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The Final Game
2008-09-22 01:41
by Cliff Corcoran
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

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I spent nearly 12 hours at Yankee Stadium yesterday. What follows, believe it or not, is the short version of that experience.

On Saturday, the Yankees announced that they would allow fans to walk the perimeter of the field between 1:00 and 4:00 yesterday afternoon. Eager to take advantage of that opportunity, Becky and I arrived at the Stadium just before 1:00. As we came over the pedestrian bridge, past the smokestack bat toward Gate 4 behind home plate, we saw a significant, but not overwhelming crowd and decided that we could afford to scoot up 161st street to grab a couple of sandwiches, which would keep us from having nothing to eat but the bleachers' limited menu of ballpark food for the ten or eleven hours we expected to be inside the Stadium. As we walked by, Gate 4 was opening for the last time on a gameday.

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After getting our grub, we queued up at Gate 2 behind left field based on the thought that Gate 2 was closer to Monument Park and thus would put us closer to our eventual destination as the fans were to be let onto the field from the park. The security at Gate 2 was extremely well organized and was allowing fans to enter in large waves so as to control traffic. We entered with the third wave, no later than 1:30, and proceeded to follow the crowd past the entrance to Monument Park and up the series of ramps in the far left-field corner of the Stadium.

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After following the line all the way up to the top Tier level, we followed it around the bowl of the Stadium, all the way to the far right-field corner, then down the ramp one level and back several sections before finally turning around and coming to rest at its end. The line we were on stretched all the way back up to the top right-field corner of the Stadium, back around to the left-field corner, back down the ramps to the Main Level, out into the left field stands, into Monument Park, out onto the warning track heading toward right field, and around the perimeter of the field.

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By 3:00, we were just to the right-field side of home plate on the Tier level. At a bit before 4:00, we were half-way down the third baseline, still on the Tier level, and word was starting to spread that the field had been closed. Poking my head out into the stands, I confirmed that fact. Uninterested in spending another two and a half hours in line on the off chance that we'd get to see Monument Park one last time, Becky and I took off for the Main Level to walk around the lower deck.

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One reason that we, as well as the thousands of others ahead and behind us on line, did not get onto the field is that the fans that did get the privilege were allowed to linger, to meander, to stop for multiple photographs, and to tour the visitors' dugout. I still can't decide if I would have preferred Stadium staff to hustle the fans around the field in order to give more of them the opportunity, or if I'm pleased that those that did get there early enough were allowed to soak in the experience at their own pace.

As we circled the Stadium, separated from our original destination on the field by the Main Boxes and the Stadium security which guarded the chains keeping the hoi polloi out of said Boxes, Becky and I took in the beautiful late-summer day and the beloved old ballpark. Near the visitors dugout, Joe Girardi approached the fans on the field to meet, greet and sign autographs. As we passed behind Jane Lang and Laramie, Phil Coke was doing the same in the home-plate corner of the home dugout. Word had it that Mike Mussina had also been out earlier signing for the fortunate few who did set foot on the field. Soon after, Alex Rodriguez approached the meandering fans. As the fans on the field receded, it became clear just how extensive the swarm of media in front of the Yankee dugout was. I snapped a quick photo of the "Baseball Tonight" crew during a commercial break, but otherwise paid the horde little mind.

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After breathing the park in from the seating bowl, Becky and I attempted to make our way to our right field bleacher seats. The staff member guarding the right field boxes told us to head back toward Monument Park in left field where we would be led behind the park and into the bleacher section. Once there, we encountered a pair of roadblocks and were told to wait where we were by a female cop directing traffic while standing on a chair and blocking the sun from her face by holding her hat in her hand. After standing in that same sun for a bit too long, a Stadium staffer of higher authority informed us and the other bleacher-ticket holders that had assembled there that we had to go to Gate 6, back in right field, to get to our seats.

As frustrating as all of this was, it gave us an accidental tour of large swaths of the Stadium, sending us to nooks and crannies I'd never seen before, and eventually through the old Yankee bullpen in right field to get to our usual Section 37. Once we were in place, the Yankees were on the field stretching in a circle, which I assume is a formation introduced by Joe Girardi.

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Jason Giambi put on the best show in batting practice, littering the upper deck in right field with abused baseballs, though a few came off his bat and others' into our section, and Zack Hample (seen in the lower left of the above photo) managed to snag several in the nearest corner of the right field box seats, throwing on an Orioles cap and a Cal Ripken t-shirt when the Yankees departed the field and the O's came out for BP.

