Bidding farewell to the House that Ruth Built started with a pilgrimage on the B-train to the Bronx and ended with roar of the Yankee faithful and Frank Sinatra crooning New York, New York.
Yankee Stadium, after 85 years of being the Cathedral of baseball at the corner of 161st and River Avenue, will no longer be the place for iconic baseball memories. The grand ole gal is no more, replaced by a hulking new version of it just across the road. Catching the second last game to be played there on Saturday, Sept. 20 was a bittersweet affair. The game was a dream realized which can never be repeated.
There really is nothing wrong with Yankee Stadium from a baseball standpoint. The sight-lines are incredible, the field immaculate and the seats are more comfortable than those at Rogers Centre by a mile. Sure, the corridors are old, limiting movement and available concessions. Sure, the ramps are not wide and it could use a power wash and paint job in various spots. However, it is not falling apart, it is just worn in real well like a baseball glove.
The fans at Yankee Stadium made the game an amazing, authentic baseball experience unlike anything available to us Blue Jays fan here. Friendly and wild ball fans. Knowledgeable ball fans talking ball and not hockey during the game-who would have thought that was possible.
Staring down at the diamond, with the sounds of beer and hot dog vendors in the background, it was easy to close your eyes and imagine moments of yesteryear. I could see Lou Gehrig making his famed farewell speech. I could hear the crowd going nuts as Reggie Jackson hit three home runs in one World Series game to cement his nickname of “Mr. October”. I could imagine Roger Maris hitting homerun # 61 to break the Babe’s record.
The Yankee faithful went wild for the stellar Derek Jeter all game long at the game I attended. The fans shook the stadium foundation when lights-out closer Mariano Rivera came in from the bullpen. When he struck out the last batter he faced, a collective roar was deafening. In the bottom of the ninth, with the bases loaded, Yankee magic came through with Robinson Cano driving in the winning run. You would have thought the Yankees had won their 27th World Series.
The Yankees flooded on to the field and Sinatra’s classic New York New York played on repeat for those filing out or just sitting there in their seats, staring out at the field longingly. I sat there scanning every inch of the field and stadium around me as best as i could. I wanted to commit as much of it to memory as I could. It may have been just a baseball game to some, but for the 53,000 people there, it was nine-inning good bye to an important chapter in baseball and New York history.
A stadium is merely a pile of concrete, steel and plastic shaped to host children games played by adults. Yankee Stadium rose above that, becoming a museum and archive for touchstone moments, thanks to the players in Yankee pinstripe and the Bronx Zoo fans.
Leaving was hard to do for many that day in Yankee Stadium, saying good bye always is but the memories of that game will last a lifetime.