital. It was the night of Derek Jeter’s last home game. The weather had been iffy most of the day, and people were worried the game would be delayed or worse yet, called off.

When I reached the hospital’s driveway, I looked up to the window of my father’s hospital room, which you could see as you made your way to the main entrance of Weill-Cornell. Usually when I’d look up, I’d see someone standing in a yellow gown in the window or I’d see my mom’s purse pressed up against the window seat. That evening I only saw some extra pillows and blankets.

I smiled and said, “Hello,” as I flashed my ID to the security guards in the lobby and made my way through the labyrinth of hallways, because who better to watch Derek Jeter’s last home game with than the man who introduced me to and helped me fall in love with the game of baseball and with the New York Yankees?

I’m not sure how old I was when I first started watching sports on TV, but I think I am safe in assuming that I was extremely young—more than likely as little as a few weeks or months old—and it was all my dad’s fault. I was the first born, and a daddy’s girl, so whatever daddy watched, I watched. This would include shows like Barney Miller, Chico and the Man, Sanford and Son and All in the Family, and it would also include New York sports. All of them. Because even though my dad’s allegiances were with the Yankees, Giants, Rangers and Knicks, he also watched the Islanders, Jets, Mets and Nets (then of New York and the American Basketball Association.) We even watched Bowling for Dollars together. If something sports related was on — golf, horse racing, soccer, bowling, etc. — you would find my dad watching it. And while I still watch nearly all of those sports as an adult, none of them captured my heart, or bonded us, quite as much as the game of baseball.

When I was born, in August 1974, home was a one-bedroom pre-war apartment in upper Manhattan. Dad worked for New York Telephone and mom worked, up until a few weeks before my birth, in the bursar’s office at City College. For those first few months, I lived in my parents’ room so I was definitely exposed to sports early on.

Nine months later, in May 1975, we moved into a bigger apartment in the same building and it was in that new apartment where my love for sports would blossom.

My first bedroom was kelly green, and because I was so young at the time, I don’t remember the actual move into the apartment on the first floor, but I do remember that bedroom because I lived there until I was four years old. It had a corner window which overlooked the back entrance to the building’s lobby and West 215th Street. It also had a view of the Henry Hudson Bridge and further in the distance, the Palisades and New Jersey, but only if you sat in just the right spot, directly in the corner of the window.

I mention this because my room was next to the living room. Instead of serving as a dining room, the space was converted into a second bedroom. It had two doors — one that led into the hideously bright carrot orange 1970s kitchen and the other that had two steps down into the not-as-bright, beige, sunken living room.

I remember lying awake at night and hearing crowd noise from the television set.

Sometimes dad would retreat into my parents’ bedroom to watch so he wouldn’t wake me, but other times he’d lie on the couch or sit in his black leather recliner and watch from the living room. I’d occasionally sit with him in that recliner, right on his lap. Because I was so little, I’d get to watch only snippets of games when they were on at night. As I got older, the time we spent together watching sports grew longer and I began to actually like what I was seeing.

Pickled Tink in Portland
The Pickles are a dilly of a team, even though they're not professional.

Dad played softball with his telephone company buddies when we still lived in Manhattan. There was a park right across the street from our apartment with a few fields, so I’d watch him play in his blue jeans — or dungarees as he liked to call them — and his Pumas. He usually pitched, a beer can within reach.

My dad’s love for baseball began when he was young boy, growing up in the Bronx. His parents were Greek immigrants who came to America because that’s what everyone did back in those days. My Papou and Yia Yia are both forever immortalized at Ellis Island; their names etched into stone for people to look at when they visit. I never met my Yia Yia; she passed away in 1965 when Dad was stationed in the Army in Fairbanks, Alaska—a full nine years before I was born and two years before my parents even met. And I only have vague memories of my Papou, who passed away in 1980 when I was five.

