Well, Yankee Stadium is now history, which means at this date, that Golden Retriever Laramie and Jane Lang have probably made their last journey there.
I have not known too many diehard baseball fans, but can understand that going to a game is almost akin to family rituals such as getting together for a holiday dinner.
Morris Plains fan’s every visit a result of teamwork
By Steve Politi, The Star-Ledger, September 14, 2008
NEW YORK — The doors to the D Train open at 161st and River Avenue and they step onto the platform, one unlikely Yankees fan guiding another through the dense game-day crowd.
Laramie leads the way. Jane Lang follows at his side. They walk up a stairwell to the street and past the vendors lined up alongside the famous ballpark. They circle around to Gate 4, where Laramie stops in front of his favorite tree. He has earned a quick bathroom break.
“Isn’t this place something?” Lang asks when they finally make their way to her seats behind home plate. This is a spot that gives her an ideal view of the old ballpark, from the famous facade that looms in the outfield to the infield grass that is always a perfect shade of green.
Except she has never seen Yankee Stadium — at least not in the way most fans have. Jane Lang is blind. Laramie, a golden retriever, is her guide dog. For the past eight years, they have made the trip from their home in Morris Plains to the Bronx too many times to count.
And one week from today, along with 55,000 other fortunate fans, they will make it for the final time. “I am very sad about it. I love it here,” Lang said. She is wearing a light-blue Derek Jeter T-shirt and dangly Yankees earrings, and Laramie has curled up on a Yankees beach towel spread at her feet. “The minute I step into Yankee Stadium, I feel safe. “I feel home.”
Yankee Stadium means something different to every fan who has walked through its gates since 1923. The first time Lang made this trip, she gripped the metal bar in front of her seat, heard those familiar sounds of batting practice and beer vendors, and couldn’t stop her tears.
“What are you crying for?” the usher asked her. “We haven’t even lost the game yet!” “I’m crying,” Jane Lang said, “because I got here on my own.”
That first journey was not without an unintentional detour. She had filled her pockets with eight pieces of candy, one for each stop the D Train would make, and popped one into her mouth every time the doors opened.
But she must have dropped one piece along the way, because she got off one stop too soon. It didn’t take long to figure out that something was wrong, though. Laramie wouldn’t budge until she got back on the train.
He leads her around puddles in the street and past careless teenagers talking on their cell phones as they walk. He makes sure she stops on every corner and waits for the light to turn green.
He walks like a typical New Yorker, never hesitant to bump his way through a slow-moving crowd. Lang follows at his right side, whispering “good boy” when he stops at the subway stairs or near the edge of a ramp.
It is a two-hour trip that could test the nerves of a person with 20/20 vision. Lang, 65, makes it about 25 times a year, sometimes with her husband Pete to help, but often just with Laramie. “You can’t be afraid,” Lang said, “because if you’re afraid, you can’t do anything.”
She has experienced Yankee Stadium in a way unlike any of the millions of people who have come here. She has listened to the radio broadcast of the game in one ear and the reaction from the crowd in the other. If the other fans get angry about a call, she joins them. “Hey, ump!” she’ll yell from her seat. “Are you watching the same game I’m watching?”
Pete planned a special surprise for their 41st wedding anniversary, leading her onto the field before a game and into the Yankees dugout where Jorge Posada was waiting for her. She reached up and felt his face. “He has such a great smile, he really does,” she said. “And he hit a home run that day!”
She was sitting next to Harlan Chamberlain the night his famous son, Joba, made his much-anticipated first start for the Yankees. Harlan, who uses a wheelchair, held her hand so tight she thought it would break, and when she touched his cheek, she felt the tears.
The Yankees have become her family. Maybe the fans around her are furious with the team for its struggles on the field this season, but Lang is grateful that they put a fresh patch of sod outside for Laramie if he needs to make a bathroom break. She kisses the concessionaire and sends Christmas cards to the ushers.
She wishes she could meet owner George Steinbrenner some day, because she knows exactly what she would tell him. “You know what I would do?” she said. “I would touch his face and give him a big hug and say, ‘Thanks for giving me so much joy over the years.’ ”
Lang hopes she can still visit the new Yankee Stadium next year, but Laramie, now 10, won’t come back after the final trip to the old ballpark next Sunday. The team even put his picture on the scoreboard screen last month, congratulating him on his upcoming retirement.
That day after the game, as the two walked down the steps to the D Train, fans spotted the golden retriever.
“Make way for Laramie!” they yelled, and the crowded parted to let them through. He will lead her down those steps one last time next week, and Lang knows she’ll be crying when he does. But they’ll leave this place with a lifetime of memories from a ballpark she has seen in a way nobody else has.