Mariano Rivera shrugs. He looks around the locker room he’s called home his entire career; he glances in the direction of the pitcher’s mound where he’s become the greatest closer in baseball history. Will he miss Yankee Stadium? “Not really,” he says. “I just want to be a part of opening the new stadium.”
Rivera is one of the few guaranteed a spot across the street on Opening Day 2009. Another, Derek Jeter, sits in a chair facing his locker. On Jeter’s left are stacks of brand-new Nike cleats. On his right is an empty locker, preserved this way since the 1979 plane-crash death of catcher Thurman Munson.
The Yankees are the most death-haunted team in sports. Partly that’s due to the franchise’s long history and unparalleled success—it simply has more all-time-great players to memorialize than any other team, so the black armband of mourning seems to have become a permanent part of the Yankees uniform. This year, the team is honoring former center fielder Bobby Murcer, lost to cancer in July.
The final Yankee Stadium game is scheduled for September 21. Yes, the old stadium is outmoded, cramped, and uglified by the seventies renovation. But it truly is one of a kind. Next year, the Yankees will have shiny luxury boxes for the corporate customers and cavernous locker rooms for the players, a massive high-def video screen above the outfield, and a panoply of non-hot-dog delicacies at the concession stands—just like every other modern ballpark. Maybe the Steinbrenner sons are in the embryonic stages of a genius new division of labor for a new era, with Hank supplying the juicy quotes and Hal doing the inside work of watching the money. But with the waning of George Steinbrenner, the incomparable Yankees are on their way to becoming just another team.