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September 21, 2008: The Curtain Comes Down

Here’s a trivia question you’ll be able to stump your friends with in 2013. Who hit the last home run in Yankee Stadium?

Answer: Jose Molina.

Jeter tried to do it, but his line drive was caught just short of the wall. Johnny Damon tried to do it, blasting a three-run shot to put the Yankees ahead in the third inning. But after the Orioles had tied it up again in the top fourth, it was Molina who came up with the two-run blast that put the Yankees ahead for good.

If the Orioles’ defense had been a little bit better, then Mariano Rivera would have gotten a save. Instead, it was a comfortable 7-3 lead when the strains of Enter Sandman blared for the last time, but the appearance was no less pressure than in any playoff game. National media watching. Fans in full voice.

Oh, and did I mention, the Yankees elimination number stood at one when the game began?

Mo closed the door and brought down the curtain with a perfect 1-2-3 inning. Did you notice how through all the postgame ceremonies, Mariano kept the game ball in his glove?

As it turned out, the win was a balm for the anxious souls who could have made the final game quite maudlin. I avoided going to the game myself because I didn’t want to cry so much, and I didn’t, watching it on ESPN from The Forest Cafe in Cambridge, Massachusetts. My Sox-loving bar friends kept me from getting too down, anyway, by making jokes, like “What if Kevin Millar is the last man to hit a home run in Yankee Stadium?” (Please God, no….)

Bobby Abreu looked like he was having fun. All smiles after he reached first base on an excuse-me hit. He was a good reminder that baseball is fun. It’s supposed to be fun. Sometimes it can be fun even when your team doesn’t win. 39 Pennants, but over 100 seasons, after all.

We dreamed a little while walking back from the bar tonight. “What if they won all the rest of their games, and the Red Sox lost all of theirs?” corwin mused, as we picked around the puddles that an unexpected rainstorm had left all along our street. “Wouldn’t that be something?”

That would be something. And amazing, incredible, miraculous, magical things can and do happen in baseball, and seemingly especially with the Yankees. They don’t happen every year, but it is just like going out to the ballpark on any given day. You never know when you are going to see something incredible, maybe even something that has never been done before.

I think back to the game I brought corwin to in 1999 which turned him overnight into a tremendous Yankees fan. It was a beautiful late-summer night and the Yankees were playing the Oakland A’s. corwin and I had been together for eight years at that point, and yet he’d never gone to a game at the Stadium. We were recently minted thirty-somethings then and going through a bit of a second childhood, I suppose, including a trip to Disney World, so returning to the site of some of my favorite childhood memories was fitting.

Here’s what I wrote at the time. “corwin made an audible gasp as we came through the dark, dank, concrete corridor that leads to the seats and out into the intense green and blue open space that is Yankee Stadium.”

I wonder if the new Stadium will provide that same “wow” moment, or if that one, which so many people experienced at Yankee Stadium, was a function of the too-cramped, too-dim hallways and ramps in its innards?

Here was my game summary: “It was the best kind of game, the come from behind victory. We got to see a little bit of everything that game. Controversial umpire calls. Home runs. Double plays. Rookies blossoming. Old hands making their comebacks. History in the making.”

And that’s really it in a nutshell, isn’t it? The Yankees went on to win the World Series in a sweep of the Braves that season, which entirely cemented my newly rekindled Yankee love.

I honestly think the reason there has not been more outcry to “Save Our Stadium” is that the extended family of the Yankees, their alumni, and their fans have all accepted the idea that the old place has to come down. I think it’s not just the potentially structural disintegration, which we have been turning a blind eye to for years, but other factors, too. Crowd/group psychology is a tricky thing. You might have thought that after the destruction of one of New York’s iconic structures, the Twin Towers, that people might might have resisted even more giving up the historic locale. But I think things actually went the other way. The Towers themselves were not, ultimately, what was important about September 11th. Rebuilding them would not bring back those who perished, nor would failing to rebuild them keep us from regaining our spirit.

Likewise, tearing down the Stadium will not kill our love of the Yankees. As Jeter said in his address to the fans after the game, the memories remain, and we’ll carry them across the street. We, the fans, will do our part. We’ll keep making banners and signs, we’ll keep chanting for our favorite players, we’ll keep coming out to the park.

The Yankees have to do their part, though. They have to win. They have to do amazing and miraculous things. But we know they will. We just hope we won’t have to wait too long for more.

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