x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

End of an era in New York

There were emotional scenes at Yankee Stadium as the arena played host to its final game.

Former New York Yankees White Ford, left, and Don Larsen collect dirt on the mound before the final regular season MLB American League baseball game at Yankee Stadium in New York, September 21, 2008.
Former New York Yankees White Ford, left, and Don Larsen collect dirt on the mound before the final regular season MLB American League baseball game at Yankee Stadium in New York, September 21, 2008.

As baseball said farewell to Yankee Stadium, Yogi Berra, one of the game's most beloved players stood beneath the stands in a full vintage uniform. Now 83, the man who coined the phrase "it ain't over till it's over" put his own stamp on the day. "I'm sorry to see it over, I'll tell you that," Berra said.

The goodbye completed an 85-year run for the home of baseball's most famous team. What began with a Babe Ruth home run on an April afternoon in 1923 ended on Sunday with Mariano Rivera retiring Brian Roberts on a grounder to first baseman Cody Ransom, completing a 7-3 victory over Baltimore on a warm September night. Johnny Damon and Jose Molina homered, Andy Pettitte got the victory and Rivera threw the final pitch at 11:41pm on a bittersweet evening, when the Yankees staved off what appears to be inevitable postseason elimination.

Appropriately enough, the final Yankees player to bat was Derek Jeter, whose grounder to third ended the eighth inning. Jeter was removed with two outs in the ninth, leaving the captain to take the final in-game curtain call. But first, all the greats were remembered during a 65-minute pre-game ceremony that included 21 retired players, six of them Hall of Famers. "I feel like I'm losing an old friend," Reggie Jackson told the crowd. The 1922 American League pennant, the first to fly in the ballpark, was unfurled beyond the centre field.

Young men and boys were introduced representing the opening-day lineup in 1923. Then came the living Yankees who make the stadium a standard for excellence. Willie Randolph slid into second base when he was announced. Fan favourite Paul O'Neill pointed to right field. Bernie Williams, back at the ballpark for the first time since the Yankees cut him two years ago, received the longest ovation, which lasted nearly two minutes.

Don Larsen scooped up dirt from the pitcher's mound in a plastic cup, assisted by Whitey Ford. Accompanying them were the sons of some deceased stars: Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Billy Martin and Thurman Munson, joined by the wives of Catfish Hunter, Bobby Murcer and Phil Rizzuto, the daughter of Elston Howard and Murcer's son and daughter. Julia Ruth Stevens, the daughter of Babe Ruth, threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the age of 92 before a crowd of 54,610 - bringing the stadium lifetime total to 151,959,005.

"I'm very, very sad to think that the Yankee Stadium is not going to be in existence any longer," she said. "I wish it could have remained as a New York landmark, but I guess like all things it has come to its final days as we all do." Jeter received a crystal bat for breaking Lou Gehrig's record for hits at Yankee Stadium earlier in the week. There were so many cameras popping when Pettitte threw the real first pitch, Roberts seemed startled and didn't even try to swing.

When Damon hit a three-run homer in the third inning, the ball was caught by Brian Elmer, salesman from Trenton, New Jersey - and a Mets fan. "This is my first time here," he said. Molina put the Yankees ahead 5-3 with a two-run homer in the fourth, caught beyond the fence in left-centre by a fan from Colorado who would identify himself only as Steve. When Pettitte left in the sixth inning, the four-time World Series champion received a long ovation and came out for a curtain call.

Fans wore a collection of jerseys that could fill a Hall of Fame. On one subway car alone, there were shirts with Jeter's No 2, the Babe's No 3, Mickey Mantle's No 7, Phil Rizzuto's No 10 and Don Mattingly's No 23. Jeter, said Saturday was the first time he looked around and tried to soak in the memories - the three big decks filled with fans, the sign in the tunnel from the clubhouse to the field with the Joe DiMaggio quote: 'I want to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee.' "Just driving in, I think it really starts to hit you, that this is the last time," he said.

"When you take the field, you're constantly reminded of the history that's been here before you." Larsen, David Wells and David Cone - the three pitchers who threw perfect games in Yankee Stadium - all stood on the mound during the ceremony. Larsen, whose gem was the only one thrown in a World Series, thought about his former teammates. New York didn't plan it this way as it prepared to move next year to a new Yankee Stadium, a $1.3 billion (Dh4.7bn) sports palace rising across 161st Street that will be filled with $2,500 seats, a martini bar, steak house and art gallery.

The Yankees won 26 World Series championships after moving into their big ballyard in the Bronx, and had hoped to close the Stadium with another title. Thousands of police and security filled the worn aisles to ensure the fans didn't walk away with the ballpark's guts - which will be sold piece by piece to collectors. Many fans have been arrested and screwdrivers confiscated during the past week.

* AP