Pinstriped Pilgrimage

A longtime Las Vegan honors her stepfather at Yankee Stadium

The sweltering clime and her covert mission compelled Michelle to take some anxious steps from the subway platform at 161st Street. September 4, 2011, was a sticky Sunday in the Bronx. For reassurance, she tapped the bulge in her small backpack—a Ziploc sandwich bag filled with the ashes of her stepfather, Ira, a former New York City Police Department detective.

Less than a year earlier on his deathbed in New Mexico, Ira had asked Michelle to disperse his cremated remains at Yankee Stadium. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease—had ravaged his body. Born and raised in the Bronx, Ira had often held his father’s hand en route to the original House that Ruth Built. As an adult, he volunteered to protect the home team at the stadium. At 61, he took his final breath.

Being afflicted with the mysterious malady that had felled Gehrig, the Yankees legend known as the Iron Horse, had flummoxed Ira. His family, too. How, Michelle asked, does that happen? “But it was apropos,” she said.

Once, at a barbecue at Michelle’s Las Vegas abode in Spanish Oaks, Ira became inflamed at a benign inquiry about Frank Serpico, the NYPD officer whose fingering of dirty brethren was made into a 1973 movie starring Al Pacino. Ira detested Serpico, who had violated a sacred trust of brotherhood that Ira would neither forgive nor forget. He did not suffer snitches.

Near his frail end, when he struggled with the joystick of his battery-powered wheelchair, Ira summoned Michelle’s male friends to Piero’s Italian Cuisine. A Las Vegas dining mainstay with a retro vibe, he relished the aged leather and half-light of another era there. Crooner Steve Lawrence said hello. It was difficult to understand Ira, but the glint in his eyes was undeniable. This was his last night out with the boys.

A diminutive strawberry blonde with Bette Davis eyes, Michelle’s playful laugh, self-deprecating ease and ardor for baseball had cemented a bond with Ira. He’d never visited the team’s sparkling new palace, which opened in 2009. She vowed to change that.

Michelle and her longtime beau Shayne disembarked at Liberty Island. She scattered ashes around the base of the Statue of Liberty. At Yankee Stadium, no spot spoke to her. They fetched a couple of beers and sat 10 rows behind the third-base line. She surveyed every cranny, gauging possibilities. Derek Jeter hit a three-run homer. Alex Rodriguez popped a solo shot. CC Sabathia confounded the Blue Jays.

“I was not going to leave the stadium till I got this done. I was never so scared,” Michelle says. “I was only thinking about those ashes.”

The Bombers beat Toronto, 9-3. People filed up the aisles while the Vegas couple sat still. Eureka! “Follow me,” Michelle said. She sat on the outfield wall, left of the Canon signage and foul pole. Shayne aimed his smartphone while she posed. She had poked a hole in a corner of the baggy and held it below the other side of the wall. Ashes peppered the warning track.

A security official approached lazily. So happy to be here, Michelle beamed. She asked for a couple more minutes, ostensibly to take more pictures for family and friends. The yellow coat nodded politely and turned. “As I drizzled the ashes, the wind started blowing. It was pretty surreal. Just, whoooosh … the wind took him away, out onto the field. I kept just a tiny bit to sprinkle in the aisle as we walked up the stairs.”

Later on, in a chance meeting at Piero’s, Michelle relayed her derring-do to former Yankees manager Joe Torre. Her pulse again soared when he said she had committed a crime, that she could’ve been arrested. “I had no idea,” she said recently. “No clue.” Torre offered her a sly grin and told her she was one of the lucky ones.

Technically, Torre wasn’t wrong. A Yankee Stadium rule does prohibit the spreading of human remains within its confines, but no city ordinance bars the act; a fine or penalty could be levied relative to trespassing, say, or some other infraction. Michelle blushed at her naïveté. She requested that her and Ira’s surnames not be used in this article because she can still envisage officers storming her front gate to get to the bottom of her business in the Bronx that day in 2011.

All of which, she is certain, would amuse the irascible ex-undercover detective. She spent the winter counting the days until pitchers and catchers reported to spring training, circling potential dates on which she and Shayne will make their annual pilgrimage to Yankee Stadium.

To visit Ira.