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Hank Grazioso, advance ticket seller, had a spark in his voice when he answered his Yankee Stadium phone. No, this was not a call about the best available seats for next week's series between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.
"I hope you're having a great day," I told him Monday morning.
Grazioso paused and settled under the thought.
"I most certainly am," he said with conviction.
|Hank Grazioso kept a snapshot of his boys near Window 61 at the old Stadium.|
It's been nearly 10 years since Grazioso lost his two sons at the World Trade Center, one on the 105th floor, the other on the 104th. Grazioso kept photos of Tim and John next to his ticket window in the old Stadium, Window 61, and for the longest time his place of work in the Bronx was his place to reunite with his sons.
"Maybe the first six or eight months after 9/11," he said in his first interview since the murder of his boys, "I'd see them standing there every time I opened the window, as if they were still alive. They were right there with me."
Grazioso, a 65-year-old man feeling no urge to retire, was hired by the Yankees in 2000. He'd made a living selling communication systems to hospitals and decided one night he needed a change. He was scanning the website of his favorite team, clicked on a link announcing job openings and put in his name.
The Yankees called, and Grazioso went straight to work at the field of his dreams. He was the biggest Mickey Mantle fan in Clifton, N.J., a father who took his sons and daughter, Carolee, across the bridge and down the Deegan to dozens of games each year. They parked on 155th Street, walked through a hole in a fence at one of the handball courts and took their seats on the third-base side.
|Hank Grazioso with his two sons, John and Tim.|
"We loved everything about the old Stadium," Grazioso said, "even the smell of it. Once we were inside, my kids never wanted to go home."
Grazioso was asleep late Sunday night, bone-tired after the homestand, when the phone call came in. A former co-worker delivered the news that the man who had destroyed his charmed world and thousands of innocent lives had been killed by American forces in Pakistan.
Grazioso didn't turn on the TV to absorb the news of Osama bin Laden's death. "I just sat there in my dark bedroom," he said, "wanting to be alone with my own thoughts."
Monday morning, Grazioso was among the thousands of devastated family members still trying to figure out their feelings about this stunning triumph of good over evil.
"I've got eight million emotions running through me," he said. "Relief might be the best word, and just having more faith in our government. And when I woke up today I thought to myself, 'Well, at least the boys have some kind of closure.' I think they're celebrating up there right now."
Tim and John worked for Cantor Fitzgerald -- John as an eSpeed salesman, Tim as a trader. They were husbands, fathers, 40-something men in the prime of their lives.
Grazioso would give everything to go back in time with them, back to their childhood, back to those innocent, sun-splashed days in the Bronx. "We used to get to the Stadium at 9 a.m. for night games," Grazioso said. "We'd pack a lunch and wait near the players' parking lot, and the boys would line up to get autographs.
"They used to allow you to leave the stadium through the outfield, and I'll never forget the boys standing in center and saying, 'Hey Dad, this is where Mickey stood.' They loved the sound of Bob Sheppard's voice, too, and wished he would someday announce their names. And in the summer after 9/11, at Old Timers' Day, Bob Sheppard announced their names when he mentioned the members of the Yankee family who had died."
In the immediate wake of the terrorist attacks, Grazioso took a call from George Steinbrenner and a visit from Joe Torre. The Yankees rallied around Grazioso and Frank Swaine, the executive who ran the ticket office and who had also lost a son at the towers.
Only no amount of comfort and support could heal their broken hearts. Grazioso would keep seeing the vision of his lost boys when he opened Window 61, and as recently as a month ago he would see Tim and John in his bedroom, too.
"There would be this flashing, bright, white light in the corner of my room," Grazioso said. "And the two of them would appear for a second or two before they were gone."
Now bin Laden is gone for good, exterminated from the planet by a small circle of brave Americans. Grazioso's daughter nearly jumped out of her bed Sunday night when her TV reported that her brothers' killer was a fugitive no more.
"It was joy and elation," she said, "because it felt like all these years he was sitting back and laughing at us. It felt like we had a verdict and death sentence all in one day, without the drama of a trial. I don't feel guilty at all celebrating the killing of that man."
Grazioso's teenage granddaughter, Kathryn, responded to the news of deferred justice for her father's murder by saying she was happy there was no one left in the world for her to hate. Monday, Kathryn's grandfather didn't sound like a man in the mood to hate, either.
Grazioso, 76, said he adores his job at Window 5 at the new Stadium and thinks of his boys every time he admires his World Series ring graced by the family name.
"Whenever a father comes by his window with his sons," Carolee said, "my dad always does whatever he can to get them tickets because he pictures himself with Tim and John."
Grazioso didn't have a home game to work on Monday. But from his office in the Bronx, the ticket seller said it was a great day to be at the park.
Ian O'Connor is the author of "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter."