My brother and I went to our last game at Yankee Stadium together last night. It was a fitting way to go out, being there with my bro, who is simply one of the best men I know. We sat way up in the right field upper deck, just above the top of the right field foul pole. There was a big turnout, of course, but it seemed like many of the fans were there for the event of being there more than for the game itself. And who can blame them? Sometime during the middle innings I turned to my brother and said, "Jeez, when was the last time we saw a truly meaningless game here?" And not meaningless because they had already made the playoffs, meaningless because they were completely out of the running.
We saw tourists of all shapes and sizes, American, European, Asian, there for their last look. Which has been the case all season long. In a sense, every game at the Stadium has been The Final Game of Yankee Stadium for a good portion of the crowd. The crowd sat on their hands for the most part as the Yanks didn't give us much to yell about.
Still, there were some highlights, as minor as they may seem. The cracker jack and peanut vendors in our section overthrew their targets on three occasions, good for a laugh. After the White Sox finished taking BP, the only sounds over the P.A. from 6:30 to 6:40 came from the organist who played the following medley--"Somewhere Over the Rainbow," "All My Loving," "Isn't She Lovely?" and "Yankee Doodle Dandy,"--as the grounds crew removed the batting cage and the various protective screens, dragging them across the long field, and then began to rake the infield dirt.
"I love watching them rake the dirt," my brother said and it occured to me that the image of the crew making a field beautiful is a hypnotic and soothing one that should be captured on film.
The singular event of the night came in the bottom of the first inning when Derek Jeter singled to set the all-time Yankee Stadium hit record. As the crowd cheered for several minutes, little white flashes blipped around the park, and the sun set behind the Stadium. From where we sat, you could see the almost surreal sunset, something out of a movie. The sun setting on Yankee Stadium, Jeter getting a final rousing cheer. It was too corny to be true but there it was.
My favorite part of the game came several innings later. With the bases loaded and two out, Jason Giambi faced a full count and the crowd started to roar. Our view of third base was blocked so it was difficult to see Jeter, who was on second, or Johnny Damon on third, but we had a great angle of Alex Rodriguez taking a lead off of first and then sprinting to second as Gavin Floyd delivered the ball home. What we noticed was how fast Rodriguez is, what a powerful, fluid runner. Floyd was so deliberate in his delivery, Rodriguez was just a few strides away from second by the time the pitch left Floyd's hand. Giambi fouled off one pitch, then another, and another. I wondered if Giambi walked would Rodriguez be picked off at second for rounding the base too far? Another foul. Each time, Rodriguez and Jeter stopped their sprint and returned to their respective base. Each time, they looked slower. This went on until Giambi finally struck out on the sixth offering with a full count. With the inning over, Rodriguez stood with his hands on his hips around the shortstop area as if he had just run a marathon. All that anticipation and athletic effort, all that running, for nothing.
It summed up the entire season. Sometimes, things just don't work out. By the seventh inning, the fans began to leave. The game slowed down in the final two frames as the Yankee pen did not work quickly. Nobody much paid attention to the game. Even though the place was half-full, it sounded quiet. But it wasn't a depressing feeling. It was nostalgic. It brought us back to our childhood, all those years in the Eighties where we attended games like this with the Yanks out of contention, playing out the string. Of course, there were even fewer fans back then. But it didn't matter that the game was lousy. It just mattered that we were there, at the Stadium, for one last time, enjoying each other's company, taking pleasure in the small details, feeling fortunate to watch a game in the place we've watched more games than any other stadium.