Pride of the Yankee Fans
This past Sunday night, September 21 2008, fans from far and wide packed into iconic Yankee Stadium to witness the end of not just an era but a legend, to see the final game played in the baseball shrine that first opened its doors back in 1923. My son Shalom was privileged enough - and his parents crazy enough (but then, don't those often go together?) - to be among them. As a third-generation died-in-the-wool Yankee fan, Shalom was there for all of us, most especially his maternal grandfather who fervently cheered on the Yankees through at least three of their celebrated dynasties. What's a 17-year-old being out until 3:00 AM on a school night, compared with that kind of legacy??
Here, in Shalom's virtually unedited words, is his account of Closing Day at The House That Ruth Built.
When you spend 50% of your yearly income on tickets priced 900% higher then normal, it's a pretty safe bet that you aren't in your right mind. Either that or you're a Yankee fan.
When a friend of mine (henceforth to be known as D) told me he had tickets to the Final Yankee Stadium game, I was jealous. When he told me the friend he had planned to go with couldn't make it, I was speechless. When he told me how much I would have to pay to come along, reality seeped in. But I was still speechless. The chance to see Yankee Stadium, the most historic sports venue in American history, and its final curtain was just too tempting. So I agreed to buy the extra ticket.
At 6:45 on Sunday morning, my alarm blasted it's monotonic buzz buzz buzz buzz buzz, just as it did every morning. The only difference was there was nobody to loudly and obnoxiously awaken; I was already up and dressed for half an hour. To get to an 8:30 PM game, we boarded an 8:00 AM train from Edison station. If we were going to do this, we were going to do it right.
After a couple of quick errands in the city, we arrived at the stadium at a quarter to one. The first thing that caught my eye was that the marquee at the front of the park, which usually listed the time of the game, read "Thanks for the memories". The second was that there were already thousands of fans lined up, waiting to trample through those turnstiles, to see the sights and smell the smells of Yankee Stadium for the last time. They wanted to thank it for the memories.
The gates opened at 1:00, and D and I hurried to Monument Park. From there, fans were allowed to walk onto the field itself, a prospect too overwhelming for me to put into words. But reality seeped in yet again as we were greeted by another group of thousands at the park entrance, all waiting patiently for their turn to walk where Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle made their livelihood. We stood in line for several minutes, making idle chatter and absorbing the significance of the day. It was hard to believe that after today, it was over.
By 2:30, we finally made it onto the field, and I was a little kid again. If these players were gods, this was their Eden. We took our time as we walked along the warning track, pointing out the places where this and that ball disappeared into the stands and where Jeter made this and that spectacular play. I was so deeply moved, so filled with emotion, I didn't even realize when my round around the stadium was over and I was back at monument park. By the time we made our way back to our seats on the upper deck of the right field side, it was 3:30.
At 7:00, the pre-game ceremonies began. This is when things got heavy. One by one, great Yankee heroes from the past and present were brought onto the field, each receiving an ovation that shook the old stadium to its foundation. By far the biggest applause went to Bernie Williams, staple centerfielder of the most recent championship team. Bernie had not been on that field in 2 years, and the fans had clearly missed him. My ears are still ringing from hearing 54,000 psychotic fans shout "BER-NIE WILL-IAMS" again and again and again.
And then, the game itself. Well, there wasn't any question that the Yanks were going to win this one. So nobody in the park was nervous when the Orioles took an early lead of 2-0. I mean, yeah, we will have missed the postseason for the first time in nearly two decades, but we were still the Yankees. The spirits of legends gone that still haunted the stadium would not be denied. Not tonight. So when Mariano Rivera recorded the final out for the final time in the final game in the world's greatest arena, no one was surprised. Except, perhaps, any passing rodents, which quickly took refuge from the thunderous roar that ensued.
Half an hour after the final out was made, the stadium was still packed. Nobody wanted to leave, to say goodbye, to let go of the place that had given them so much to cheer for. But as Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" echoed through the park for the fifth time that night, I got up and slowly walked down the stairs. Taking one final look at the scoreboard that shone so brightly in the night sky, I left the seating area. It was time to move on. As Derek Jeter said when he addressed the stadium after the game, "We're relying on you to take the memories from this stadium and add them to the new memories that come to the new Yankee Stadium". So good-bye, Yankee Stadium. Thanks for the memories.