Yankee Stadium’s Final Act

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"Man, I can already smell the Cointreau."
"Man, I can already smell the Cointreau." Photo: Getty Images

We'd sat through nine innings of baseball last night, plus pregame and postgame ceremonies, and even some sort of thank-you lap around the stadium, but it didn't really sink in that Yankee Stadium was really done for good until a couple minutes before midnight. The game was over, though a few players lingered on the field, doing interviews, taking photos, and grabbing dirt from the mound. But out in the Yankees' bullpen, some members of the grounds crew were horsing around, spraying water like champagne and taking turns sliding into one of the bullpen's home plates. And we realized it didn't matter. They could have built a sandcastle out there for all it mattered; Mariano Rivera would never warm up there again. This was, officially, no longer hallowed ground.

The last game at Yankee Stadium was a little imperfect, as it was bound to be. Babe Ruth hit the first home run on the first Opening Day in 1923; in a perfect world, his modern-day slugging counterpart, Alex Rodriguez, would have hit the last. (He didn't; it was José Molina, who shares only a waist size with Ruth.) Joe Torre would have been recognized somehow, even if he's on poor terms with ownership. The final out probably would have been recorded on a nasty Mariano Rivera cutter, not a grounder to Cody Ransom. And in that perfect world, the last game wouldn't have been last night; it'd have been sometime in October.

But the night wasn't really about orchestrating the perfect ceremony — that much was clear during the awkward beginning, in which random guys in period uniforms were introduced as the first starting lineup and assorted Yankee greats. (Luckily, the ceremony did pick up from there.) As was driven home all night, it was about memory. Derek Jeter said so in his speech after the game, imploring fans to take those memories across the street to the new stadium. Even the teens playing the drums in our 4 train car on the way to the Bronx told straphangers that while the stadium is about to die, the memories never will. (It was quite poignant, even if they were working for tips.)

And everyone's memory of last night — like their memories of the stadium itself — will be different. For some, it will consist of Yogi Berra behind home plate one last time. Or Willie Randolph sliding into second like a little kid. Or Paul O'Neill signing autographs in right field after he was introduced. Or the great Bob Sheppard, via a recording, introducing the lineups, just like old times. Or Babe Ruth’s daughter throwing out the first pitch. Or even the guy who ran onto the field after the game, penetrated the ring of riot cops, and spooked a couple of the 27 (yes, 27) police horses, before being violently tackled in right center field. (Last game or not, Yankees fans will be Yankees fans.)

For us, personally, it was seeing Bernie Williams again. We’re not old enough to have watched Mantle or Maris, or even Munson and Murcer. We made our Yankee Stadium debut as a fan on July 7, 1991 — the same day a scrawny kid named Bernie Williams made his as a player. We appreciate the great Yankees teams of the twenties or fifties as much as anyone, but it’s the teams from the nineties we actually remember. Bernie's return brought the house down, and seeing him one last time perfectly bookended our memories of the stadium.

When Michael Kay pulled the game-countdown lever last night, it didn’t go from “1” to “0” as you might have expected. Instead, it changed from “1” to “forever,” as in, Yankee Stadium will never die, because the new stadium will be called Yankee Stadium, or something like that. It was every bit as lame as it sounds. But there’s some truth to it; the stadium will absolutely die, once they pick it apart for everything that could ever conceivably be sold. But the memories of Bernie, or Bob Sheppard, or whomever — they really will last.