The Wrong Goodbye

It was not my intent to go to the final home game at Yankee Stadium. But in the end, I couldn’t resist.

My son and I had made a point of attending a bunch of games this season, including the final Old-Timers’ Day at the big ballpark. We thought that would be a fitting farewell. But as the stadium’s final weekend rolled around, we simply could not accept the notion of watching Sunday night’s festivities on the couch.

So, Saturday evening I went into a furious dance with the sellers on Craig’s List, determined to hold the line at $300 for a pair of tickets. It seemed an impossible task in a market where the most far-flung single seats in the bleachers were selling for twice that. Finally, shortly after midnight, I wrested a pair in Section 8, Row X, for $320. Row X? I didn’t even know that existed.

Entering the stadium later that day, we were directed to take the escalators up the tower in left field. Incredibly, despite the hundreds of games I’ve attended at the stadium, I’d never been up that tower. And it was a revelation—a completely new angle on the ballpark. As you ascend on a series of elevators you get to see a cross section of the façade that adorns the back wall of the bleachers. It has the effect of viewing the back of a Hollywood stage set. For me, the last look brought a first look. Already, the night seemed special.

We headed up to our seats, and I do mean “up.” Row X, it turns out, is the very last row at the tippy top of the third deck. We huffed and puffed our way up the steep aisle and the seats were … magnificent! The perfect spot for the occasion, with a panorama of the entire park and a direct view into the Yankee dugout. There was even a foot-high slit through the concrete wall behind us, through which we would later gaze west across Manhattan at the lights of the George Washington Bridge. Who knew?

The fans, of course, were great, cheering on cue at the opening ceremonies, especially as the names of recent heroes like O’Neill and Tino and Bernie and the Boomer were announced. My personal perspective means going hoarse for Skowron and Richardson and, of course, Yogi, my Montclair neighbor (well, almost).

My son Steven and I have had a remarkable run of recent Yankee Stadium thrills. We were there in 2000 when David Justice hit the majestic three-run blast in the pennant-winner against Seattle, and the following year when Alfonso Soriano hit his walk-off homer against the Mariners in Game Five of the ALCS. We saw Derek Jeter’s five-hit game against Detroit in 2006, and Johnny Damon’s round tripper in last year’s only post-season victory against Cleveland.

Still, my fondest memories run deeper. Memorial Day 1960, Yogi homered to win the second game of a double-header against the old Washington Senators, my first day at the big ball yard. In the fabulous 1961 season, I saw Berra beat the Orioles with a homer in the ninth. Then John Blanchard hit one in the tenth to beat the Twins. And in September, in what is surely one of the greatest games ever played, Elston Howard beat the Tigers in the heat of the pennant race with a three-run shot in the ninth, after Mickey Mantle had tied the score, leading off the inning with his second home run of the game.

I cherish knowing I was there in late 1962 when Mantle batted leadoff in an attempt to add enough plate appearances to win the batting crown after being hurt for much of the season. And I cherish the moment some 30 years later when I caught my one and only foul ball off the bat of Chuck Knoblauch (floating in slow-motion into my up-stretched palms).

But now, back to reality and September 2008. I’m thrilled we were there. I’m thrilled I shared the moment with my son. But I’m still not sure why the old ballpark has to come down. Would we destroy the Empire State Building to install better elevators? Would we melt down the Statue of Liberty in the name of better crowd flow?

Amid all the punditry, my son hit the nail on the head. As the final inning at Yankee Stadium rolled around he expressed his confusion at the ballpark’s fate: “I don’t need amenities. All I need is a hot dog, a soda, and a ballgame.”

Amen to that.

Click here to read a story from our archives about Yogi Berra.

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