Sunday, September 21, 2008

One Last Curtain Call

One Last Curtain Call
Aryeh Love
Likely before midnight tonight, the last single will be hit at Yankee Stadium. The last home run will sail over the wall. The last fly ball, the last ground ball, the last strikeout. Someone will hit the final foul ball into the upper deck, someone will be the last to cross home plate. And in about 4 hours, give or take, the final pitch will be thrown from the Yankee Stadium mound. When that last out is caught it will symbolize the end of an era. Not just for a franchise, not just for a city. It will be the end for a sport and for a country.

Critics have said that it is unfortunate that the 2008 Yankees won’t give the Stadium a proper October sendoff. I disagree. If the last game at the Stadium had been played in October, the game would be about the team. It would be about the Yankees’ quest for a 27th championship and its success of failure. Instead, tonight’s game will be about the stadium. It will be about everyone who saw their first baseball game at the House that Ruth Built. It will be about the legends who roamed the field. It will be about the ghosts of the 26 championships already won. Tonight’s game will be about the past, not the present.


Critics have said that the current Yankee Stadium hasn’t been the same since the renovations in the mid-70’s. I disagree. Would anybody say the same about a Wrigley Field that now has lights installed for night games? What about a Fenway Park with seats above the Green Monster? Is the Stadium exactly the same as it was in 1923 when it opened? Of course not, but is anything that old the same? Besides, the pieces likely change from game to game and season to season. The home plate used tonight won’t be the same one Reggie stepped on 3 times in 1977. The pitching rubber used in Don Larsen’s prefect game is long gone. Derek Jeter will play between two bases that Phil Rizzutto never saw. The pieces may be different, but the whole remains the same.


Critics have said that it is ridiculous for the Yankees to close Yankee Stadium. “How can you shut down a place with that much history?” they have said. “The ghosts of Yankee Stadium won’t move across the street with the team” they have complained. “How can you close down an American icon?” Again, I disagree. The closing of Yankee Stadium will allow a new generation to make new history, to welcome new ghosts, and to create a new American icon. We won’t have Babe Ruth’s record setting home run numbers of the 20’s and 30’s. Instead we’ll witness the record setting numbers of Alex Rodriguez. We won’t get to see Lou Gehrig rapping base hits through the infield, but we’ll likely see Derek Jeter become the first Yankee to join the 3,000 hit club. (Dave Winfield, Wade Boggs, Paul Waner and Rickey Henderson all wore pinstripes, but none had 3,000 hits as a Yankee). We may even see Mike Mussina become the last 300 game winner in baseball history and Mariano Rivera become the all time career saves leader if they both last long enough in pinstripes to do so. While we’ll no longer have the field where so many people took in their first baseball game (myself included), we’ll have a new field to take our kids to their first baseball game.


While critics may voice opposition about the future plan, tonight’s game is not about the future. While tonight may be the night the Yankees are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, tonight’s game is not about the present. Tonight’s game is about Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, a streak unlikely to ever be broken. It’s about Babe Ruth’s 60 home run season, an unheard of number in 1927. It’s about Reggie’s 3 home run game in the ’77 World Series. It’s about Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech. It’s about Aaron Boone’s shot in 2003. It’s about the countless historic baseball moments that took place at Yankee Stadium, not to mention the non-baseball moments the Stadium hosted.


One of the non-baseball related moments that people have written about is the night President George Bush threw out the first pitch of Game 3 in the 2001 World Series. It was our (America’s) way of telling our enemies that you may have destroyed our buildings, but you didn’t destroy our spirit, our will, or our way of life. The President could have thrown out the first pitch of Game 1 in Phoenix to open the 2001 World Series. Chase Field in Arizona would likely have been less of a target than Yankee Stadium would have been. But Bush knew that if he wanted the statement to have the right impact, it had to be in New York. It had to be in the same city that was attacked just a few weeks earlier. It had to be in the same city that saw its buildings fall, and, as Bush put it on this year’s 9/11, its Heroes rise. It had to be in the capital of American Baseball, in its Cathedral, in Yankee Stadium.


That ceremonial first pitch was a message to the world. While things may be different, things are still very much the same. Similarly, when the first pitch is thrown at the new Yankee Stadium it will be a be a message to the Yankee world as well as the entire baseball world that while the surroundings may be different, things will still be very much the same. The Yankees will begin a 9th quest for their 27th world championship, the same quest they have been on for the last 8 years. The pinstripes will be the same, the players will be the same (some of them at least), the short right field porch will be the same. But like I said, tonight isn’t about the future, nor is it about the team. It’s about the Stadium and about the past.


Maybe something extra special will happen tonight. Maybe Andy Pettite throws a perfect game, Alex Rodriguez hits 5 home runs, or Derek Jeter wins it in the bottom of the 9th, keeping the Yankees mathematically alive and by some miracle they make the playoffs. But in all likelihood, tonight’s game will be like most of the other 6,500 plus games played there. When the last out of tonight’s game nestles into someone’s glove, the 55,000 plus fans will give the Stadium its’ first, and last, standing ovation. Likely to be standing for a lot of the game already, there will no full seats after that last catch as every person in the ballpark will rise and finally give the Stadium its due. They will cheer for the pitcher’s mound where Larsen threw the only perfect game in World Series history. They’ll cheer for the infield dirt where Gehrig played most of his 2,130 consecutive games. They’ll cheer the outfield grass where Mantle, DiMaggio and Ruth once roamed. They’ll cheer home plate, behind which Yogi Berra won 10 World Series rings. They’ll call out all the ghosts of Yankee Stadium for one last curtain call. And then they’ll ask for another. And another…… And another…


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