Reflections on Yankee Stadium’s final act
It still hasn’t sunk in. It’s still very, very difficult to imagine that Sunday’s game was the final one we’ll ever see at Yankee Stadium. Personally, I’m still trying to sort out what I think and feel about what happened last night.
The ceremonies leading into Sunday’s game were wonderful. One thing the Yankees are able to do better than any other big league franchise, with all of their rich history, is to celebrate being the Yankees. And just like Derek Jeter said they would, the organization did it right: the introduction of actors posing as Lou Gehrig, Joe McCarthy, Red Ruffing, etc. was a bit much, but I will admit that I felt chills when they unveiled the original 1922 AL championship flag on the back in center field. Not sure why, but just seeing that weather-beaten red, white and blue flag brought all of those sepia-toned photographs to life.
Seeing the greats run – or walk – onto the field one last time was, as expected, a sight. Bernie Williams got the last and loudest ovation, but it was other moments that I’ll remember — Cora Rizzuto walking hand-in-hand with Mariano Rivera to shortstop, or marveling at how David Mantle really is the spitting image of his father. Julia Ruth-Stevens threw the first pitch and, listening to her later, she still has a sharpness to her. She was sad to see the old place go, but wishes the Yankees well in the new Stadium.
Terrific to hear Bob Sheppard back on the microphone, even if it was by digital recording. To me, it would be just fine if Sheppard wanted to pre-record the lineups of each club before games at the new Yankee Stadium. With computers, he wouldn’t even have to be there. The game itself seemed a bit anticlimactic and bittersweet. Andy Pettitte so desperately did not want to lose the final game, and Joe Girardi got him out in the nick of time so he could qualify for a decision and get a standing ovation.
Jose Molina hit the final home run in Stadium history — if you predicted that, you deserve a gold star — and Cody Ransom recorded the final out, a 3-U putout. I suppose, given more time to think about it, Ransom would have flipped the ball to Mariano Rivera, but now he gets to become the answer to a trivia question. Rivera plans to give the ball to George Steinbrenner.
What I remember about the celebration postgame was that it was controlled chaos. Jeter’s speech struck the right tones the organization wanted to project, and the lap around the outfield made it feel like October. You know the Yankees wished they could have had the real deal in the Bronx in 2008, but nights like those are what the current Stadium is known for – bunting flapping in the breeze, Ronan Tynan performing God Bless America, military marching bands on the field pre-game, big ceremonial first pitches. It was October in September.
My last moment of covering a game at Yankee Stadium will probably be one of my favorites. I was on my way out the door for the final time when someone invited me to gather some dirt as a souvenir, telling me I’d regret it if I didn’t. I’m not big on souvenirs and I don’t understand what, exactly, you do with that dirt. But I grabbed a paper cup and a plastic fork from the cafeteria – you work with what you have at the time – and borrowed a small sample, part of it from the front of the mound, part of it from the left-handed batter’s box.
The funny thing about being on the field at 3:30 a.m. is that I wasn’t alone. There were spirited games of catch going on all around, people toasting the old stadium from the back of the mound. Someone knew that I pitch a little, and to be perfectly honest, my last recollection of the Yankee Stadium mound isn’t pleasant – in the media game back in August, I walked a few guys and blew a save as we fell to Boston. But presented with the opportunity, how could I not get up there one last time? This time, wearing dress shoes and slacks, I threw strikes.
There’s a lack of finality to it all. The Yankees will be back next week to clean out their lockers, and a November event is being scheduled as the official Stadium sendoff. But while no one may remember (or care about) that 1-2 fastball over the plate except me, that’s the way I walked off the field at the Stadium, ending a very
long and very memorable day.