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At Age 79, the Yankees' Newest Fan

by Elizabeth

Reel Classics  May 7, 1999

As NBC Sports commentator Bob Costas put it, "If you know movies or you know baseball, you know PRIDE OF THE YANKEES and. . . Teresa Wright." Ms. Wright played Eleanor Gehrig, wife of legendary Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig, in Samuel Goldwyn's 1942 film about the life, career and untimely death of the baseball star. Though more a romance than a baseball film, THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES was featured among the top dozen in a 1998 USA Today readers poll of favorite sports movies. And as further testimony to the story's longevity, THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES and THE HUSTLER (1961) were the only two pre-1970 films in the poll's top twenty-five.

Because of THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES' enduring romantic resonance and Ms. Wright's memorable performance (she received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress), she has forever since been associated with baseball and the New York Yankees. Yet, the irony of that association is not lost among her friends and most loyal fans, who remember that she knew very little about baseball before she made the film and had never even been to a major league game -- until last year, that is.

On July 4, 1998 Teresa Wright was invited by Yankees' publicity chief Rick Cerrone to throw out the first pitch in celebration of the 59th anniversary of Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day, the day in 1939 when Gehrig bid farewell to his fans and fellow players with his now-famous "Luckiest Man" speech. Though she wasn't exactly pitching from the mound, Ms. Wright did manage to get the ball over the plate.  She also stayed around for the game, and the Yankees treated her royally, presenting her with a dozen red roses as well as a World Series jacket.

And today, you'd never know that Ms. Wright and the Yankees had ever been strangers. After just one game, at age 79, she became a die-hard Yankees baseball fan. As she told NBC's Keith Oberman, "I saw my first game on July 4 and I've been just a great, mad fan ever since. I started watching and reading, and the more I watched and the more I read, the more fascinated I got by it."

When her children learned what a devoted fan their mother had become, they arranged for her to attend a second game in honor of her upcoming 80th birthday. This time she saw Game One of the American League Championship series against Cleveland on October 6. She didn't throw any pitches, but proudly decked out in a navy Yankees cap, she watched the game from George Steinbrenner's box. At the top of the fourth inning, NBC Sports interviewed her about her new-found devotion to baseball and the Yankees: "I find it the most beautiful game in the world," she said smiling. "I love everything about it. I love this team, their sportsmanship, their cooperation with each other. It just makes you feel good. I've never seen anything that I've gotten so excited about in my life." She then promised light-heartedly, "I won't be around long, but while I'm here, I'll be a fan."

© 1999 Reel Classics, L.L.C.

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