Matchstick stadium

Published 10:23 pm Thursday, May 23, 2013

Bill Becker designed and built this replica of Yankee Stadium out of 75,000 matchsticks and Elmer’s glue. He used scissors to cut the matchsticks when needed.

Bill Becker designed and built this replica of Yankee Stadium out of 75,000 matchsticks and Elmer’s glue.

Kids travel to Yankee Stadium to see replica

A replica of Yankee Stadium made from 75,000 matchsticks paved the way for one remarkable trip to the real Yankee Stadium for a couple of Suffolk kids recently.

Connor Herrington, 7, and his 4-year-old sister Abby, both students at Oakland Elementary School, had the coolest notes ever excusing them from school — from a producer with the Yankees Entertainment and Sports (YES) Network.

They are the great-grandchildren of New Jersey native Bill Becker, 87, who became a lifelong Yankees fan when, as a child, he met legendary slugger Babe Ruth in a restaurant.

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Another of Becker’s longtime hobbies has been making things out of matchsticks. He built the Green Bay Packers’ Lambeau Field in 1975. One day, he started asking his grandkids what they wanted him to make for them.

Connor and Abby Herrington, both Oakland Elementary School students, pose with their great-grandfather, "Brother Beans," during a trip to Yankee Stadium earlier this month.

Connor and Abby Herrington, both Oakland Elementary School students, pose with their great-grandfather, “Brother Beans,” during a trip to Yankee Stadium earlier this month.

“I asked him if he could build me a dollhouse out of matchsticks,” said Kelly Herrington, Connor and Abby’s mother. The result was a three-story dollhouse that her children still play with.

Then Herrington’s brother was asked what he wanted. Four years ago, Becker — whose nickname is “Brother Beans” — started building Yankee Stadium.

The result was the 4-by-6-foot model made of matchsticks and Elmer’s glue. Becker and his family thought it would be cool if the replica could be displayed at the real Yankee Stadium.

But then tragedy struck. When Becker evacuated his waterfront home in New Jersey last October as Superstorm Sandy was bearing down on the coast, the stadium was one of the many possessions he had to leave behind.

“By the time the water subsided and we could get back into the house, he had lost all his furniture and everything,” Kelly Herrington said.

But, she added, the stadium replica “was high enough up on a table that the water didn’t get that high. We realized when the stadium survived, it was a little glimmer of hope.”

While family members were helping Becker clean up and rebuild, they also brainstormed about the stadium. They started a Facebook page and a letter-writing campaign.

Connor and Abby helped by making signs and taking photos with them, then posting them to their Facebook page. They even outfitted their snowman with Yankees gear and had him holding up a sign that said “Please Help Beans.”

“I sent out thousands of emails to anybody I could think of that had anything to do with the Yankees or Yankee Stadium,” Herrington said. She emailed the Yankees owner, the groundskeepers, other professional baseball teams, even the ketchup and mustard companies whose products adorn the hot dogs sold at the stadium.

At first, the response was disappointing.

“They said she couldn’t do it,” Connor said. “But she said, ‘We can do it.’”

Finally, officials at the YES Network got in touch with the family and said they wanted to do a story on them. They interviewed many members of the family a couple months ago. Then, earlier this month, the Yankees invited Becker and his family to come to the stadium and display the replica May 14-16.

Two busloads of family members went along on the trip, with the stadium in the back of a box truck nestled on an egg-crate mattress pad and quilts.

“I didn’t breathe for an hour and a half,” quipped Pat Nugent, Kelly Herrington’s father, who drove the truck.

They received a private tour of the stadium, watched a game against the Seattle Mariners, sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and saw the replica on display at the real stadium, encased in Plexiglas.

“It was the best day ever,” Connor later reported. “What I liked was when the Yankees started catching all the balls.”

As for Abby, her favorite part was getting hot chocolate and falling asleep, she said.

“I felt good and happy for him and proud of him,” Connor said of his great-grandfather.

Herrington said the experience wasn’t just about her grandfather’s replica.

“I used this as an opportunity to teach the kids that if you believe in something with all your heart and you work hard, you can always accomplish what you set out to do,” Herrington said. “I used it as a real learning experience to dream big, because they’re your dreams.”

The video presentation done by the YES Network aired before the game on Monday, May 20, and can be seen online here.