Sunday, September 21, 2008

Farewell to Yankee Stadium

It's hard to believe that tonight is the end for "The House that Ruth Built". I almost forgot about it, but luckily I was channel surfing after the gigantic Eagles and Phillies wins, and caught the tail end of the final tribute. As they usually do, the Yankees did a first class job. They brought in such former stars as Yogi Berra, Don Larson, Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, Paul O'Neill, and Willie Randolph. Don Larson the only man in history to pitch a perfect game in a World Series, actually reached down, grabbed some dirt from the mound, placed it in a plastic bag and put it in his pocket.

It gave me chills when they brought out the Babe's daughter to throw out the first and "final" pitch. She was accompanied by her son, who is of course the Babe's grandson. It was decided that since the first home run hit in the Stadium was by a Ruth, then the last pitch thrown would be by a Ruth.

I was introduced to the Yankee dynasty by my maternal grandfather who was the world's biggest Joe DiMaggio fan. He loved the Yankees in part because of the large number of Italian - American stars who played for them back in the day. The Yankees of that time were worshipped by Italian immigrants as the team gave them a feeling of pride and a sense of belonging in their new country.

While I am a Phillies fan and not a Yankees fan, I always felt a sort of kinship with them because of my grandfather. For example, I once saw Joe DiMaggio in person at a parade on the Ocean City boardwalk in the early 1980s. I felt a sense of awe in being in the presence of the great Yankee Clipper, and in that moment when he rode by a few feet away in his car, I felt as if my grandfather was alive again.

Somewhere the Babe, the Iron Horse, and the Yankee Clipper are smiling tonight. I was fortunate to have made one trip to the Stadium in 1997 with my wife, who was pregnant at the time with our only son. I remember looking at first base and thinking that Lou Gehrig actually played in that very spot on that field. I gazed to center and imagined DiMaggio running like a gazelle. I then looked to right and was overwhlemed thinking that the Babe once patrolled there. The highlight of course was seeing the monuments in the outfield, a veritable baseball heaven.

Love them or hate them, there is no dispute that the Yankee dynasty is impressive. Their 26 World Championships are evidence of their sustained excellence. Their story though is not unique, it is quite simply the story of American exceptionalism. It is a microcosm of what sets us apart from the rest of the world and always will.

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