In 1923, Yankee Stadium opened with a Yankee victory; of the many nicknames Yankee Stadium has been unofficially given, the reason why many regard it as "The House That Ruth Built" in part is a result of the fact that Babe Ruth hit a home run in the first game played at the Stadium.
Tonight, the Stadium hosted its final game, a 7-3 Yankee victory over the Baltimore Orioles. It had been announced prior to the commencement of this season that this would be the old ballpark's 85th and final year, and the construction of its replacement, right across the street, was well underway. By the time September 1st arrived, the last of four All-Star games were well in the past, as was a good chunk of the season and the likelihood that the Yankees would reach the postseason for a 15th straight season.
Tonight, the final game was a bittersweet experience for anyone present or watching the ESPN broadcast thereof. I opted not to go, not because I'd failed to understand the significance of this night or the prohibitive price of tickets, but because I wanted a chance to see all the anticipated vignettes, interviews, photographs and sounds that permeated the broadcast. I loved every game I saw at the Stadium, but not simply because of the fact that this team -- the Yankees -- were my team unlike any other team on the planet. It was because, for the most part, I saw those games with my father and we spent more time there than any other setting outside the house(s) in which I grew up.
Some people might remember 1996 as the year they met someone special or did something noteworthy; my memory of 1996 was going to see my first Yankee playoff game, the game 1 between the Yankees and the aforementioned Baltimore Orioles. That game was special because a young fan sitting in the first row of the right field bleachers reached over the fence to grab a deep fly ball and it turned out that the hit was called a home run, even though it technically would have been a relatively easy fly ball out if not for the young fan's interference. That "Jeffrey Mayer" game was an incredible game and I remember my father and I being streamed down the stairwell as the throngs of fans celebrated their sheer joy over the victory.
Another memory I'll always cherish is watching the Yankees taking the field prior to the game's start and seeing my father's eyes well up and him bawling as the Star Spangled Banner blared from the Stadium's sound system.
I remember the occasional game with other people -- clients, friends, my mom and sister, and other family members, etc. -- but to me, the memories of the Stadium are as much about the time I've spent there with my father as I have spent watching the Yankees.
Our tickets, in section 252, were incredible -- we had a perfect view of about 85% of the field (the left outfield foul line was obscured over a few feet nearest to the fence) so the game was easily visible. Inasmuch as I love watching Yankee games in their crystal HD broadcasted brilliance, seeing the green grass as we came through the tunnel by home plate was an experience that never failed to give me a jolt. Just being at the Stadium -- or seeing it while driving to and from the City on the FDR -- was always something special.
I also have memories of spending time with friends in and outside the Stadium. The giant bat was a typical meeting place for my friends and I, and that was and will always be a part of my lexiconic memory of the "Cathedral of Baseball," but the truth is, despite the expense and the hassle of getting to and leaving the games, and the overpriced drinks, food and miscelleanous chazerai sold in and around the Stadium wasn't a deterrent. It was just that, for pure baseball joy, watching on TV made the experience a completely enjoyable experience. But going to the games -- especially at the Stadium -- was always something more than just about a baseball game.
About five years ago my father had a severe heart attack and was, frankly, near death. We've been back to the Stadium since, but not as frequently. One day he'll no longer be here, just like the Stadium will soon be gone, but like my memories of the Stadium, he'll always live on in my heart. I suppose that one day I'll take my son -- and/or my daughter, if/when applicable -- to the new Yankee Stadium and I'll try to impart my love of the Yankees and, perhaps, the new Yankee Stadium, to them. And if nothing else, I'll make sure they have as much fun watching games with me as I did as a boy and a man. And even if they don't and instead opt to root for the (feh) Mets, I hope they'll appreciate how things that seem to last forever aren't always around forever. The only way they live on eternally is if we don't allow them to ever die. And if I've learned anything from my dad, it will be to be sure and pass on my love for this game, for this team, for this place, and for the memories we'll share as a result.