Dad attended his first game in the late 1940s and would go to both Yankees and Giants games while he was growing up. His namesake, my great Uncle Gus, was a diehard New York (baseball) Giants fan and would take my father to the Polo Grounds with the hopes of converting him into a Giants fan, but my father’s heart would always remain with the Yankees. He’d tell us stories about how my Yia Yia would give him a bag lunch so he’d have something to eat while he sat in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium as a kid.

Growing up, my brother James and I were in awe of dad’s almost-encyclopedic knowledge of the game. Not just the ins and outs of the sport itself, but of the teams and players. We loved merely mentioning players from the 1950s and ’60s because my father would not only say, “I remember him,” he’d go on to list which teams he played for and who he was traded for along with his position and handedness. He was Baseball-Reference before Baseball-Reference existed.

Dad also liked to tease me for being the only member of my immediate family to have been born in a non-World Series winning year for the Yankees – he was born in 1941, my mom in 1947 and my brother in 1978. He especially loved to tease me because not only was I born in a year when the Yankees didn’t make the playoffs, 1974, but I was born during one of the two seasons when they played in Shea Stadium because Yankee Stadium was undergoing renovations.

This teasing actually led to a piece I wrote a few years back about my entire family—aunts, uncle, cousins and grandparents included. I wanted to see how many of them were born in a year when the Yankees won the World Series. The most amusing thing was that I didn’t tell my father I was even writing the piece and when I asked him what year his sister Tina was born, he answered, “1939. The Yankees won the World Series.” Typical Dad. I just shook my head, giggled, and kept on writing.

In 1983, when I was three weeks shy of my ninth birthday, my dad finally took me to Yankee Stadium. I remember being irked because it had taken him so long to bring me to a baseball game and I felt, even back then, that if I were a boy, I would probably have been taken to a game much earlier. But that feeling dissipated the moment I walked into the Stadium. Seeing a stadium in person is worlds apart from seeing it on a TV screen. The colors are much more vivid in real life—the green field looks smaragdine and the blue padded walls are almost ultramarine—and the smell of popcorn and hot dogs is pungent, but not in an sickening or awful way. It’s just there, hanging in the air to let you know that you’re at a ballpark.

We attended a doubleheader that hot summer day. The Yankees were playing against the Toronto Blue Jays and I was thrilled because I was finally seeing live baseball and because my dad also invited a few of my friends along, including the boy I had a crush on. The Yankees swept—Ron Guidry pitched a complete game in the first game and we talked with Dave Winfield between games—and that experience started my real love affair with the New York Yankees, which has lasted much longer than any other relationship in my life.

I wasn’t allowed to play baseball or softball when I was growing up because I was born with eye issues. I have monocular vision. My right eye dominated my left eye and in turn, caused my left eye to become lazy. Add to that the fact that I was a righty, having a ball pitched to me when my left eye could barely see would have been a recipe for disaster. My mother envisioned me getting beaned all the time. But that still didn’t stop my dad from giving me a baseball glove, buying me sets of baseball cards, and playing catch with me from time to time.

Instead of playing baseball or softball, I attended lots and lots of Little League games because dad was a coach. He coached my friends and eventually my brother when he was  old enough to play. My dad wasn’t the most patient coach. His yelling was pretty infamous, but he made the kids better players and to this day, the guys my dad coached all those years ago will still talk about how he’d hit ground balls to them with a lit cigarette in his mouth.

Once he had taken me to my first games, Dad always found a way to take us to the Stadium. At one game the following summer, I had talked my friend Theresa into yelling, “Don, we love your butt!” at Don Mattingly while he was manning first base. Our seats were just beyond first so he definitely heard us and he even turned his head slightly in our direction. He was probably horrified at the sound of two little girls admiring his tush. As soon as we did it, I tensed up because I figured my dad would start yelling at me. Instead, he shook his head and laughed. As did most of the adults in our section.

