Originally created 04/29/01

Movies hits home with local fan

Eddie Elsey beams when a gawking visitor steps into his shrine.

"Welcome to Yankee Stadium South*," Elsey says, sweeping his arm across his memorabilia room as if it were his kingdom.

Yankee Stadium South* - located on Augusta's Kennelworth Avenue instead of the Bronx - is the achievement of one fan's obsession. Elsey is the southern embodiment of a lifetime pride of the Yankees. His business card declares himself to be the "Biggest New York Yankee Fan of the 40's, 50's & 60's South of the Mason-Dixon line!"

"The Yankees are just my childhood heroes," the former Richmond Academy pitcher says as way of an explanation. "If it's Yankee, I'll put it somewhere in here."

Saturday night, Yankee Stadium South* became the perfect pin-striped screening room for the premiere of another man's Yankee obsession. Elsey invited special friends to watch Billy Crystal's HBO drama 61*, his 128-minute version of the story of Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle and the magical summer when they pursued the legend of Babe Ruth.

That Elsey is not actually in Crystal's movie is as amazing as the Mets of '69. It's not for a lack of effort. Elsey burned up the phone lines trying to become an extra, but to no avail.

"I couldn't get to the right people," he laments. "I would have done it for nothing."

If Crystal's movie doesn't bring Maris and Mantle and their tortured quest for the holiest record in baseball to life, Elsey can take you on his own trip to the summer of '61 right in his house.

You enter Elsey's fantasy Yankee world from the first-base side kitchen. Mantle kneels in the on-deck circle. Maris is at the plate. (Ignore the fact that actual the batting order painted on the scoreboard shows two batters between Maris and Mantle).

The mural, originally painted on the paneling of Elsey's former Honda shop in 1997 by local artist Andrew Sabori, is Elsey's pride and joy. That and his Yamaha Royal Star motorcycle with Maris and Mantle airbrushed onto the fuel tank. Mantle's career stats are painted on the front fender and the Georgia license plate reads "61NYY."

While Elsey's collectible obsession ranges from the Masters to University of Georgia, it's Mantle and Maris and the summer of '61 that are the most dominant recurring theme.

One corner of the mural wall is illuminated by a miniature golf bag fashioned into a lamp. It's a memento from one of the three Roger Maris Celebrity Golf Tournaments that Elsey has attended in Fargo, N.D. Stitched in blue lettering on the white pin-stripe bag is "61 in '61."

Elsey is 58, but his heart is pure 61 - even if he can barely remember the actual season from his youth. He attended Yankees fantasy camp in Florida, wearing jersey No. 61 of course. He played in three Mickey Mantle golf outings at Lake Oconee and three other Maris golf outings in North Dakota.

Classic '61 artifacts include bobble-head dolls of the two Yankee sluggers and an unused standing-room only World Series ticket for Game 2, gameday price of $4.20. There is a souvenir button saluting Maris' 61st home run at Yankee Stadium on Oct. 1, 1961. His shot off Boston's Tracy Stallard in the bottom of the fourth held up as the only run of the game.

One wall includes one of the black bats with the signatures of every player presented to the World Series champion 1961 Yankees. On the wall with that is a Roger Maris Action Baseball game board.

Around the room are pictures of Maris and Mantle, including a classic Life magazine cover from August, 1961, with "Babe Ruth's Challengers Mantle and Maris: Will Yank Sluggers Smash 60 Homers? The Real Odds," sharing the cover topics with Ann Landers' "Frank Talk on Youth and Sex."

The videotape of 61* will be a permanent addition. Elsey wasn't worried about the way Mantle's well-known vices were illustrated in the film. It's as it should be.

"That was just part of it, I guess," he said. "That doesn't tarnish my feelings about him in any way."

Like everyone else, it seems, Elsey admits a preference for Mantle. One of his two Yorkshire terriers is named Mickey, after all. The other answers to Chloe.

"Just a slight edge," Elsey said. "Maris had one great year and Mantle had a career of great years."

That Maris' greatest year came with an asterisk and didn't merit induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame doesn't seem to matter in Elsey's hall.

The Spirit of 61* will always be enshrined in Yankee Stadium South*.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219.


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