It was a night when fans came to salute the stadium and its players. Seven hours before the first pitch was thrown, the crowd filled Monument Park and got the chance to walk on the field where Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle left their footsteps. People were collecting blue paint chips from the outfield walls and sweeping up dirt into their back pockets if that was that they had so that they could leave with a piece of Yankee Stadium.
For over an hour before the game, Yankee greats were shown on the big screen in center field while the living legends stood at their old positions. The fans showered the former players with applause and cheers with the loudest ovation coming for the final player announced, Bernie Williams.
After the broadcasters had spent three-plus hours talking about the history of the stadium, and Mariano Rivera recorded the final out, the fans stood and gave their team and their stadium one long, last ovation. As I sat on the corner of my bed, I was surprised about what happened over the next several minutes.
The entire team remained on the field after they had finished their hand shakes and high fives, and gathered around the mound. Derek Jeter was given a microphone and addressed the crowd. He didn't go on about the history of the stadium itself, but instead made the fans the focus of his speech. "There are a few things with the New York Yankees that never change--it's pride, it's tradition, and most of all, we have the greatest fans in the world."
Yankee fans tend to get a bad wrap for being demanding and non-tolerant to other teams. It's true, as fans, we expect a lot. We expect the players to go out and succeed over and over again. Some fans (not all of us) have no patience for highly talented players not coming through in the clutch, and the only teams we really have no tolerance for are the Red Sox and the Mets. (Again, not all of us are intolerant...well maybe a little bit).
Aside from the negative connotations that tend to follow Yankee fans, we are also extremely loyal and proud. This season has been difficult on many levels. All of us were hoping that the stadium would get a proper send off with a World Series appearance, but that doesn't seem to be in the cards. Still, the fans showed up day after day trying to will the team to win and maybe make a run for the playoffs. The Yankees passed the record setting attendance from 2007 despite the disappointing season. The bleacher creatures yelled out their roll call at the start of every game no matter how irritated they were over the season, and for those of us not lucky enough to be at all the home games, we wore our t-shirts, hats, and other paraphernalia to show our support.
In the middle of saying good-bye to the Cathedral of Baseball, the captain made sure that the fans weren't lost in all that. He wrapped up his remarks by saying, "On behalf of this entire organization we want to salute you, the greatest fans in the world." The team followed as the captain removed his cap and tipped it to the crowd as they embarked on a walk around the stadium to thank their fans for all of their support.
Even though I was miles away in New Jersey, I felt the emotion in the Bronx. I watched as my team made their way around the stadium periodically tipping their caps and letting all of us know just how much we really mean. It's amazing to think that for all the things that ballpark has seen, and all of the famous people who have graced the fields and even the stands, that the team wanted to make a point to acknowledge us.
Bernie Williams was asked in a post-game interview if he was sad to see the old stadium go, and he shrugged in his non-chaillant Bernie way and said, "The building was here, and you talk alot about the magic and the aura but what really made the stadium is the fans. Concrete doesn't talk to you, chairs don't talk back to you. It's the people that are there, that root for you day in and day out, that's what makes this place magical."
For hours that day people talked about all the players and moments that had made the stadium magical, and in that one gesture, in those few words by a Yankee great the fans took center stage.
I've been to roughly thirty games at the stadium in my life time, and at every game I would stop to look around and check out the fans in the ballpark. I would listen to the bleacher creatures go through their roll call and watch the players' reactions to it, I watched how many people would stand as the grounds' crew did the YMCA and the variety of signs that would drape various locations in the stadium to express words of encouragement for the team. I haven't been to any other ballpark to experience other fans so I can't speak for them, but for me being a Yankee fan means a lot. To see 55,000 people stand on their feet waiting for strike three or for someone to come up with a big hit was more than thrilling. On the nights I got to be there among them I felt like I was apart of something special.
Last night Derek Jeter and the rest of the Yankees made sure that we knew that we are as important to them as they are to us. Every player that did a post-game interview mentioned the fans one way or another. It is quite something that Hall of Famers and some of today's elite players of the game don't cite themselves as being the magic behind Yankee Stadium, but the people that sit in the stands as the magic.
I will always hold my memories of Yankee Stadium close to my heart, and even though I wasn't there last night I felt like I was. I started out the day by feeling sad that one of my favorite places in the world was closing its doors, and I ended the day feeling lucky enough to be a part of "the greatest fans in the world".