Sunday, September 21, 2008

Farewell to Yankee Stadium

Tonight the New York Yankees played their final game at the House That Ruth Built.

After 85 years, the Yankees say goodbye to Yankee Stadium in a bittersweet manner. Unless the Yankees win all of their remaining games and the Boston Red Sox lose all their remaining games forcing a one game playoff for the AL Wild Card this will be the first year the Yankees fail to make the post-season since 1993.

With this in mind, the Yankees gathered the men in pinstripes from past to present. Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson, Don Larsen and Paul O'Neill plus a cast of hundreds were subject to one last burst of adulation from the Yankee faithful. Babe Ruth's granddaughter (who is a Red Sox fan) through out the first pitch. George Steinbrenner could not be present due to ill health. Neither could long time Yankees PA announcer Bob Sheppard although he did record some remarks for the occasion giving Yankees fans one last chance to hear the voice of God.

Of course, Yankee Stadium meant more than baseball. Many football games, boxing matches and three papal masses (including one from Pope Benedict XVI in April of this year) were held at Yankee Stadium. It was also a gathering place for New Yorkers in the days following September 11, 2001. Who could also forget President Bush's first pitch strike prior to Game 3 of the 2001 World Series?

I twice had the privilege to attend Yankee Stadium. I first went in May 2006 with my Dad and my brother Ezra to see the Yankees beat the Kansas City Royals 15-4. In May 2008, Dad and I saw the Yankees get walloped by the Baltimore Orioles 12-2. Mike Mussina got knocked out in the 1st inning for his worst major league start in nearly two decades.

Oddly enough the Yankees would face the Orioles in their final Yankee Stadium game. Andy Pettitte, an integral figure of those Yankee teams that won 4 World Series between 1996 and 2000, got the start for the Bronx Bombers.

The O's got off to a 2-0 lead but in the bottom of the 3rd ex-Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon hit a three run home run to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead. Damon, of course, is remembered for a grand slam home run he hit for the Sox against the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS. That seems so very long ago.

The O's, however, tied the game at 3-3 in the top of the 4th.

Babe Ruth hit the first home run at Yankee Stadium in 1923. Ruth said, "Only G-d knows who will hit the last." My father and I wondered who would hit last home run at the House That Ruth Built. I said it would be A-Rod. Dad said it would be someone less obvious like Jose Molina.

Lo and behold, the aforementioned Jose Molina would hit a two run home run just over the left field fence in the bottom of the 4th to give the Yankees a 5-3 lead. My father can be quite brilliant at times.

I was glad to see Dr. Ronan Tynan sing God Bless America. No one sings it quite like him. I like the fact that he sings its prelude. It's an entirely different song with the prelude and Tynan's arrangement makes the song immensely meaningful to someone born and raised outside the United States.

The Yankees scored two more runs in the bottom of the 7th. Pettitte pitched five innings and the bullpen took care of the rest. Jose Veras, Phil Coke (yes, he brought Yankees fans a smile), Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera pitched four innings of scoreless relief. Rivera pitched a 1-2-3 9th inning. He induced Brian Roberts to hit a ground ball to first baseman Cody Ransom who recorded the final out. Undoubtedly, Cooperstown will want this ball but will the Yankee rookie hold the ball for, well, ransom?

The Yankees won 7-3 and after the game Yankee Captain Derek Jeter led his teammates to the pitcher's mound to make some impromptu remarks thanking the fans for their support and urging them to take their memories to the new Yankee Stadium which will open its doors on April 16, 2009.

Fenway Park still remains the oldest and best ballpark in MLB. It will celebrate its centennial in 2012. But with the departure of Yankee Stadium the oldest ballpark in the AL after Fenway is Angels Stadium which is just over 40 years old.

With the Yankees most likely not in the post-season the team is in a transition period as it moves across the street. The most glaring absence at Yankee Stadium was that of Joe Torre who is currently managing the Los Angeles Dodgers. As of this writing the Dodgers are leading the NL West. If Torre's Dodgers make the post season and the Yankees do not it will add insult to injury and put that much more pressure on Torre's successor, Joe Girardi. If Hank Steinbrenner is anything like his father in his early days with the Yankees the team we see on the field in 2009 might very well be one beyond our recognition.

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