My relationship with my dad evolved as I got older. We had the usual ups and downs most fathers and daughters do, especially during my teenage years, and we weren’t as close as we had been when I was younger, and we never agreed politically as I grew into adulthood, but even through those rough times, and occasional heated arguments, we still had baseball to bond us together.

One Tuesday afternoon in 1996, he called the house to ask me if I wanted to go to that night’s Yankees game. I had just gotten back from school and was both physically and emotionally drained after finals week. I wasn’t returning to my job at a local golf course until later in the week and had barely left my bedroom for the two days I was home. I told him that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do anything. He said that I didn’t have to decide at that second. That he would come from work and if I wanted to go to the game, we’d go.

I decided at 5:30 that evening that yes, I’d like to go. I hadn’t been to a game all season and hadn’t really been able to watch any games while upstate at school, only highlights on ESPN.

That night was May 14, 1996. We ended up attending Dwight Gooden’s no-hitter. It was a very enjoyable way to get back into watching live baseball after a long hiatus.

To this day, I tell everyone that being in the Stadium that night was like watching a movie. It almost didn’t seem real. I watched as Gooden’s teammates were carrying him off the field; he raised his arms in the air and it still felt like I was watching it on a screen somewhere. I just couldn’t believe what we had experienced. After a few moments, my dad, who was standing to my right turned to me and said, “Aren’t you glad you came?” I recall nodding my head a few times before I was able to actually reply, “Yes.”

Dad and I had quite a few baseball moments together. Some were funny. Like the time, during the 2004 American League Championship Series, before the infamous collapse, when “Lean Back” by Terror Squad, Fat Joe and Remy Ma was playing and I said, “Daddy, lean back.” I showed him what to do and after a few moments of temporary confusion, he mimicked me. Unfortunately, this was before the advent of YouTube and the memory of it only exists in my mind, but I can guarantee you that if you had witnessed my 63 year-old Greek father leaning back, you would have doubled over with laughter.

Some moments were fraught with nerves, like, all of the other playoff games we attended together. My favorite of those games was one we attended alone when my brother was still at school.

Dad had called me up at work and asked me if I wanted to go to the game that night. For some people, it was going to be a typical Monday night in October, but for Yankees fans, it would be a pull-your-hair-out, nauseating Monday night because they would be watching their team in a do-or-die Game Five against the Oakland Athletics in the 2001 Division Series.

A few days earlier we were at the Stadium for Game Two with my two cousins. It was the night President Bush addressed the nation about what was happening in Afghanistan and they showed his speech on the Diamond Vision screen in right center field. We watched uncomfortably as our President was talking about attacking enemies and things didn’t get any more pleasant, as Oakland would take a commanding 2-0 series lead back to the Bay. Well, I was uncomfortable and downtrodden, but Dad wasn’t. He believed the Yankees would win the series.

We watched the next two games on TV together, Dad on the couch and me on the chair across from him in our den. Those were our typical positions. We also watched Jim Abbott’s no-hitter eight years earlier from those positions. When Derek Jeter made “The Flip,” it was only the second time in my entire life that I had witnessed my father jump out of his chair while watching a sporting event. (The first time was in May 1993 when John Starks dunked on the Chicago Bulls.) My dad, again, after Jeremy Giambi was called out, proclaimed, “The Yankees are definitely winning the series. Oakland’s done.”

On that October Monday afternoon, I smiled as I picked up my work phone and before I could even finish saying, “Hi, Daddy,” he was already asking, “Hey Stace, do you want to go to the game tonight?”

On a normal, run of the mill, regular season day, I would have jumped at the chance and said yes within milliseconds, but this was a do or die game. If the Yankees lost, the season was over. And did I want to be in Yankee Stadium, surrounded by a bunch of strangers while I cried about my team losing? On the other hand, if the Yankees won, they’d be moving on to the ALCS and it would be my first time seeing them clinch a playoff series in person.

