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04/09/2008 5:39 PM ET
Ghosts of Yankee Stadium revisited
New book on ballpark brings life full circle for author
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When Scott Pitoniak took his son, Christopher, and daughter, Amy, to Yankee Stadium for their first game in 1998, he experienced a revelation that hadn't hit him in, well, about 32 years.

Pitoniak, an award-winning sports columnist and author based in Rochester, N.Y., had been taken there by his father in 1966, and it became a landmark moment in his life.

"I'll never forget the feeling when I first walked inside the Stadium," says Pitoniak, who has encapsulated his recollections and a lot more in his new book, "Memories of Yankee Stadium" (Triumph Books, 240 pages).

"It was visceral. It was like in 'The Wizard of Oz' when it goes from black and white to the most incredible color."

Pitoniak recalls watching Mickey Mantle launch balls into the upper deck during batting practice, and then taking his son up to the very same seats where those moonshots landed over three decades later.

Those sentiments set the prevailing tone for the book, which takes a slightly different tack than some of the other Yankee Stadium retrospectives on the market right now that honor the final season of the ballpark. The Stadium is set to close down at the end of this season to make way for the new version across the street in 2009.

Pitoniak's paean to the House that Ruth Built begins with a short history of the ballpark, segues into a well-researched list of the great moments in the Stadium's 85 years, and then piles on anecdotes from current Yankees, legendary players from the past, fans, media members and celebrities who grew up loving the Bronx Bombers and their Cathedral at the corner of 161st and River.

"I knew there were going to be a lot of Yankee Stadium books published this year to look back on the history of the place," Pitoniak says. "I wanted to take a little bit of a different approach by talking to not only famous people who made history there but also lesser-known people who witnessed the history, the media who chronicled it and people who just loved to go there and be there."

College basketball broadcaster Dick Vitale, for example, offers a tale of stealing his way onto the field with his cousin when the Yankees were out of town and spending time running the bases, sitting in the dugout and striding onto the pitcher's mound.

Baseball Bookshelf

There's Carmen Basilio, the son of an upstate New York onion farmer who fought -- and defeated -- Sugar Ray Robinson in a famous 15-round bout at the Stadium in 1957 before dropping the 15-round rematch the following year.

Pitoniak also got a hold of football Hall of Famer Sam Huff and learned that the ubiquitous "DEE-FENSE" chant heard at every football stadium and basketball arena in America was invented at Yankee Stadium in the late 1950s because of the New York Giants' dominant line.

And then there are the stories from people you don't know about, the everyday fans who comprise the soul of the Stadium.

One particularly moving account in the book is that of Tom Bartolini.

"He and his wife, Anita, were both huge Yankee fans, and she passed away from cancer," Pitoniak says. "Her deathbed request was to have half of her ashes spread over the Atlantic Ocean near the Rhode Island-Connecticut border where she grew up, and for the other half to be spread in Yankee Stadium.

"The Yankees don't allow that because they get so many requests, but two years after she passed, and with the family almost giving up on the hope that they'd be able to do it, Tom's daughter said,' Dad, I've got a plan.'"

As described in the book, the family took the Yankee Stadium tour and hid Anita's ashes in 10 film canisters in their camera bag, a perfect disguise. As the tour progressed, the nervous family members scattered the ashes, little by little, in the hallowed corners of the ballpark she loved: Monument Park, different parts of the playing field, and the dugout.

"They felt an incredible sense of relief when the tour was over," Pitoniak says. "They said, 'She's finally at home.' And I know that's the way a lot of people feel about the place."

Especially Scott Pitoniak.

"When I took my kids there the first time and Christopher and I went up to the upper deck, he was on a ramp that was pretty steep, and I remember him running. I said, "Christopher, slow down,'" Pitoniak says.

"It hit me at that point that my dad had said the exact same thing to me. It was like I was mouthing the words of my father 32 years earlier.

"What it reminded me of is that when Joe Torre liked to talk about the ghosts of Yankee Stadium, he wasn't just referring to the ghosts of Ruth and Gehrig and DiMaggio, but also the ghosts of loved ones.

"I'm like many baby boomers who go to that park and have been going since they were young. I always feel my dad's presence when I'm there."

Doug Miller is a Senior Writer for MLB.com/Entertainment. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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