In memory of my Dad, who went to be with Jesus 2 years ago – April 16th 2011.
My Dad and I on my wedding day – March 29, 2009
A lot of people ask why I’m a Yankee fan. The short answer is:
I was born that way.
Dad on his first birthday with his parents
My dad was born in Guantanamo, Cuba but his family left to find refuge in America in the early 60’s just after Castro came into power. They made a home for themselves in New Jersey where my dad grew up going to mass, jumping fences and playing stick ball in the streets.
Dad holding the bat
During baseball season, he and his father and brother would take the train to the Bronx to watch the Yankees play. They would buy tickets for 50 cents and sit in the bleachers for the Saturday double headers. My dad even recalled watching Mickey Mantle play.
When Dad moved to California in the late seventies, he continued his loyalty to the Bronx Bombers and of course taught us everything he knew. When he became involved in the local Little League, he somehow managed to change the League color from “Dodger” Blue to “Yankee” Blue.
Dad coaching a Girl’s Softball All-Star Team
My dad used to joke that when he died he wanted to be buried under home plate of Yankee Stadium. The plan was that I was going to marry Derek Jeter and that, of course, The Captain could arrange for that. Since Derek and I didn’t work out, I knew I had to have a plan B.
Dad, Mom and myself watching the Opening Day game in Vegas
We decided to scatter his ashes in the House that Ruth Built.
However, they tore down the original stadium and rebuilt a new one across the street. I went online and booked tickets to the game right before his birthday. I also scheduled a stadium tour. I was great with the logistical plans, I just wasn’t sure how we were actually going to execute this.
My sister, Tina, was in charge of the ashes. We had to get a permit to travel with them, so she took care of that. Ashes are very heavy! It was like carrying a rock. She got the task honor of carrying them on the planes and through the airports. After all, I was carrying a baby (that was my excuse).
My husband (wearing Matthew), myself, my sister and brother in Central Park
We spent the first part of the week touring NYC. We went to Central Park, Grand Central Station, had sushi, Ray’s Pizza, buying Yankee souvenirs (those are hard to come by in Cali!), Times Square, Statue of Liberty, Ground Zero, and even saw a Broadway Show. Matthew was a dream baby the whole time.
All the Yankee Stuff!!
Grand Central Station
Highline Park, Downtown
Ray’s Pizza – the best!
The day came for us to see the Yankee game. We spent the day enjoying the bleacher seats and thinking about Dad. We even got to see Mariano Rivera beat the all-time saves record. It was a special day that we will never forget.
In the Bleachers, where Dad used to sit
Celebrating Mo’s Record
The next morning we had to get ready for the tour, but Scott and I wanted to sneak off in the morning to see the Statue of Liberty.
Visiting Lady Liberty
I had agreed to carry Dad’s ashes in a formula canister because security is generally very lax about baby items. We had failed to realize that the security to get on the island is just as tough as the airport security… which meant my backpack had to go through an x-ray machine, and I didn’t have the permit. I didn’t even know if I could legally be carrying them. And I repeat, they were in a formula canister. Can you look any sneakier?! As soon as I passed through the metal detectors my blood pressure shot up. Listen to me when I say this – I am a terrible liar. I don’t break rules. I don’t sneak. I don’t know how to BS my way out of anything.
THIS IS WHY TINA WAS IN CHARGE OF THE ASHES.
People, can you imagine what happened to me when they said “What is in that container?”
Me: Uh, it’s sand. (Yes, that’s right, I said sand. Panicking. I was panicking!)
Security Agent: It’s sand?
Me: Um… well, it’s um…
Security Agent: Is this… human remains?
Me: Um, (picture me, bright red, in a line of hundreds of people, freaking the heck out, oh-my-gosh-going-to-prison-someone-is-going-to-take-my-baby) um…
Security Agent: I don’t care if it is, I just want to know before I stick my hand in it.
Me: Yes, it is.
Security Agent: You need to step over here please.
Me: (Oh great, now I’m going to prison for lying…)
I had to move over to the security station where they just asked me if was planning to spread them off the boat. I said no, that I was taking them somewhere else but that we wanted to stop here first. They were very understanding and said that as long as I wasn’t to let them go off the boat, it was fine. Phew! But seriously, I almost died.
After that little incident, I was feeling a bit nervous about sneaking them into Yankee Stadium, let alone figuring out how we were going to spread them. We took the 4 train up to the Bronx and met my sister and brother in the stadium.
Waiting for the Tour to begin
We quietly and reverently toured the museum and all the indoor areas. We enjoyed looking for the championship rings and events from Dad’s birth years. After we toured the inside areas, we went into Monument Park. Monument Park is all dedicated to the Yankee greats and we thought Dad would like to be there too. First, Tina and Joseph took turns taking a scoop of ashes out and placing it in the bushes.
Getting ready to spread the ashes
I wanted to put Dad’s ashes by Mickey Mantle’s plaque, but I was so nervous! Scott and I pretended to take a photo while we “secretly” took a scoop of ashes out of the box. I am sure I looked like a darn fool to everyone watching. You guys, I wish we had this on video. I’m sure we would be peeing our pants laughing from how ridiculous we looked.
