This is a work of historical fiction. Courant Staff Writer Dom Amore has created a fictional, fairly well-to-do Hartford family of 1923, lucky enough to secure four great tickets to the first game at Yankee Stadium. The characters reflect some of the typical opinions of the time, during which Babe Ruth and Yankee Stadium radically changed the way baseball was played and viewed. The real characters in the story, including the Babe himself, their words and actions are surmised and re-created based on various published sources, including The Courant's sports sections, Ruth's own syndicated column, which appeared regularly in The Hartford Times, and conversations with Linda Ruth Tosetti, his granddaughter. The event, of course, is real and presented as it actually unfolded on April 18, 1923.
Trudy reached out with her left hand and grabbed her young son by the back of his coat. "Bundle up," she said, adjusting his scarf. "It's cold and windy. Make sure your neck is completely protected, Timmy. You, too, Johnny. Make sure your brother is warm."
"Yes, Mom," Johnny said.
"And you," Trudy shouted to her husband, Patrick, "make sure they're warm."
It was a cold, blustery Wednesday morning, April 18, 1923. Not the best day for a long trip in a drafty, rickety automobile, Trudy had told them, not when Brown Thomson was running a big sale on linens, and the family needed some.
But the boys were wrapped in heavy wool, right up to their identical newsboy caps, and already hot with excitement. It began two months earlier, when Patrick, 37, an up-and-coming executive at the insurance company, was handed a bonus: four tickets to the Yankees- Red Sox game on the 18th of April, the first game of the season, the first game to be played at the new stadium, which no one seemed sure what to call.
These weren't $1.15 general admission tickets, either. Top of the line, $3.50 reserved seats, right behind the first base dugout.
Patrick took the tickets and began arranging for his young sons to miss a day of school but make up the work. Johnny, 12, was writing a paper on the whole journey for Miss Ross' English class.
That left one ticket. Trudy had no interest. So who would join Patrick and the boys?
"... Well, let's go," said the old man sitting in Patrick's Packard sedan as they pulled out of Hartford. "Don't know why we couldn't take the train. All the way to New York in this rattle trap?"
Grampa, nearly 80, served in the Grand Army at the tail end of the Civil War, first played ball to pass the time during the long Siege of Petersburg and worked most of his life on the railroads between Springfield and New Haven. Still worked occasionally when they needed him. He didn't much like automobiles, didn't much like the Charleston, jazz, had no use for President Harding.
But his No. 1 irritation now, the one man he disliked above all others, was the man they were going to see amid all this hubbub. "Sounds like a baboon with asthma," he snorted, as Patrick got the Model T started with a vigorous crank, then adjusted his vest. "And speaking of baboons, just why are we traipsing all the way to New York?"
"To see Babe Ruth!" the boys shouted in unison. They did that a lot, because when it came to Babe Ruth they were of one mind.
"Do you think he'll hit one today, Johnny?" Timmy asked his older brother. "I bet he does," Johnny said. "First game in the new park, he has to."
Such change Ruth had wrought, Grampa thought. It wasn't the same game he used to watch when Candy Cummings threw his famous curveball in Hartford, not anymore, no longer the rough-and-tumble exercise in teamwork, but a one-man circus.
And this he reminded his precocious, misguided grandsons every chance he got. They never tired of Grampa's story about the day President Lincoln visited camp, or the day Robert E. Lee's soldiers stacked their weapons. His attacks on the Babe, they could do without.
Patrick thought this was the perfect time for everyone to get closer, a motor trip through Connecticut and into New York. What an adventure. Sure, the train would have been easier, maybe cheaper, with gas up to 16 cents a gallon and maybe 20 gallons necessary for this 108-mile trip through every city and town.
"We're off to a good start," Patrick said as the car eased onto the Berlin Turnpike at 10 a.m. and headed south. "Don't know how long it'll take."
Yankee Stadium ■ The Final Season