Fans Know It’s Over at Yankee Stadium’s Last Ballgame

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The New York Sun

Even Yogi Berra knew this was the end.

As baseball said farewell to Yankee Stadium, one of the game’s most beloved players stood beneath the stands in a full vintage uniform. Now 83, the man who coined the phrase “it ain’t over till it’s over” put his own stamp on the day.

“I’m sorry to see it over, I’ll tell you that,” Berra said.

The goodbye completed an 85-year-old run for the home of baseball’s most famous team. What began with a Babe Ruth home run on an April afternoon in 1923 was likely to end with Mariano Rivera pitching on a September night.

All the greats were remembered, with fans wearing a collection of jerseys that could fill a Hall of Fame. On one subway car alone, there were shirts with Derek Jeter’s No. 2, the Babe’s No. 3, Mickey Mantle’s No. 7, Phil Rizzuto’s No. 10, and Don Mattingly’s No. 23.

Fans were allowed on the field starting at 1 p.m. and entered through the left-field seats not far from where Aaron Boone’s home run landed five years ago.

Glenn Bartow and his 13-year-old daughter arrived more than 12 hours before New York played Baltimore at night, and were the first ones into Monument Park.

“We come every Sunday,” Emily Bartow said.

This Sunday was the last.

Visitors touched the 24 plaques and six monuments, posed next to them for family photos. Under the kind of cloudless sky that made people recall summer days of yore, they slowly circled the warning track.

Some posed along the 318-foot sign in the left-field corner of the pockmarked fence, raising baseball gloves along the top of the blue-padded wall as if they were making leaping catches. Others stood alongside the 408 sign in center. Some covered their hands with dirt and put their hand prints on an advertisement with a black background.

Those who could not walk were pushed along in wheelchairs. Parents brought strollers to make sure toddlers got to experience the great ballpark before it is dismantled.

A 32-year-old from Brooklyn, Moses Del Rio, held his 11-month-old son, Ryan, who started walking only in the past week.

“I brought him here to take pictures of him in the stadium,” the father said.

Jeter, likely to get a plaque of his own years from now in the new Yankee Stadium, said yesterday was the first time he looked around and tried to soak in the memories — the three big decks filled with fans, the sign in the tunnel from the clubhouse to the field with the Joe DiMaggio quote: “I want to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee.”

Jeter began his day by watching old Yankees games on television.

“Just driving in, I think it really starts to hit you, that this is the last time,” he said. “When you take the field, you’re constantly reminded of the history that’s been here before you.”

With the Yankees nearly out postseason contention for the first time since making the playoffs in 1995, there was plenty of time to join the crowd.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi went onto the field to sign autographs. Mike Mussina and Alex Rodriguez posed for photos with rooters. Joba Chamberlain even took fans’ cell phones and shouted messages to their family and friends.

An elaborate ceremony was planned before the start of the game. Whitey Ford, Goose Gossage, Ron Guidry, Graig Nettles, and Bobby Richardson were among those expected.

Don Larsen, David Wells, and David Cone — the three pitchers who threw perfect games in Yankee Stadium — all were on hand, as was former Yankees star Willie Randolph, fired as manager of the Mets earlier this year.

Larsen, whose gem was the only one thrown in a World Series, thought about his former teammates.

“I’m missing a lot of the guys who are gone and not able to join us,” he said.

Bernie Williams returned for the first time since the Yankees let him go after the 2006 season.

“All the memories that I have here, I know that I’m going to have to keep them in my head because this place is not going to be any longer,” Williams said. “There is a part of me that feels very sad about watching the stadium go.”

New York didn’t plan it this way as it prepared to move next year to a new Yankee Stadium, a $1.3 billion sports palace rising across 161st Street that will be filled with $2,500 seats, a martini bar, steak house, and art gallery. The Yankees won 26 World Series championships after moving into their big ballyard in the Bronx, and had hoped to close the Stadium with another title.

Thousands of police and security filled the worn aisles to ensure the fans didn’t walk away with the ballpark’s guts — which will be sold piece by piece to collectors. Many fans have been arrested and screwdrivers confiscated during the past week.

“I’d like to try and get two seats,” Bartow, the early-arriving fan, said. “They’re going for a couple thousand dollars. It’s going to be tough, but I may have to do it because, you know, we have to.”

The Bartows lingered on the field for 1 hour, 15 minutes, taking pictures they’re certain to cherish. When it was time to climb the steps back to the stands, father and daughter turned to exchange a final-day kiss.

Berra, a 10-time champion often considered the greatest living Yankee, didn’t really need any more souvenirs.

“I hate to see it go,” he said. “It will always be in my heart.”

The New York Sun

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