One last lap around the Stadium
They arrived early on a cloudless Sunday afternoon, lining 161st Street armed with cameras. It was a perfect opportunity: with one slight movement, you could point to a present, soon to be the past, and take a breathtaking view toward the future.
A deep fly ball from where it used to “get late early out there” in Yankee Stadium’s left field, as Yogi Berra would say, the 12-foot high blue letters spelling out the new home of the Yankees stood out against the perfect blue sky.
It was absolutely worth a look. But this was a day for nostalgia and history, two things no place is better synonymous with than Yankee Stadium. They lined in pinstriped jerseys outside Gate 4 in reverse succession, Derek Jeter’s No. 2, Babe Ruth’s No. 3, Lou Gehrig’s No. 4.
Thousands waited to take a final stroll through Monument Park and around the warning track, ringing the field and bending over to tie their shoes, in an attempt to hide a swift collecting of treasured soil.
It seemed worth the slow procession through the darkened concrete concourses, a pathway that will not exist after passing through the gates next year – when each fan purchasing a commemorative program will have a clear and unhindered view of the playing field.
On this day, the final programs were 10 dollars – pencils, as always, were free. The DiamondVision screen in right-center field focused on the bronze profile of Lou Gehrig, displaying in large blue letters, “Thank You, Fans.”
Many of the players stayed late on Saturday, enjoying the field one last time. Joe Girardi threw batting practice to his 6-year-old son, Dante, while Joba Chamberlain, Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi each showed family members around the darkened field.
The youngest Yankees were the first to arrive on Sunday, with Phil Coke and Cody Ransom standing outside the press entrance, looking up at the quotation attributed to Joe DiMaggio: “I’d like to thank the good Lord for making me a Yankee.”
They would disappear down the small, narrow blue staircase, guarded by the forbearing sign: “Players and Press Only.” They followed a blue line along walls that had been stripped bare – photographs of Ruth, Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and other legends had been removed earlier in the week so, as Andy Pettitte explained, “They wouldn’t start walking off.” Pettitte, he’d admit, had his eye on bringing a Whitey Ford lithograph back to Texas.
Making one final walk around the Stadium on a game day, the fans pressed against a chain-link fence in left-center field, aiming their cameras past the waiting ambulance to catch a fleeting glimpse of the empty ballpark.
A few feet away, fans who lined five deep to meet Harlan Chamberlain, the father of the Yankees’ Joba. The souvenir tables and beer taps were busy at Stan’s Sports Bar on River Avenue, and the sound of Yankee Stadium’s organ playing a Herman’s Hermits tune spilled onto the street.
Those not grasping tickets tried mightily to scour some, calling out. One fan scrawled a cardboard sign reading, “Need one ticket.” At the will call window, rows ranged in the dozens of those crowding to pick up their ducats.
A radio broadcast of the Giants NFL game crackled on a personal radio, but no one paid much mind. Baseball was the topic of the afternoon.