Fans give Yankee Stadium a full day send-off
(AP) - Derek Jeter climbed the mound, surrounded by histeammates, and began the final farewell. Microphone in hand, the New York captain addressed the 54,610fans who came to say so long to Yankee Stadium, his words boomingaround the old ballpark where the voices of Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth,Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle had echoed years before. "So take the memories from this stadium, add it to the newmemories that come with the new Yankee Stadium and continue to passthem on from generation to generation," he said. The winning tradition that began with a 4-1 victory over theBoston Red Sox on April 18, 1923, ended with a 7-3 triumph over theBaltimore Orioles on Sunday night. It was a bittersweet evening inwhich the Yankees staved off postseason elimination rather than addanother title to their vast collection. Next April 16 they open a $1.3 billion palace nearing completionacross 161st Street, which also will be called Yankee Stadium. Butit will not be the same. With a yellowish moon rising beyond left-center, Mariano Riverascooped dirt into a clear container, then took his family out toMonument Park 40 minutes after throwing the final pitch at 11:41p.m. The grounds crew filled dozens of white buckets with infielddirt - multimillionaire players on both teams had knelt to scoop upthe famous soil from the mound and home plate area, stuffing itinto their pockets. Fans stayed around for 45 minutes, not wanting to walk throughthe exits one last time. Frank Sinatra's recording of "New York,New York" was heard over and over. The organist played"Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight." Two dozen mounted policegalloped onto the field. The one fan who ran on the field wasquickly tackled. At 4 a.m., Yankees staff and interns were still in the infield,running the bases, throwing each other grounders, drinking beer anddigging up dirt. Hours earlier, Johnny Damon and Jose Molina homered, two finallong balls in the park where Ruth hit the first on opening day, astadium that was baseball's biggest, brightest, grandest stage. Thebat that Damon used and Molina's spikes were immediately given tothe Hall of Fame. Andy Pettitte, who along with Jeter helped the Yankees win fourWorld Series titles, got the victory. "This is going to be right up there as far as special nights,"Pettitte said. Appropriately enough, the final Yankees player to bat in theHouse that Ruth Built was Jeter, whose grounder to third ended theeighth. He was removed with two outs in the ninth, took the finalcurtain call and started thinking about what to say. "I was scared to death. When I was younger I used to getreally, really nervous when you have to do an oral report in frontof 25 people, so I guess I've come a long way," he recalled later. Before the game, his great predecessors were remembered during a65-minute ceremony that included 21 retired players, six of themHall of Famers. "I feel like I'm losing an old friend," Reggie Jackson toldthe crowd. Julia Ruth Stevens, 92-year-old daughter of the Babe, threw outthe ceremonial first pitch. "I'm very, very sad to think that the Yankee Stadium is notgoing to be in existence any longer," she said. "I wish it couldhave remained as a New York landmark, but I guess like all thingsit has come to its final days as we all do." Fans were allowed on the field starting at 1 p.m. and enteredthrough the left-field seats not far from where Aaron Boone'spennant-clinching home run landed five years ago. Glenn Bartow and his 13-year-old daughter arrived more than 12hours before the game began at 8:36 p.m., and were the first onesinto Monument Park. "We come every Sunday," Emily Bartow said. Visitors touched the 24 plaques and six monuments, posed next tothem for family photos. Under the kind of cloudless sky that madepeople recall summer days of yore, they slowly circled the warningtrack. Those who could not walk were pushed along in wheelchairs.Parents brought strollers to make sure toddlers got to experiencethe great ballpark before it is dismantled. Yankees manager Joe Girardi went onto the field early to signautographs. Mike Mussina and Alex Rodriguez posed for photos withrooters. Joba Chamberlain even took fans' cell phones and shoutedmessages to their family and friends. Bernie Williams, back at the ballpark for the first time sincethe Yankees cut him two years ago, had his car circle the stadiumone last time before he walked in. "All the memories that I have here, I know that I'm going tohave to keep them in my head because this place is not going to beany longer," Williams said. "There is a part of me that feelsvery sad about watching the stadium go." Even Yogi Berra knew this was the end. One of the game's mostbeloved players stood beneath the stands in a full vintage uniform.Now 83, the man who coined the phrase "It ain't over till it'sover" put his own stamp on the day. "I'm sorry to see it over, I'll tell you that," Berra said. Bob Sheppard, the 90-something public address announcer whostarted in 1951, read the opening welcome. He missed this seasonbecause of illness but recorded his greeting and the introductionof the Yankees starting lineup. The 1922 American League pennant, the first to fly in theballpark, was unfurled in the black batter's eye beyond centerfield. Young men and boys were introduced representing theopening-day lineup in 1923. Then came the living Yankees who make the stadium a standard forexcellence. Willie Randolph slid into second base when he was announced. Fanfavorite Paul O'Neill pointed to the Bleacher Creatures in rightfield. Williams received the longest ovation, which lasted nearly 2minutes. Don Larsen, who threw a perfect game here in the 1956World Series, scooped up soil from the pitcher's mound in a plasticcup, assisted by Whitey Ford. "That's just priceless," Girardi said. No mention was made of Roger Clemens, whose legacy has beenclouded by accusations he used performance-enhancing drugs. GeorgeSteinbrenner, the team owner since 1973, did not attend. Outside, the marquee that usually has the day's start time andopponent said: "Thanks for the Memories." In the seventh, a videowas played of Sheppard reading a poem: "Farewell old Yankee Stadium, farewell/What a wonderful storyyou can tell/DiMaggio, Mantle, Gehrig and Ruth/A baseball cathedralin truth/Farewell." It was 1:05 a.m. by the time the grounds crew dug up home plate.The pitching rubber came up 10 minutes later. By then a picture ofthe Babe, winking, was on the video board. "See You Across the Street!!" it said.For more Yankee Stadium interviews, go to channel 612 on your iO digital cable box and select iO Extra.