Closing out history

Robin Short
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Yankee Stadium approaching late innings

The final game at the 85-year-old Yankee Stadium is Sept. 21 against the Baltimore Orioles. Photo by Robin Short/The Telegram

Bronx, N.Y. - It's deep within the bowels of Yankee Stadium, near the home team's clubhouse, and Reggie Jackson is holding court with a Canadian sportswriter.
Jackson comes as advertised - rarely at a loss for words, even moreso when the topic's about, well, Reggie Jackson.
Look, says Jackson, stretching out his right arm and bending it at the elbow. He's 62 now, and looks marvelously fit. In fact, Mr. October, one is thinking, could probably still launch a couple of baseballs into the right field bleachers if he was still in pinstripes.
"I've got goosebumps just talking about it," he says.
Jackson is recalling Major League Baseball's all-star game a couple of months ago in New York. The Yankees put on a grand show in the mid-summer classic, trotting out a who's who of 49 Hall of Famers before to the first pitch.
"Here I am," said Jackson, "introduced with Henry Aaron and Willie Mays. I grew up idolizing those guys. It's something you don't forget.
"There are a lot of things that happened here I'll never forget."
Just like Frank Sinatra, who crooned of making a "brand new start of it" in ol' New York, the Yankees are in the final pages of the last chapter, a book that closes for good later this month when the Bronx Bombers play their final home game at the 85-year-old ballpark at 161st Street and River Ave.
If Yankee Stadium was the House that Ruth built, a line drive away on the third base side sits the House that George built, a nearly constructed new Yankee Stadium that will remain a legacy of an owner almost as famous as his baseball team, George Steinbrenner.
The new ball park will replace the third-oldest yard in baseball (although the current Yankee Stadium was remodelled in the mid-'70s). It will have all the glitz and glamour of the modern-era stadiums - luxury suites, more concession booths, wider concourses and seats, restaurants - and - did we mention, luxury suites?
If the current Yankee Stadium, fashioned for $2.5 million, is about Bud and sausage, the new building rising up is about Cristal and sushi.
Somebody's got to pay for the new $1.3 billion Stadium, and it starts with the fans. High-end field level seats will go from anywhere fromo $225 up to $500 (the high rollers will pay $2,500, and one can assume they'll be sitting in the first base coach's box). Pricing for many seats, however, will remain unchanged.
The new will replicate much of the old, starting with the white facade adorning the entire grandstand, identical field dimensions and a Monument Park relocated to its original centrefield position.
But what it cannot be reproduced or carried across the street is the history of the old building, where baseball's greats scampered around its base paths, across a lush outfield lawn.
"It was so big," New York shortstop Derek Jeter remembered of his first visit to the Stadium as a youngster. "Everything seemed bigger, the grass was greener.
"This has always been a special place for me."
It's a glorious September Friday afternoon in the South Bronx. Save for the grounds crew manicuring a partially shadowed infield and concession workers stocking up for a New York-Toronto ball game in a few hours' time, Yankee Stadium is empty. The only sound are the No. 4 and 6 trains screeching above River Ave. beyond the outfield wall.
Funny, but there's nothing in sports quite as sublime as an empty ball park that percolates history. Yankee Stadium has it. Wrigley and Fenway, too.
Venerable Lambeau Field in Green Bay might come close, but it's hard to get all giddy over the Air Canada Centre, Comerica Park, Bell Centre, Lucas Oil Stadium or any other spanking new ball parks, hockey rinks or football fields whose owners have prostituted themselves for corporate dollars.
Sitting in the Yankees' dugout, you glance out to centre field, beneath the gleaming white facade, where Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle chased down fly balls, to right where Reggie sent three baseballs on three pitches over the wall in the 1977 World Series, to the pitcher's mound where Yogi Berra leapt into the arms of a perfect Don Larsen on Oct. 8, 1956, to home plate where The Babe swatted home runs. Where the Yankees' hard-nosed catcher and captain Thurman Munson, who died while landing his plane in 1979 and whose locker inside the clubhouse remains empty to this day, played the game the way it's supposed to be played.
And just behind home, in front of the large NY stenciled on the grass, Lou Gehrig stood 69 years ago and announced, "Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this Earth."
"This is it, this is what makes this place so special," said Jays' manager Cito Gaston. "It's about the tradition and the great players who played here and the great moments that happened here.
"There's nothing like this place."
The Stadium is showing its age. At game time, its narrow, sticky concourse is a bottleneck of pinstripe-wearing Yankee fans, the youngsters donning No. 13 A-Rod shirts, the older folks preferring 5, 7 or 8 - the Yankee Clipper, The Mick and Yogi. Long lineups greet patrons at the washrooms.
Still, it will be sad to see the old ball park razed (the actual field, however, will remain), joining Brooklyn's Ebbets Field and the nearby Polo Grounds, across the Harlem River.
"Coming to this ball park," said the Yankees' Ontario-born coach, Rob Thomson, "is not like a day going to work. For me, it's like being a Little League player all over again. You see that in the players, and the fans too."

Robin Short is The Telegram's Sports Editor. He can be reached by email

Organizations: Yankees, Major League Baseball, Lambeau Field Air Canada Centre Bell Centre Yankee Clipper Little League

Geographic location: Yankee Stadium, New York, Bronx, N.Y. 161st Street River Ave Monument Park South Bronx Green Bay Comerica Park Lucas Oil Stadium Brooklyn Harlem River Ontario

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