Hilton Head Island Yankee fan gets chance of a long, long lifetime

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Hilton Head Island Yankee fan gets chance of a long, long lifetime

By JUSTIN JARRETT jjarrett@islandpacket.com jjarrett@beaufortgazette.com 843-706-8120
Published Sunday, July 18, 2010   |  618 Words  |  sports

Frank Ventre recalls each of the Yankees' 27 World Series titles. He has seen virtually every Yankee great -- and outlived many of them. He outlasted Bob Sheppard, the legendary public address announcer who died last week. He outlasted George Steinbrenner, the bold owner who restored the franchise to greatness. He even outlasted Yankee Stadium -- two of them, in fact.
At 101 years old, Ventre has enough memories of his beloved ballclub to last a lifetime. A long, long lifetime.
But the Hilton Head Island resident added one to top them all Saturday.
The opportunity came about when a vacationer named Annie happened upon an impromptu birthday celebration while shopping in a Publix supermarket on Hilton Head Island. The store's employees had arranged a birthday party of sorts for Ventre's 101st birthday, complete with Yankees-themed gifts.
Annie overheard as Ventre spoke to anyone who would listen about the Yankees' 27 titles and their prospects for a 28th this fall -- he thinks the American League East race will come down to the Yankees and Tampa Bay -- and lamented that he wasn't sure when he would be able to attend another game because of the skyrocketing ticket prices.
Annie said she might be able to help with the latter. It turns out her neighbor back in the Baltimore area is former major leaguer Ken Singleton, currently a commentator for the Yankees on the YES Network. Annie shot off an e-mail, and the next thing Ventre knew, he had a letter from the Yankees inviting him to be a special guest for Saturday's Old Timers' Day festivities and an afternoon game against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Attending Yankees games is nothing new for Ventre. He vividly recalls his teenage days, when he would catch an early-morning train from his hometown of Syracuse and head down to the city to watch a game before riding the train back late that night. It was an all-day affair, but the round-trip ticket was only $4.50 and the ticket to the game was about $1.50 -- a small price to pay to see his beloved Yankees.
He recalls seeing all the greats from Gehrig to Mantle to DiMaggio, and even Babe Ruth, who he once saw strikeout three times in a game played in Syracuse. And even though he doesn't get to many live games these days, Ventre catches as many Yankees games on television as possible in between his six trips to the gym per week and his weekly round of golf.
"I've been a Yankees fan all my life, since way back when," Ventre said. "I've seen them all."
But never has he seen the Yankees' legends the way he saw them Saturday, right there in front of him, in the flesh. He hoped to get a baseball signed by as many Yankees past and present as possible.
Ventre was most excited about the prospect of meeting Yogi Berra -- a dream that will go unrealized, for now, because Berra missed the festivities after falling at his home Friday night -- but he also was eager to see current stars such as Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez.
On Tuesday afternoon, the day before he was set to leave for Syracuse to meet his son, Frank Jr., for the trip to the city, Ventre wasn't sure what to expect from his big adventure -- "All I know is I'm a special guest and I've got a good seat," he said -- but he was excited, nonetheless.
"Who wouldn't be?," he said.
Indeed, opportunities like that don't often come around more than once in a lifetime. Even a very, very long lifetime.