It was a conundrum. And while it may seem like it took me 10 minutes to answer him, it actually only took about 10 seconds. We met by the bat at 6:30. The bat is a 138-foot exhaust pipe modeled after a Louisville Slugger that stood outside of the main entrance at the old Stadium and served as a meeting point for everyone.

The Yankees won the game that night and moved on to play the Seattle Mariners in the ALCS. I will always treasure my memories of that game because it was just me and my dad, like it was when I was little. As usual, he was cool, calm and collected throughout the game; i.e., my polar opposite. While he kept reassuring me that the Yankees would win, I was rocking back and forth nearly the entire time. I was so nervous I even turned down an offer for peanuts, which I hardly ever did. I always envied my dad’s ability to always believe that the Yankees would win no matter what the odds. I didn’t get that gene.

I left the hospital after watching Jeter’s walk-off single replayed a few more times and headed back to the apartment, where I watched the encore of the game and stayed up until an ungodly hour.

My poor dad had a fever that night and barely lasted until the second inning. He did get to see Jeter’s double in the first inning and he even pointed up at the TV when Jeter made it safely into second base. I held his hand while he slept and watched the game.

At one point during the later innings of the game, Dad woke up and looked a little agitated. He tried grabbing at his trache tube and I had to tighten his restraints because the nurse assigned to him was nowhere to be found. I told him that he couldn’t do that because it was helping him breathe and he looked at me, nodded slightly, and then blinked a couple of times. He then relaxed, leaned back, put his head back onto his pillow and fell asleep.

It was the last time we’d ever make eye contact.

The next morning, before I arrived at the hospital, my dad coded. The doctors were able to bring him back, but he’d never be the same. We didn’t find out until a few days later that the brain damage he had suffered was catastrophic and irreversible. He would never be my dad again and we had a choice to keep him going as he was, on life sustaining machines, or to let him pass away. And just over a week after I watched Derek Jeter’s last home game, I watched as the man who introduced me to baseball took his last breath in that same hospital, on Oct. 3, 2014 at 6:48 p.m. It was peaceful, it was quiet and in a way, it was beautiful. We were able to be with him and hold his hand during his last moments on Earth. He passed away surrounded by his wife, his children, his sister, one of his nieces and one of his nephews.

A few months before he passed away, I walked up to my dad early on a Sunday morning, with my laptop in hand and showed him the main baseball page of a major sports website. I had been assigned a piece the night before and it was published while he slept. I said, “Did you ever think you’d see our crazy Greek last name on ESPN?” He smiled and I said, “Thank you.” He asked me why I was thanking him and said, “It’s because of you that I’m this crazy about baseball, and you’re the reason why I write about it.” He shook his head and said, “Nah, it’s all because of you.”

No, daddy, it’s all because of you.


Stacey Gotsulias is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on ESPN.com, USA Today online and FanRag Sports. She currently writes for Baseball Prospectus and is an author of The Hardball Times. Follow her on Twitter @StaceGots.
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Trace Juno
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Trace Juno

Thank you.
Welling up reading the Hardball Times. Can’t say I knew that one before.

Logan
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Logan

Great story. Great writing style.

Sam
Guest

Beautiful piece, Stacey! Thank you for sharing your memories with us.

Raphael Adams
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Raphael Adams

Just finished reading your beautiful story. Hope no one in the office sees before I can get the tears out of my eyes.
Your father was a very lucky man.

Rockdog
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Rockdog

Beautiful. You were lucky to have each other. Thank you for sharing.

hopbitters
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hopbitters

Thanks for sharing. From whatever age you start remembering, I always watched the games with my father (back in those days, WPIX reached all the way to central CT). I was often rescued from my bedtime with the “I’ll go to bed at the end of the inning” ploy, followed by “but they’re just up/down by one…”, etc.

Andrea
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Andrea

“No, Daddy, it was because of you.”

Me, too.

And how lucky do I feel to have gotten to sit in the seats that Gus got, next to you, and watch the games? Those were the best seats ever, and I had so many good times in them.

