Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Met Fan Takes in the Last Game at Yankee Stadium

By Matt 'Beef' Whitfield

Note: I’m not a native New Yorker or New Jerseyian. I spent half my life here, and my first baseball game in New York was at Shea Stadium, thus the Mets became my team. This being said I don’t hate Yankees nor do I root against them in the post-season. I may tell hardcore Met fans who are friends this to quiet them, but I do respect the Yankees and their accolades past and present.

I thought I had already attended my last Yankee game. My friend who had never been to Yankee Stadium was in town and somehow I managed to salvage two tier reserve tickets at face value to the Yankees Orioles game on Friday September 20th. I had been to about a half dozen Yankee games (this year) already and so I figured as I left my seats that Friday that would be the last time I ever saw Monument Park and the House that Ruth built.

Sunday morning I awoke, pretty exhausted having been out the past two nights till at least 2 A.M. I didn’t plan on going to the last game at Yankee Stadium that day, I wanted to go to a sports bar with my friend to watch all the days football games. My friend had interest in going, but having been to one Yankee game at the House that Ruth Built he was satisfied.

Around noon I phoned one of my friends. We were talking and I was telling him how the last game at Yankee Stadium was being played later on. “Dude you’re a bigger baseball fan than I am, and I’d be there. You got to be there. That’s history,” he said. With those words I knew I had to be there. I told my hung-over friend we were going, and so we boarded a 1:39 train to New York Penn Station.

On my way over on the D train (the train that takes you from New York City to Yankee Stadium) I was flocking to every person wearing pinstripes like a hawk, “do you have any extra tickets,” I would say. I was responded by many smiles but a lot of no’s. Finally I met a guy who gave me a tip and told me tickets had been going for around $150 a pop on Craigslist that morning, and that I could probably find one, although probably not in the best of locations for the game.

An agreement was made with my friend and I before we got to Yankee Stadium. If one of us were to get a ticket and there other one didn’t luck out we wouldn’t hold the other back. We arrived at the stadium around 3:00 and we both saw there was a line in front of the Yankees Ticket Sales Window. We were informed a small amount of tickets were going to be released. My friend decided to wait in line while I decided to see what I could come up with.

“Do you and have any extras,” seems like I said that almost a hundred times that day. Finally after a little over an hour I meet a guy that said maybe to me. I saw him again, a little while later, and he handed me his ticket. I said, “how much do you want,” he said, $200, I countered him and said $120, and he agreed. Just as I had handed him the bills a guy that looked like a regular ticket fiend tried to swoop in and break up the deal, but it was too late I had the ticket the guy had my money.

My friend was still in line and he was seeing how people were lucking out with getting tickets. Still, though I continued to search for a ticket for my friend. About half an hour or so later I found him one, the guy wanted $150 for it. Considering it was in Main Reserved (lowest level of Yankee Stadium) right behind home plate it was a relative bargain (I had paid $120 for a Main Reserved ticket in the Outfield near the foul pole). My friend turned the offer down, and told me don’t worry I’ll get in.

Around 5:30 I walked into the stadium. Chills ran up and down my spine after the ticket checker scanned my ticket and let me in. Game time wasn’t for a while and so I figured I’d check the sights and sounds of the last day at Yankee stadium.

As I entered the Main Reserve near first base I noticed the entire infield (excluding the actual diamond) was covered with reporters and news analysts. At one glance I saw the entire ESPN Baseball Tonight crew, at another I saw Bruce Beck, the WNBC sports anchor. I’d been to a ton of baseball games in my life, including this years Home Run Derby, but I’d never seen as much news coverage at a game before.

I walked around some more before taking my seats. I noticed fans prying away pieces of the right field foul pole. In the news the days before it said Yankee stadium officials were expecting people to try and loot from the stadium. This being said I never saw a fan arrested for vandalism that day.

The festivities commemorating the final game at Yankee Stadium began around 7 PM. To kick things off the starting lineup for the 1923 Yankees were announced and the mock players took to the outfield as they were introduced to the fans. It was eerie how the people playing the former Yankees had the same exact build and physique I’d expect the particular members of the 1923 Yankees to have. Next every all time Yankee great was announced at every position. Players who were no longer living had their children or widow’s represent them. Babe Ruth’s daughter Julia Ruth Stevens, Mickey Mantle’s sons, and Phil Rizzuto’s former wife Cora were in attendance just to name a few. Former Yankees of note that were in attendance and honored were Reggie Jackson, Yogi Berra, Don Larsen, Willie Randolph (welcomed with a Mets suck chant by the crowd), Whitey Ford, and Bernie Williams.

Derek Jeter, the Yankee with the most career hits at Yankee stadium was honored before the first pitch. With his family beside him he received a Waterford Crystal Bat commemorating his record 1,274 career hits at Yankee Stadium.

It was only fitting that a living bloodline of the most infamous Yankee be a part of the closing of the stadium her dad made famous. Julia Ruth Stevens threw out the pitch to Jorge Posada. Although the pitch fell well short of Posada Ruth took it in stride saying how her dad would have found it amusing and adding "He knew I didn't throw very well," Ruth said with a chuckle. "But I taught him how to bowl[1]."

The last game itself wasn’t as much of a spectacle as the pregame ceremonies at Yankee Stadium. Maybe it was just me though. I was sitting by myself and clueless about my friends whereabouts, as he ended up turning down pricey tickets from the Yankees and scalpers. Regardless I was one of the 54,610[2] fans that got to witness the spectacle of Yankee Stadium one last time.

The game would finally start around 8:30. The Orioles got on the scoreboard first and held a 2-0 advantage until the bottom of the 3rd. The Yankees would come back to take the lead as Johnny Damon would hit a 3 run HR making the score 3-2. Former Yankee killer and Red Sox Kevin Millar would tie the game in the Top of the 4th on a single. After that it was all Yankees though as in the Bottom of the 4th Jose Molina would hit the last Home Run in the House that Ruth Built, driving in Robinson Cano making the score 5-3. In the 6th inning Andy Pettite, one of the few remaining active Yankees from the 1996 World Series team, would get relieved but not before a thundering ovation by 54,610. In the 7th Bobby Abreu and Brett Gardner would tack on one run each making the score 7-3. Enter the Sandman was played one last time as Mariano Rivera would come out to relive Joba Chamberlain in the 9th and make sure the final game at Yankee Stadium was a win in the record books.

After the game a blanket of roughly one hundred NYPD (my estimate) covered the field on horseback and in riot gear. The Yankees convened on the field to celebrate their final game and victory at Yankee Stadium. Yankee team captain Derek Jeter would take to the microphone and address the fans for a couple minutes. He told the adoring fans to, “Take the memories from this stadium, add it to the new memories that come with the new Yankee Stadium and continue to pass them on from generation to generation. We just want to take this moment to salute you, the greatest fans in the world.[3]" Jeter and the rest of the Yankees would then take a victory lap around the stadium, and surprisingly only two fans that I saw jumped on the field only to be quickly apprehended.

As I was walking out that night, although a Met fan, I was saddened that the world’s most historic ballpark was gone. Despite being a Met fan I had fun at Yankee games. I watched good baseball hung with and meet good people and enjoyed my hours in the Bronx. Although it’s gone Yankee Stadium will always be a vivid photograph in my mind.