Trying not to look guilty
Dad’s ashes in the corner
After we finished in Monument Park, we got to walk down the stairs and into the dugout. When I had toured the original Yankee Stadium years ago, they let us walk into the bullpen and through the outfield. I had imagined that this would be our best bet. However, they didn’t do that this time. We got to walk on just a tiny area of foul line brick dust and were quickly escorted right into the dugout. I had imagined putting Dad’s ashes on the dirt in the dugout, along with all the sunflower seed shells and he’d be carried out, rounding first, fielding grounders and jumping over the outfield fence on the bottom of the player’s cleats. Oddly enough, the Yankee dugout isn’t dirt and there are no sunflower seed shells laying around.
In the Dugout
So, Joseph went first. He dumped a heaping scoop into the bat rack. The bat racks are deep, square compartments. We imagined puffs of ash flying off as A-Rod hit a grandslam. This way he’d be there, in the game, every bit of it. His wisdom, his hitting advice (elbow up, bat back, throw your hands, squish the bug), his base coaching, all of it. You may have heard that the Angels have some in the outfield but the Yankees… they have an angel in the dugout.
After the tour was over, we still had plenty of ashes left. We knew we couldn’t take them back to California and we didn’t know what else to do. So I walked up to our tour guide. He was a sweet, older man and had lots of Yankee passion.
Me: Has anyone ever asked to spread ashes here before?
Tour Guide: Asked? No. But they’ve done it!
Me: What do you mean?
Tour Guide: Well, once I had an old lady run from my tour and empty a bag of ashes on the pitcher’s mound.
Me: What did you do?!
Tour Guide: Nothing! What could I do? I just asked her to come back in.
Me: So, what would you say if someone wanted to do that.
Tour Guide: Get on my tour.
Me: What if said person was about 20 minutes too late for that?
Tour Guide: What? You have them now?
Tour Guide: Well, I can’t let you back down. There’s security and they are setting up for the game. I’d get in big trouble. Whose ashes are they?
Me: My Dad’s.
Tour Guide: If it were me, and I’m guessing your dad was about my age, I would want to be at the old stadium. Just go across the street.
*Awesome idea, my friend, awesome idea*
Across the street we go….
The new recreational fields and the new stadium in the back ground
The stadium was turned into three recreational fields. That was perfect for Dad. He was passionate about Little League, he used coaching as his ministry, to impart wisdom, love and success into children – especially children that came from broken families. The Bronx is right where Dad fit in.
When we got to the new fields, they were still under construction and there was a locked fence all the way around. We asked the construction workers if we could get in. They said no.
I saw an NYPD car parked nearby. Again, my blood pressure shot up and I felt so guilty. Then I decided that the last time I felt this way was for no reason, so best I could do was ask. I went to the NYPD car.
Me, talking to the NYPD officers
Me: Hi. I was wondering if spreading ashes is illegal.
NYPD: No, I don’t think so.
Me: Oh ok, good. Because we’re here from California and we really want to spread our dad’s ashes around the old Yankee stadium. He was a huge Yankee fan.
NYPD: I wish I could let you in, but it’s not our jurisdiction. But we won’t stop you.
Alright so now we had “permission” to do it. The construction crew had left and locked up. And there was only one security guard. We considered waiting until he was on the other side and just sneaking in. But Tina had a better idea.
She got out her pouty lip and flirty eyes and went up to the security guard. After a few minutes of pleading, she had permission to run inside the gate and dump the ashes at a light pole that was right where the original home plate was.
Tina dumping the ashes
There was still a bit of ashes left in a bag that didn’t fit in the formula container, so I took those ashes up with us to the 4 train. I dumped them in the subway track (even though it was pretty disgusting in there) but I thought it was a good tribute to the train rides Dad took as a kid to go watch his favorite players.
The last of the ashes in the 4 Train
It was a beautiful adventure. It was laughter and mourning and closure all in the same little package. It was the trip of a lifetime, sharing something beautiful with my siblings and my husband. But mostly, it was Dad.
We felt him there, shaking his head at our shenanigans. His quiet, “I suppose” when we wanted more Yankee souvenirs. His cocky “I called that one” when Mo saved the game. His pat on the leg, his flick on the noggin, the way he said “Right, Jen?”
I know he would have thought this trip was over the top. He would have said it was too expensive. He would have said it was not that big of a deal. He would have said to just leave him in the free container he came back to us in. But there is nothing in this world my dad wouldn’t have done for me, and if this is one small portion of that love being returned then it was a necessary event.
I am a Daddy’s girl and there will always be a gap that, even as a grown woman, will be left open in my heart. But my Dad will live on, and I pray that his passion for baseball will continue to root itself in all of the kids he’s coached over the years, that they will always think to themselves “Joe Toral taught me that” as they go about their lives.
Dad, you’re forever in our hearts and, of course, the Yankee dugout.
*If you’re reading this, and you knew my Dad… would you do our family the great favor of commenting here with your favorite memory or something my Dad taught you. It would bring me so much joy to share those stories with my kids who didn’t get to know thier Papa. Feel free to pass this on and share with any one who knew him.