A Bronx Cheer for the New Yankee Stadium

michael eisnerCorrespondent IApril 16, 2009

NEW YORK - APRIL 03:  A general view of Yankee Stadium during the playing of the National Anthem before the New York Yankees game against the Chicago Cubs at Yankee Stadium on April 3, 2009 in the Bronx borough of New York City. Today's exhibition game is the first game to played in the new Yankee Stadium.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Today, Yankee Stadium officially moves across 161st Street...or, "One-hunnit and sixty-first street," if you're from the Bronx.

The ghosts, the legend, Monument Park. All of it.

But today signifies a lot more than just the opening of a stadium that challenges any dream sequence of a baseball stadium known to man. Today is about remembrance. About good old-fashioned, afternoon baseball.

It's about hot dogs and sauerkraut and maybe a cold one if you're old enough. Forget that the new ballpark has all the trimmings of your local shopping mall, with a pristine baseball field packed in between.

Today is about Babe Ruth, without whom the original Yankee Stadium would have been just another ballpark. It's about Lou Gehrig and his 2,130 consecutive games played, and how, on a sunny July day in 1939, when, in front of 62,000 adoring fans, he declared himself "The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth."

We think back to black-and-white images of Joltin' Joe DiMaggio and how he might have looked in color patrolling center field way back when.

Today, our thoughts shift back to a time when Willie, Mickey, and the Duke were the talk of the Town. That's Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Duke Snider, all three of whom just happened to play center field for a New York baseball team in the 1950s.

At noon today, when the Opening Day festivities begin, we should remember a time when you could catch a baseball game and stuff your face for less than a buck.

Or when Mantle made that catch in the 1951 World Series. Or Don Larsen catching Yogi Berra after recording the final out of the only perfect game in World Series history.

When Roger Maris hit one "way back there" for 61 in 1961.

Or Reggie Jackson knocking out three in a row in the '77 Series.

Or Whitey Ford, period.

When Chris Chambliss went deep and he had to fight like Muhammad Ali to finally touch home plate.

When George Brett's pine tar-laden swing went yard, we remember just how much dirt Billy Martin kicked on the umpire that day.

Or where we were when Dave Righetti pitched that no-hitter of his in 1983.

We remember the sweet sounds of Phil Rizzuto and Bobby Murcer, never mind the fact that they were great ballplayers in their own right, adored by Yankees fans way before they stepped into the broadcast booth.

And, of course, the "Voice of God," Bob Sheppard. Mel Allen and Robert Merrill, too.

We recall the day that Thurman Munson tragically left us, and when Murcer, in front of a packed house, paid the ultimate tribute by singlehandedly beating the Baltimore Orioles just hours after attending his funeral. He drove in five runs that day as the Yankees beat the Orioles 5-4.

And after winning so many pennants and World Series, we did some hard time in the late 1960s, early 1970s, late 1980s, and the early 1990s.

Horace Clarke. Steve Sax. Ed Whitson. Roberto Kelly. And all the tears and frustration that came with cheering those guys on.

For some of us, the memories began with Don Mattingly and Dave Winfield battling it out for the American League batting title in 1984 on the very last day of the season. Mattingly won.

Or when Paul O'Neill came over from the Reds for Kelly and sprinkled his magic all over the Stadium in time for the next four World Championships, including one against the cross-town Mets.

Der-ek Jeee-ter.

Paul O-O-O-knee-yall.

Wade Boggs rode a horse around the Stadium's warning track in 1996. Dwight Gooden pitched a no-hitter. So did Jim Abbott.

David Wells and David Cone pitched perfect games.

Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius. John Wetteland.

Mariano Rivera. Jorge Posada. Andy Pettitte. And, of course, Derek Jeter, the Captain.

Yes, today is about opening up a new, two-and-one-half billion dollar ballpark. It's about the festivities and the pomp and circumstance, despite being in the middle of the world's worst recession.

Despite this, and the $2,500 seats, there will be no vacancies today. No empty cushions. Yes, the seats are all cushioned from what I hear.

And despite all of the Bernie Madoffs of the world, who found time to rob many of the country's richest people blind, the Yankees were blessed with an owner named George Steinbrenner, who never once robbed a single Yankees fan.

At times, his relationship with guys like Martin and Jackson may have been tabloid fodder, but his goal was always to put a winning team on the field.

Today, we open the new Yankee Stadium across the street from the old one, with a new generation of Yankees mixed in with the old.

C.C. Sabathia. Mark Teixeira. A.J. Burnett. Joba Chamberlain. Jeter. Pettitte. Posada. Rivera.

And here's hoping that baseball fans everywhere give the Stadium one big Bronx cheer for another 85 years of baseball at 161st Street.


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