Thank you, Gus. Your daughter is a total doll, and I love her dearly.

Gus is up in heaven, beaming with pride about you, Stacey. So glad I’ve gotten to share a piece of this love.

Charlie Ricker
Guest
Charlie Ricker

I’m blubbering like a baby reading this, what a beautiful piece of writing. It keeps things in perspective, thank you Stacey.

Flash
Guest
Flash

Oh man, there’s so much pepper in this room I’m in. Whew, making my eyes water. Yep, lots of pepper. I thoroughly enjoyed the article, appreciate you sharing your passion with all of us.

Janielle
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Janielle

I could not love this piece more if I tried. Beautifully written, from your heart and you painted such a vivid picture of your unique and amazing dad. I was lucky to have known him and you honor his memory with every word that you write Stacey! Xo

David Young (@DavidYoungTBLA)
Guest

Thank you Stacey. Thank you Gus.

John doonan
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John doonan

Thank you

Don Schalk
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Don Schalk

What a beautiful story. It brought back memories of my Dad and our bond because of baseball. Thanks for sharing.

Luuuc
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Luuuc

Oh God I’m glad my office has a door.

Phillies113
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Phillies113

This was absolutely beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing this story.

It is awfully dusty in here all of a sudden…

Orvil Hazelton
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Orvil Hazelton

Thank you for sharing your loving memories. I vividly remember holding the hands of my own father and grandfather and toddling into the stadium to watch the old Hollywood Stars. A few years later the Dodgers came to town, beginning a lifelong love affair with Big Blue. More than a half century on I still coach the team from high up in the stands, nervously shelling peanuts while my Los Angeles Dodgers win or lose on the whim of those with far less experience than I.

Jennifer
Guest

You got me. Beautiful piece, filled with wit and love. I feel honored to be a tiny part of the story. Your dad would be thrilled at how you’ve continued and excelled in writing — it is because of you!
xo

Stacey
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Stacey

Thanks for your kind words, everyone. I really appreciate them.

Wes Yee
Guest

This is wonderful Stacey.

Mike L
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Mike L

Nice. There’s just something about baseball and families. Brings back memories of my mother, fierce and devoted Yankee fan, who had an uncanny ability to cause strange things when she took us to games. You must miss him–I imagine he’d be more than a little proud.

Jaime M.
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Jaime M.

I share so many parallels and sentiments with you. I have a similar relationship with my dad – he is responsible for my love of baseball & the Yankees. What a touching piece, you brought me to tears. Remember the great memories you have and know that your dad is always with you, especially when you are watching the Yanks.

Gracy Ford
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Gracy Ford

My heart is filled with all sorts of emotions, Stacy. You are such a great writer. I lived every moment with you. Thank you. I, too, am a daddy’s girl. I learned to love baseball because of him, but he let me play in junior high and now it is my turn to watch the man who taught me most everything, decline in health at 88. We will forever have our memories. Big hug from: Gracy.

Phil
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Phil

As a die-hard Yanks fan born and raised in St Louis….I truly love your story of you and your father brought together by the greatest franchise in all of sports. Thank you for sharing

Frank
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Frank

I, also, was 9 years old when I went to my first Yankee game (1962), and your description of the colors and smells of the stadium brought back those beautiful memories of that wonderful night. Great article. Thank you.

Rich Dunstan
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Rich Dunstan

Finally got to read this. Wonderful. Thanks.

ERIK JOHNSON
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ERIK JOHNSON

Hey Stacey, just read this. Tears in my eyes looking at the picture of you and Gus. I remember those days. I would come over after little league games. Your mom would make me something to eat, just like she did two weeks ago and I would hold you if you were awake. Sitting in Gus’s lazy boy I would watch tv and sneak a look at your dad’s playboys hidden behind it. If “The Greek” was in the room everyone knew it. Great article, keep writing.

Love ya,

Erik