161st St. and River Ave.: Thanks For The Memories

Justin Feuer Contributor IOctober 22, 2008

Eighty-six years came and went in the blink of an eye last night, but not before one last hurrah. The 2008 New York Yankees played the final game on the field where Babe Ruth played the first in 1923. The Yankees did the only thing they know how to do and that is to go out in grand style, playoffs or not.
            They started by making the stadium feel as if you were at a playoff game by placing the red, white and blue bunting all around the stadium. That was just the beginning. They opened the gates at 1 p.m., 7 hours before the game was scheduled to begin. Fans were allowed to walk the scared warning track where before today they could have only imagined. Then what seemed like another Old Timers day was set to begin. Except this was nothing close to that. The Yankees paraded out a group of actors to represent the original Yankee team that started in this ballpark, to the likes of Huggins, Ruth etc. Then the living legends appeared, one by one, trotting out to their respective positions that they roamed for years, another touching tribute.

            Of course what made this different than Old Timers Day was that this wasn’t just supposed to celebrate the living Yankees, but all the people who made this place sacred. The living children of Yankee greats who have passed away such as, Munson, DiMaggio, Howard, Murcer, Maris and Mantle also trotted out to the spots where their father/husband used to patrol. This is what set it apart from any other day. This was a day to honor everyone, not just the living.

            Then they made their way to the Yankees who have made the last Yankee Dynasty what it was. Their was Wade Boggs standing at third base, and seeing him I could remember clearly seeing him ride around Yankee stadium on the back of the police horse after they clinched the 1996 World Series. David Cone and David Wells, two pitchers forever linked as they both threw perfect games on that field. Martinez and Brosius, who on back to back nights made every Yankee fan, including me that ghosts really do live here. Paul O’ Neill, on of the most loved and respected Yankees, because of his heart and determination standing in Right Field as the Bleacher Creatures gave him his own roll call. And then there was the man that started the roll call, the man who spent 16 years nestled in Centerfield, the man who walked away from the only team he knew, Bernie Williams, and after a 2 minute plus ovation, the players standing on that field realized how much they truly meant to this city, I think I was clapping so loud and hard they could hear me.

            The game itself was not as gripping as I thought it could be. Andy Pettitte threw 5 innings before turning it over to the bullpen and left to a hearty ovation and a curtain call as he tried to hold back his tears. Then there was Jose Molina, a man who has 19 career homeruns, sending one into the netting above monument park for what would prove to be the stadium’s final blast, and how fitting it hit right on top of where the memories of all the great Yankees lay. When the 9th inning started it was not a save situation, but regardless it belonged to the sandman, Mariano Rivera. He bolted through the gates in left center field to a thunderous ovation and tried to just take it all in. That was one of the moments that sent chills down my spine, because I could just see him coming out and getting ready to close out a World Series; it had that kind of feel. But of course the biggest moment of the game was saved for the biggest Yankee of this generation. With two outs in the top of the 9th, Joe Girardi sent out Wilson Betemit to replace Derek Jeter at shortstop, all in the effort to give Jeter the moment he deserved, the moment he earned. And the stadium responded, erupting in a see of cheers and chants of “De-rek Je-ter! De-rek Je-ter!” and he to came out to tip his cap to the adoring fans.

            Then, just like that it was over. A groundball by Brian Roberts to first basemen Cody Ransom, Ransom stepped on the bag and without hesitation handed the ball to Rivera, a fitting ending to a magical ballpark. The Yankees won the game 7-3, sent chills down the spines of every fan and everybody watching and staved off elimination on the final day of a ballpark that rarely knew what it was like to be eliminated. They won one for the Gipper, and for the Babe, and more importantly, they won one for the stadium.

            The game was over but not a single fan had left. Nobody was ready to let go yet. And as the 54,610 fans stood and applauded, not only the team, but the park, the Yankees stayed on the field, collecting dirt, taking pictures, waving to the masses. Then, in one of the most touching moments in the grand history of speeches, the captain of the Yankees, Derek Jeter stood with his teammates in the middle of the field and thanked the fans for all their support and love. He reminded us that we will make more memories across the street, and that they are still the Yankees and that will never change. Then he led the team in a lap around the cathedral, one more time. As Frank Sinatra’s “New York New York” played on  a loop through the PA system, the players took one more chance to soak it all in and give the fans a chance to say one more heartfelt goodbye.

            So now I get to look back and see all that has taken place of that magical grass. All the players, all the big hits, all the championships and say thank you. Thank you for filling my life and the lives of every Yankee fan with joy and happiness, always welcoming us in with open arms, making us feel like a part of you. There are more memories that words can say and not enough words to describe what last night was like. Derek Jeter said it best, “It was a pretty special night- I don’t think it could have been any better that it was. It was pretty much perfect”. It was, a blending of Yankees past and present and even future to send off the greatest ballpark in the game. The greats would not have wanted it any other way. I won’t say goodbye, probably because I can’t say goodbye. You never say goodbye, because that places a period at the end of the sentence, and with all the memories and images I have, it’s not the end, just now the ballpark lives on in spirit and in everyone’s heart and there will always be a story being told or a video being watched. So I will say, Take Care, you will be missed. I’ll see you around.