Monday, July 21, 2008

Goodbye, My Love: My Last Game at the Real Yankee Stadium

On May 27, 1978, I attended my 1st Major League Baseball game, at the closest big-league ballpark to my home, Yankee Stadium.

It didn't turn out so well: The New York Yankees lost 4-1 to the Toronto Blue Jays, a 2nd-year expansion team. They ended up winning the World Series anyway, and Yankee Stadium became a home away from home for me.

On July 20, 2008, 30 years later, I attended my last game at the original Yankee Stadium.

At least, I'm presuming it will be the last. There are 29 home games left in the regular season, but tickets are few and far between.

As with a few other parks -- including Boston's Fenway Park and Chicago's Wrigley Field, built prior to World War I and now about to be the last remaining parks built before the Space Age -- you come out of the public transportation system, and you see guys talking about tickets: "You buying? You buying?" When you say no, they switch to, "You selling? You selling?" Not this time: It was all, "Anybody got any extra tickets?"

I went up on Saturday, because the Yankees were playing the Oakland Athletics, formerly the Philadelphia Athletics, one of the oldest franchises in the American League, going back to the League's founding in 1901, although they've been in their current city only since 1968.

Still, my initial plan this season was to see 7 games, one against each of the other 7 franchises that were around at the AL's founding. But the schedule wouldn't permit it: I got one in against the Detroit Tigers, but I missed the Cleveland Indians' only visit of the year, so I focused on seeing an old club for my last game.

The Saturday game was sold out except for $400 seats. Four hundred smackers? For that much, I'd better be sitting in the Yankee dugout! Or in the Steinbrenner family's air-conditioned luxury box. (It was 92 degrees, and a dehydration alert was announced, with the locations of "hydration stations" announced.)

I asked what they had for the Sunday game. A $29 seat in the upper deck, right over 1st base. Section 17. Which, I think, was the same section where I saw the 1st game, 30 years ago. Fitting. One might even say I had come full circle. I went for it.

On the way back to the Subway, carrying the envelope with the ticket in it, I must've been asked by about 50 guys, "You got an extra ticket?" They sounded desperate. Were they scalpers, trying to buy my ticket for list price and then selling them back to desperate fans at an outrageous markup? Or were they, themselves, the desperate fans? I'll never know.

It's been said that every man has his price, but I'll never know what mine would have been, because I told them all, "No," or, "Not at any price," or, "Under no circumstances! This is it, my last game at Yankee Stadium!"

So I went back to the Port Authority Bus Terminal, and back to New Jersey. And the next day, did it all over again.

Rudy Giuliani, the former Mayor who spent $50 million on a campaign for President and got exactly 1 delegate, was at the game, and he brought John McCain, U.S. Senator from Arizona, the man who actually (or, at least, presumptively) has won the Republican nomination for President.

They were shown a couple of times on the DiamondVision board. I yelled down, "Hey, McCain! The A's aren't in Philadelphia anymore!"

They moved to Kansas City while he was at the Naval Academy, and to Oakland while he was in Hanoi. So it's not just a "McCain is so old" joke. Keep in mind, in 1996, Bob Dole was running for President and referred to the Brooklyn Dodgers, who'd moved to Los Angeles almost 40 years earlier.

The game was a tight pitching duel between Andy Pettitte, the longtime Yankee star (with a brief sojourn in his hometown of Houston) who's easily the pitcher I've seen the most live games of, and Justin Dutscherer of the A's.

A week ago, I'd never heard of Dutscherer. Then he pitched here in the All-Star Game, and today he was very strong. But he gave up a home run to ex-A's star Jason Giambi (Fear the 'Stache) in the 6th, a screaming liner into the right field stands (a.k.a. the short porch), giving the Yanks a 2-1 lead.

Andy, who recently turned 36 and has had injuries, was on fire, and not just because of the intense heat: 8 innings, 1 walk, 10 strikeouts. Aside from his great pitching and fielding in Game 5 of the '96 World Series, I don't think I've ever seen him pitch better -- certainly, not live.

There were a couple of bizarre plays in the 9th, but Mariano Rivera closed it out, again.

If there must be a "last game at the original Yankee Stadium" for me, especially considering how hard it would be to get in there again, a game like that is what I would have designed. (Except for the heat.)

I didn't want to leave. I haven't cried after a Yankee loss since the 1981 World Series, but this was the first time I've cried after a Yankee win. Because I knew this was it. I took my camera and snapped a few shots, because, as strange as it may seem, while there are existing photographs of me at other ballparks, there were none of me at Yankee Stadium. Now there are. (Even if they're just computer images at the moment, not yet put on paper.)

I looked out at the new stadium, whose exterior seems to be nearing completion, and spoke to it: "It's nothing personal. You didn't do anything wrong."

I said, "I guess my childhood really is over now."

Then I closed my eyes and said, "Goodbye, my love," and turned around and walked down the ramp.

If this is what I was like for my last live game, what am I going to be like when the real last game is played -- either the regular-season finale, on September 21 against the Baltimore Orioles, or in the postseason?

Or when the day comes when it finally is demolished? Oh, I've got the words for that awful day.

They were provided by Charlton Heston, at the conclusion of the original film version of Planet of the Apes:

Oh my God. I'm back. I'm home. All the time, it was... We finally, really did it.

You maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!


UPDATE: I was surprisingly calm for the last game, on September 21, 2008. Maybe I would've felt differently if I were there, instead of watching it on TV at home. Even my 1st time at the new Stadium, April 20, 2009, with the old Stadium still standing across the street, I was fine.

But in 2010, seeing the empty space where the old Stadium was, was hard.

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