Tonight is the last game being played in the old Yankee Stadium.
The brand new, flashy ballpark rising next door will be ready in time for opening day 2009. Since the Yankees won't be making the playoffs this year, that made tonight the last home game of 2008 and the last ever in this fabled stadium.
We happened to turn on the Yankees' cable station, the Yes Network, tonight just in time to see the opening ceremony before the game.
It was a long and moving ceremony, hosted by the two voices of the Yankees, John Sterling, the radio announcer who has been calling their games for the past 19 years, and Michael Kay (who was Sterling's radio partner from 1992-2001), who is now the team's television announcer.
The ceremony began with the two men announcing the original lineup that played on the first opening day at the stadium, April 18, 1923, with men dressed in the old uniforms from that era running out onto the field as if they were the original team.
After all, the ghosts that have helped the Yankees win 26 world championships had to be represented.
Then the announcers began going through each position on the team - first base, second base, third base, right field, center field, left field, catcher and pitcher - while images from each era of the stadium were projected on the big screen...from old black-and-white scratchy films of the Babe hitting a home run, to faded films of Mickey Mantle; old videos of the teams of the 70's, and the more recent videos of the great Yankee teams of the 1990's.
After each highlight film, the still living players for that position were introduced one by one, and they ran out to take their place on the field where so many great players have played.
Players that took the field ranged from old-timers like Bobby Richardson, Don Larsen and Whitey Ford, to players from the great team of the 70's, such as Graig Nettles, Reggie Jackson, Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage and Willie Randolph, to the heroes of the Series-winning teams of the 90's - Scott Brosius, Paul O'Neill, Bernie Williams, David Wells and David Cone (both of whom, like Larsen, pitched perfect games in the Stadium) and Joe Girardi, who is now the club's manager.
In some cases, the widow or family of those who are no longer with us represented the missing players.
Mickey Mantle's son, Bobby Murcer's family, Roger Maris's son, Elston Howard's daughter, Catfish Hunter's widow, Thurmond Munson's son...all took the field dressed in Yankee pinstripes bearing the players' numbers.
By the time they got to Phil Rizzuto's widow Cora, I have to say there wasn't a dry eye in the house - at least not in our house.
And of course, Yogi Berra was there, and trotted out to take his place on this field where he played, coached and managed.
And at the very end, Jorge Posada, the current catcher who has been sidelined by an injury, came out to catch the ceremonial first pitch - thrown by none other than the daughter of Babe Ruth, Julia Ruth Stevens, who must now be about 90 years old.
I hadn't been to Yankee Stadium in person very much. My history with the Yankees is somewhat complex, since my mother, who hails from Massachusetts, brought me up as a Boston Red Sox fan. Throughout my childhood through the mid-1980's I generally rooted for the Red Sox. But of course, living in New Jersey, I was constantly exposed to the Yankees. I remember when I was very young, sitting at the breakfast table eating my cereal and seeing Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle on the Wheaties box in front of me.
In 1971, I went to Yankee Stadium for the first time, with a high-school friend whose father had access to box seats. This was the old Yankee Stadium, before the mid-1970's renovation that made the huge field smaller and ripped off the famous facade that encircled the inside of the stadium. Our seats were right above first base and I remember the Yankees lost to the Kansas City Royals, 11-7.
During the 1970's I had a boyfriend who was a huge Yankees fan, and I grew quite attached to the Yankees of that time. We spent a lot of time watching baseball, as we didn't have much money to go out!
This was the era of Reggie Jackson, when the Yankees won the World Series in 1977 and 1978. 1978 was the year of the famous comeback, when they chased the hapless Red Sox, who were up by 14-1/2 games on July 14, until it all came down to one last sudden-death playoff game on the last day of the season at Fenway Park. The Yankees' Bucky Dent hit a 3-run homer to put the Yankees ahead, and the rest, as they say, is history. Although I felt bad for the Red Sox, I had no problem rooting for the Yankees in the playoffs and the World Series - which they won against the Dodgers.
I went through a long dry spell where I didn't really pay that much attention to baseball, but kind of reverted to being a Red Sox fan - very cautiously. By then I had met DH and we were married in 1985, so we'd been too busy to pay much attention to the game.
However, DH had always been a Yankees fan, and when they started to do well again in the mid-1990's, we started watching the games faithfully, and I got to know a whole new team of Yankees.
In 1996 I'll never forget the tension in the 5th game of the World Series, when pitcher Andy Pettitte pitched the game of his young life, and was taken out in the 8th inning with the score still 1-0, Yankees vs. the Braves. Pettitte was sitting in the dugout with a towel over his head, afraid to watch, while John Wetteland closed out the game, preserving the win.
The second time I was in Yankees Stadium was with DH during that era, when we watched them lose a game (I am now forgetting who it was against) but did get to see some of our heroes in person, including Paul O'Neill, who was playing far beneath us in his usual outfield position. From where we were sitting, he looked like an ant.
I attended another game as part of a corporate outing a couple of years ago (our boss took our whole group there on a sunny summer afternoon), and as I recall they lost that time too.
This summer DH and I made sure to go to one last game at Yankee Stadium. We chose August 27, when they played the Red Sox - quite appropriate, since they played the Red Sox on that first opening day in April 1923. We saw Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera (who didn't pitch but was in the bullpen at one point) and all the rest of the current team. It was a night game, and yes - they lost again, 11-3. I guess I'm just a jinx.
The last game in Yankee Stadium is still being played as I write this. They are playing the Baltimore Orioles, another old American League team. (I'm glad they're not playing one of those newfangled teams like the Diamondbacks or the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.) The score is tied, 3 to 3, and Andy Pettitte is pitching. Somehow that seems appropriate.
In between plays the announcers are chatting with Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra, who are in the broadcasting booth. And they're showing films of great moments in Yankee Stadium during breaks. There is truly the sense of history being made.
Next year the Yankees will still be playing in the Bronx. It's not that far from the old Yankee Stadium to the new one rising next door.
But will the ghosts travel that far? Only time will tell.