Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Yankee Stadium

They'll close Yankee Stadium for good Sunday night. Well, maybe not for good; there's talk of some sort of special event in November to cap it once and for all.

But there'll be no more baseball beyond Sunday in what the team likes to call the cathedral. The Yankees will miss the playoffs this season. A meaningless game against the Orioles will conclude 85 years of action in the most famous stadium in the world.

By the way, the game is on Sunday night, instead of what is expected to be a glorious autumn afternoon, because Major League Baseball allowed it to be switched for national broadcast on ESPN. That means it will end too late for many fans to watch in its entirety. It means some fans who held tickets for months expecting to enjoy a final day game at the stadium and then perhaps linger to soak in some last-minute memories, won't be able to do so. It means for all the talk of tradition - and tradition surely will be emphasized in nostalgic pre-game ceremonies, which are expected to include former Yankee greats like Yogi Berra and Bernie Williams (who has laid low since his forced retirement), and family members of late Yankees Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, among many others - has been sold out again for TV money. Alas, that's what baseball fans have come to expect.

But if you are a baseball fan, in general, a Yankees fan, in particular, you have better personal stories to tell about Yankee Stadium.

We all remember our first game there. Mine was in 1955.

Growing up in the Bronx, with a dad who was a Yankees fan, my path was clear. I went to countless games, often with my father, in later years with my sons. I also had the honor of "working" at Yankee Stadium as a reporter and columnist for the Freeman on opening days, Kingston's Mike Ferraro Day, an All-Star game and several World Series. It's hard to put into words what it was like to go from the general admissions seats in the upper deck as a kid, to sitting in the press box and walking on the field and in the clubhouses as an adult.

For everyone who ever attended a baseball game at Yankee Stadium (or a concert, or a boxing match - I sat ringside for Ali-Norton) - or a football game or a papal visit), the experiences will stay with us forever.

And now they'll move across the street (foreground in accompanying photo) to a wildly expensive stadium which will look very much like the one they're departing. It will be new and different and more comfortable, with plenty of creature features and year-round access for specialty restaurants. Watching on TV, it will look very much like the old stadium, with identical playing field dimensions and interior shape and colors.

But you won't be able to see the Bronx County Courthouse beyond the outfield wall, just as we've seen it from Lou Gehrig's farewell speech to Reggie Jackson's three-homer World Series game to Sunday night's finale. And as best as they'll try to recreate Yankees history, the diamond at the new stadium won't be the same one graced by Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio and Whitey Ford (or visiting stars like Ted Williams, Bob Feller and Jackie Robinson).

The new Yankee Stadium (if any of us can afford a ticket to get in it) will be wonderful. But for fans like me, it won't be the same.
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