Tearful goodbye for Yankee faithful

John Healy

When people hear Yankee Stadium, many images come to mind. The great Babe Ruth crushing a monster home run over the short porch in right field. Lou Gehrig giving one the greatest speeches in history. Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle chasing Babe Ruth’s home run record; Reggie Jackson, earning the name “Mr. October,” by hitting 3 consecutive home runs in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series. Watching beer fly into the air after a Tino Martinez grand slam in Game 1 of the 1998 World Series. Derek Jeter hitting a walk-off home run in Game 4 of the 2001 World Series less than 2 months after the attacks of 9/11. And finally, Aaron Boone sending the Yankees to the World Series in Game 7 of the ALCS in 2003 against the Boston Red Sox. There are many more great moments that took place in this prestigious ballpark, and it is now coming to a close. Yankee Stadium is no more, as it held its final game was on Sunday September 21, 2008.
I was fortunate enough to attend this memorable game, which had all a Yankee fan could ask for: an Old Timers Day-like ceremony, a post-game celebration, and of course, a Yankee win.
It was a nostalgic day at the Stadium, as everyone took had their cameras in hand to capture the final moments at this historic ballpark. The Stadium opened at 1:00pm to let fans in early to go on the field and get to see Monument Park. I arrived at 6:00pm waiting online at Gate 2 and hearing the disgruntled fans who were not let into Monument Park chanting Monument Park chanting, “Let us in! Let us in!”
Before the ceremonies began, a video of the voice of Yankee Stadium, Bob Sheppard, appeared on the screen, as he said what he has been saying for the past 50 years, “Good evening, and welcome to Yankee Stadium.” The crowd gave a roar that created chills down everyone’s back when they heard his voice. After this video segment, Yankees announcers Michael Kay and John Sterling began the pre-game ceremonies. Videos of the all-time Yankee greats appeared on screen. When they showed footage of Derek Jeter’s walk-off home run in the 2001 World Series, the fans chanted his name so loud you could not hear Kay continue with the ceremony. Chants continued for the late Bobby Murcer, and the biggest ovation went to Bernie Williams, who returned for the first time since 2006. He jogged out to shallow centerfield, where he spent 13 years playing, and took his cap off and waved to the fans.
Once the ceremonies were complete, it was time for the actual game. During the first pitch the Stadium lit up with flashes on everyone’s cameras going off making it impossible to see the first pitch clearly with. After falling into a 2-0 deficit, it seemed as if the game was just the aftermath of what was already a special sendoff. However, Johnny Damon got the team and the fans back into it with a 3-run home run in the third inning. During the fourth inning, catcher Jose Molina hit a two-run home run, giving the Yankees a 5-2 lead, marking it the last home run hit at this prestigious park.
After 5 innings, manager Joe Girardi pulled Andy Pettite out of the game. He walked off the mound to a standing ovation, and then the fans chanted his name for a curtain call, and he quickly popped out of the dugout to acknowledge them with a tip of the cap.
When the game became official, Kay returned to pull the countdown lever from one to zero. However, instead of going to zero, it read forever. Kay said, “Yankee Stadium shall last forever.”
The game was closed as it has been so many times over the past ten years, with Mariano Rivera entering the game to Metallica’s Enter Sandman. The fans were on their feet the entire inning. After the second out was recorded Girardi made an interesting move by pulling Jeter off the field. As he jogged off the field the crowd returned to its “De-rek Je-ter” chants. His named echoed throughout the stadium for a couple of minutes and Rivera stepped off the mound to let Jeter come out and wave to the fans one last time in the place he spent his entire career. With the crowd still ecstatic from the Jeter ovation, the focus was now on Rivera and the final pitch at Yankee Stadium. Flashes of cameras went off just as they did in the first inning, and Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts grounded out to first base, as the final game at Yankee Stadium officially came to an end.
Police in riot gear and horses stormed the field as Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York was played over the PA system. As the Yankees shook hands for the final time on the infield grass fans stood still and continued to take pictures. A crazed fan managed to get onto the field which drew cheers from the crowd, but he was taken down by about half a dozen cops within the blink of an eye. The attention was then directed towards Jeter, holding a microphone to address the fans.
Jeter thanked the fans for the memories of the place he has spent his entire career and tipped his cap along with the rest of the Yankees to the fans. He then led the team in a march around the field one last time before the doors would be shut forever. They waved and to the fans that were all standing on their feet, listening to another round of Frank Sinatra, and watching their beloved Yankees walk around the field that has provided so many great memories.
As the team headed back to the dugout, players from both the Yankees and Orioles went out to the infield and pitcher’s mound and took some dirt home with them. Fans still would not leave and pictures continued to be taken. Nobody wanted to see this ballpark go.
As I eventually left, fans kissed the walls of Yankee Stadium as they left the park for the last time. I touched the wall for the last time right as I left. I gave a quick look back onto the field where I witnessed so many great memories. As Kay said when he pulled the countdown lever, “Yankee Stadium shall last forever.”