Sunday, September 21, 2008

The End of an Era

Photo: Kjetil Ree (Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike 3.0)

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.


Utah Savage said...

I have to be honest, when I saw you were writing about Yankee Stadium's demise I skimmed the post. But what I noticed in the skimming (don't be offended, I'm just not into sports nostalgia) was the Blog Roll or the thingy going down the right side of the post. I will be back to peruse because it looked very interesting content-wise and was technically intriguing. I want to know how you do that.

Utah Savage said...

Well I went back and looked and it's called blog feeds. How do you do it? Oh please come show me how. I will be forever in your debt. Good friends are good to have in these difficult economic times. My house is paid for and my yard is huge. I could have my own little Hooverville. Gated even.

Mauigirl said...

Hi Utah, don't worry, I'm not offended! I know not everyone will care about the end of Yankee Stadium, especially if they're not from this area!

The new blog feed is done the same way as the link list - it's a new choice you can make when you add a link. You pick blog feed instead of link list. I'll come by and let you know how!

Mauigirl said...

Actually I just looked and they've fancied it up even more since I last checked. And it's called Blog Lists, not feeds. You can add all kinds of other things - they're calling them "gadgets" now.

Comrade Kevin said...

I hate when they destroy places like this because, as you pointed out, there is so much history in these old ballparks.

Hard to believe we here hold the claim to the oldest remaining ball park in existence. It's just in an awful part of town.

Billie Greenwood said...

I choked up reading this and I'm not even a big sports fan, let alone Yankee fan.

Like Utah, I got distracted by your blog rolls--so comprehensive. I smiled when I read her comment since we both went astray on the same day. Maybe I'll join a blog network I discovered here. BTW, thanks for adding me to your blog roll; I did the same for you.

Mary Ellen said...

When they took down the old Wrigley Field in Chicago I was sad for about five minutes. The new Wrigley, Cellular Field is so much better. There are no poles to get in your way of viewing the game, better and more parking, and it has so many nice features like the "Fundamentals" section which has batting cages and pitching areas for kids to enjoy before and during the game. The way it is situated, the parents can still watch the game while their kids are busy running, pitching, or hitting at the balls. Not to mention, the food vendors are great and the place is very spacious with plenty of room between the rows so your legs aren't cramped. The only thing I wish it had is a retractable roof like they have in Wisconsin. The weather is so damned cold in the Spring and Fall, not to mention all the games that get rained out. It just makes sense to me. I know it's expensive, but I think all ballparks should have them.

Nostalgia is good, but leg room is a lot better. ;-)

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

In reply to the last comment, Wrigley Field is still standing. They took down Comiskey Field.

I'm not a Yankee's fan, but how can I not feel sad about the end of the house that Ruth built?

I hope they transfer all the important history and monument stuff to the new stadium.

LET'S TALK said...

Hi Mauigirl, I hear that they will have some type of auction of everything in the ballpark.

That sounded great until I heard about the price of the items that were being sold.

Mary Ellen said...

The only thing holding up the crumbing Wrigley Field...the ivy. The place is a dump. Back in 2004, the concrete was falling and even hit an older woman in the foot. They almost shut the damned place down because it wasn't safe and the repairs were so shoddy. The place is in a state of constant repair. I have no idea what the appeal is.

Randal Graves said...

Um, yeah, boo, hoo. ;-)

ME, the appeal of Wrigley? Day games and thus an opportunity for Joe Blow to call of work and watch some baseball while pounding a case.

Mauigirl said...

Kevin, I know,I'm a historic preservation fan and I always feel bad when a historic building is ripped down. I suppose it did need updating but why couldn't they just re-do it again as they did in the 70's? That's what the Red Sox did with Fenway Park. Originally they were going to tear it down and build a new park and they changed their minds, thank goodness. That's another great old ballpark with a lot of history.

Border Explorer, thanks, glad it touched you! And thanks also for linking me!

Mary Ellen, I know what you mean, there are certainly perks to a new place that aren't there in the old one. For one thing I understand the slope of the seats is more gradual in the new park - which would be fine with me - I was pretty nervous as we ascended to our nosebleed seats! As I was crawling past people to get to our seats, I was afraid of falling head-first down the steep incline!

Ruth, I think they are moving all the monuments and other important things and auctioning off the rest.

LT, yes, I heard even the chairs they used to use in the locker room (which are vinyl plain chairs) are going for like $2000 each!

Randal, I know, it's nice they still have day games. But they do have lights at night now!

Distributorcap said...

i cannot get weepy over a stadium - then again we all know how much (or little) any sports means to me

especially baseball...........

but i am glad you guys find nostalgia in this

Dorothy said...

There seems to be no need for what was..Technology is taking the old from us. We have an old Hockey stadium coming down and being replaced with a Bass Pro store.....they're going to try to preserve some of front portion of the building if possible...however, cost may prevent that as well..

So in the end all we have is memories.

Dorothy from grammology

enigma4ever said...

kind of sad...I was an Orioles fan back in the 70's...I love the old days of baseball...real teams...really sad...end of an era...

( I remember Reggie too..I worked at a hotel in Baltimore- the summer he had the Bad Shiner...I delivered cokes and ice to him...he was actually kind of a nice fellow...strange era...when Baseball was a game of the people...)