Final Yankee Stadium game comes 76 years after first visit
Willis Marks attended first game during 1932 season
By Julia Green
At 86 years of age, Margaretville native Willis Marks has a few different “claims to fame” to his name.
For one, he’s the only member of his family to play football at Margaretville Central School. Despite the fact that his son, grandsons and great-grandsons have all taken their turns as MCS student-athletes, Willis is the only one who played football. (At quarterback, no less.)
He got to see Babe Ruth play at Yankee Stadium.
And on Sunday night, he added another impressive item to the list: he got to see the last game in The House That Ruth Built.
Marks, accompanied by son Gary and grandsons Jeremey and Nate, set out early for a day that would take up residence in their collective memory as “the thrill of a lifetime.”
“Family is first with me in anything, and it certainly meant a lot more that I went with my son and two of my grandsons,” he said. “That made it that much more special, to see it with them.”
As Yankee Stadium was illuminated for its final game Sunday night, Marks was in attendance to witness firsthand the end of an era on the same hallowed ground he had visited as a 10-year-old some 76 years earlier, when he saw the Sultan of Swat take the field in those legendary pinstripes in 1932.
“That was the moment I became a serious Yankee fan,” he said. “I loved baseball from playing around the yards and on Swart Street. I knew all the batting averages; I followed that closely. But the whole spectacular thing of seeing a big-league game – it was all part of the aura of a big-league park in New York City. The fact that I saw Babe Ruth didn’t really sink in until later years, that I saw one of the best players ever.”
Nearly a decade later, in 1941, Marks added another Yankee fan milestone to the list: a World Series game between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers.
“A friend of mine Chuck Boggs and I got up early and drove down and stood in line and got tickets,” he said. He remembers Dodgers’ pitcher Whit Wyatt on the mound, though which game it was exactly escapes him. “I don’t know if I kept anything from that; my mother started throwing things out. It was just that I enjoyed baseball. To go to the Stadium, one game wasn’t better than the other – unless the Yankees lost, then that was a bad game.”
Sunday night though, he admits, certainly stands out from the others.
Marks and his family had seats along the first baseline, behind the Yankee dugout – seats he has been getting from his friend, Paul Barber, for around 17 years. Barber has held Sunday tickets since 1976 – tickets that, at that time, were $6.50 apiece, and have since climbed to $90.
Arriving at the ballpark early on Sunday meant that the Marks boys had the opportunity to walk around on the hallowed ground itself. Willis was even interviewed by the New York Post and MLB television network.
“Just the entire aura of the stadium and walking around after they let us in. I’d seen the monuments [in Monument Park] before, but the grass is so great – it looks as if no one should ever make an error on an infield like that. Around the outside, I thought it was dirt but it’s a mix of cinder and dirt – that was a surprise.”
So what is it about Yankee Stadium that sets it apart from the others?
“It’s the Yankee tradition,” Marks said. “In my estimation, they were the best. They did it better than any other baseball organization.”
Given the opportunity, Marks says he’ll visit the new stadium, but adds that there will inevitably be something lost in the transition.
“Like anything established for a long time, when it first goes there’s a sadness. But I think that sadness will be replaced by a new generation of Yankee fans. They’ll be just as enthusiastic as I am with the present situation. But for my age, it’s the end of an era.”