10/15/01: A playoff game with dad

[A note: Tonight marks the 13th anniversary of what turned out to be a fun night for me and since I'm in the mood to reminisce and write about the happy memories of my father, I thought I'd share this story with all of you. It was originally published on my Aerys Sports Yankees' blog back in 2011 for Father's Day and I've gone in and edited it a tad. Hope you enjoy it. ~Stacey]

***

My dad, Gus Gotsulias, is the reason I like sports so much and why I root for the New York Yankees, Knicks, Rangers and Giants.

He took me to my first Yankees and Rangers games. He bought me my first pair of Knicks tickets but, at the time, I was 19 and wanted to go with my best friend. She ended up watching Madonna the entire time - she was sitting courtside right below us - and the Knicks beat the Heat by 35 points (Yes, it was a very long time ago.) And it always seemed that whenever my dad could get us Giants tickets, they were for November or December and he didn't want me to freeze which, while considerate of him, still annoyed me as a kid, so I didn't get to attend my first Giants game until 2009 when I was well into my 30's.

My dad also taught me how to play golf, how to catch a baseball and how to score a baseball game.

And while he took me to many sporting events over the years, one of my best memories of attending a game with my dad happened when I was an adult.

It was a Monday afternoon in October 2001 when dad called me at work. I saw that it was his number on the Caller ID screen and picked it up immediately. I thought either something was wrong or that he wanted to know a musical group or TV show for a crossword puzzle hint. He cut right to the chase as soon as I answered my work extension. I don't even think I finished saying "Hi daddy," before he said, "Stacela, wanna go to the Yankee game tonight? I got us two tickets."

I hesitated answering the question right away.

A few nights earlier, I watched the Yankees lose Game 2 to Oakland in person and it was awful. There was a sense of doom and gloom when they went to Oakland down 0-2 in the division series and even though they had won two games on the west coast, I was very worried about going to a potential season-ending game. What if they lost? Would I cry like a baby in front of thousands of people? No one needed to see that. Then I thought to myself, "Well, it could also be a series clinching game and I've never been to one."

Finally, after a few moments, I said, "Sure!" We discussed where to meet and what time I should leave the office then we hung up. As soon as I put the receiver down my heart started beating rapidly, I took a deep breath and said, "Oh God, please let them win tonight."

I left my office at 5:30 and met my dad up in the Bronx. When he handed my ticket over to me, I actually laughed. The seats were only one box over from my regular Sunday seats, in the same row and they were better than any of the seats in my playoff package that year - for the first couple of years of my season ticket plan, I sat in the very top of the upper deck of every playoff game I attended.

After making our way to the seats, I took a deep breath and I crossed myself - like a good Catholic girl. My dad looked at me and very confidently said, "What are you even worried about? They're gonna win."

Now, I'm a naturally anxious person - and especially at that time, just a month after 9/11 - so I was a wreck the entire game. I couldn't even eat. My dad knew something was wrong when I turned down a bag of peanuts.

And whenever I stood up, I was rocking back in forth in place which became a habit for me during many playoff games and that night I wore a gray sweater coat which became my uniform for the remainder of that postseason.

When Oakland scored in the first on a single by Jason Giambi, who by the way was 4 for 4 that night, I looked at my dad and he shook his head. He said, "I'm telling you. We got this."

That's one of the things I love about being at a game with my dad. He's been going to Yankee games since the 1940's and he's always so calm, no matter what.

Oakland scored again the top of the second to make it 2-0 but the Yankees came right back and scored two to tie it. They then scored a run in the bottom of the third and the bottom of the fourth to make it 4-2. I breathed a sigh of relief until Oakland cut the lead to 4-3 in the top of the fifth on an RBI single by, you guessed it, Jason Giambi.

After that hit my dad said, "They can't get this guy out!"

David Justice hit a home run in the bottom of the sixth off Tim Hudson to tack on a run and make it 5-3.

In the seventh, Johnny Damon hit a foul ball that carried into the camera well beyond the visitor's dugout and Derek Jeter flipped into the pit and made the catch. It was the flip play that people sometimes tend to forget about but when it happened my dad said, "Oooh that hurt!"

When Mariano Rivera came in to pitch the top of the eighth, the inning started with yet another base hit by Jason Giambi and my dad waved his hand and said, "He's just putting on a show for Steinbrenner." I remember being horrified at the thought of someone else playing first base because I had finally gotten used to Tino MartinezI grew up a Don Mattingly girl. Giambi was big, scary looking and pretty greasy he was on the A's. I couldn't imagine him being a Yankee.

But it all worked out. Giambi didn't score and when Mo came back out to pitch the top of the ninth, you could feel that the Yankees were going to win. He struck out Eric Byrnes to end the game and the series and I jumped up and clapped along with 56,000 others. I gave my dad a big hug and thanked him profusely for calling me that afternoon.

We all celebrated raucously that night because we'd have another playoff series to focus on instead of focusing on what was happening in downtown Manhattan.

I remember being excited that I finally got to experience a series clinching game with my dad. In 1996, I was up at school in Oswego and my mom never called me to tell me that my dad had an extra ticket waiting for me for Game Six of the World Series. And no, I'm still not over that.

Even though the game on October 15, 2001 wasn't a World Series winning game, it was still pretty cool. It would be the first and one of the only times that I'd be at a game alone with my dad but it was fitting that I saw the Yankees celebrate moving on in the playoffs with him because, after all, he was the person who took me to my first two Yankee games way back in 1983 and if it weren't for him, I probably wouldn't be the rabid Yankee fan that I am today.

So thank you daddy, for everything.