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After the Orioles cleared the field, the United States Army Field Band emerged from Monument Park to play a pair of John Philip Sousa marches, echoing the band led by Sousa himself before the Stadium's first game in 1923. That was a particularly rousing beginning to a fine ceremony in which the Stadium's original 1922 American League Championship banner was unveild on the black batters' eye in center field, and Yankee greats from Babe Ruth to Bernie Williams were remembered in something of a alternative Old-Timers' ceremony that first featured actors in vintage uniforms representing the original 1923 Opening Day lineup as well as past greats including Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Lefty Gomez, Red Ruffing, Bill Dickey, Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel, then saw the more recent players themselves (or immediate family members of those who have passed) trot out in full uniform to their respective positions, concluding with center field, occupied by Mickey Mantle's son David, Bobby Murcer's wife and kids, and Bernie Williams in his first trip back to the Stadium since he was forcibly retired.

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Willie Randolph took his position at second base by sliding into the bag, then rubbing extra dirt on his uniform. Don Larsen spent his down time on the pitchers' mound filling a cup with the Stadium's dirt. A recent recording made by Bob Sheppard then introduced the Yankees' starting lineup. The Army Field Band played the National Anthem. Babe Ruth's 92-year-old daughter threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

The game itself demanded more attention than Saturday's almost non-existent, albeit ulimately stirring, 1-0 win. The Orioles got single runs off Andy Pettitte in the second and third to take an early lead, but Johnny Damon delivered a three-run homer to left field in the bottom of the third to give the Yankees a brief 3-2 lead. That home run would prove to be the last to land in the area once known as Ruthville. Pettitte coughed up another run in the fourth, tying the game at three all, but the Yankees answered right back in the least probable manner when Robinson Cano drew a leadoff walk and Jose Molina homered into the net above the retired numbers in left. Molina's two-run shot put the Yankees ahead for good and stands as the last home run hit in Yankee Stadium, echoing fellow back-up catcher Duke Sims' shot in the final game of the original Stadium in 1973.

With his team ahead 5-2, Joe Girardi pulled Andy Pettitte after Adam Jones led off the sixth with a single. Jose Veras, Phil Coke, and Joba Chamberlain kept the O's from drawing any closer, and the Yankees padded their lead in the bottom of the seventh. Bobby Abreu led off that frame with a single, stole second, and moved to third on Alex Rodriguez's fly out to the gap in right center. Jason Giambi then singled Abreu home and was pinch-run for by Brett Gardner. On the 2-1 pitch to Xavier Nady, Gardner took off for second base. Nady hit a sharp grounder to shortstop where utility man Brandon Fahey, who had been insterted the previous inning, booted the ball. Gardner, almost without hesitation, broke for third base as the ball rolled away from Fahey and slid safely into third base head-first. Robinson Cano then lifted a fairly shallow fly ball down the left field line, but Gardner still tagged up, easily beating a bad throw from left fielder Jay Payton to set the score at 7-3.

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With that, all that was left to do was to get the ball to Mariano Rivera. Chamberlain accomplished that with a seven-pitch eighth inning. Rivera then got a trio of groundouts to earn the save and bring an end to baseball at Yankee Stadium. The last play was a groundball to first base by Brian Roberts that Cody Ransom scooped up and took to the bag himself just ahead of Rivera, who was coming to cover.

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The field was immediately swarmed by mounted police in riot gear, who guarded the field from intruding fans. As the Yankees lined up to congratulate each other on the win and on staving off elimination for one more day (the Red Sox won earlier in the day, clinching a tie for the Wild Card), one fan burst through the police line from the right field stands, spooking a horse, but was smothered by police and security in front of the bleachers. As he was led off the field, the Yankees congregated on the pitchers mound and Derek Jeter addressed the crowd, leading his teammates in a salute to the fans, then taking them on a farewell lap around the field.

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When the players arrived back at the home dugout, their wives, girlfriends, children, and parents joined them on the field, as did some of the old timers now wearing suits, most prominent among them Bernie Williams, who headed back out toward center field with his family, eliciting repeated chants of his name by the bleacher creatures, each of which Bernie acknowledged enthusiastically. Several players could be seen filling cups or pockets with dirt, typically from their position on the field.

As Frank Sinatra's version of the theme to "New York, New York" repeated over the public address system, the scene on the field morphed into an after party, as old friends and family, some in uniform, some in suits, some in casual dress, mingled, hugged, and tried to soak in as much as they could before that inevitable moment came when they had to leave the field. The scene in the stands was much the same. While some filed out, many others, including Becky and myself, remained, soaking it in, taking and posing for pictures, and simply enjoying our remaining moments in the old park and with those around us.

It still hasn't sunk in that I'm never going back. I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels that way.



All photographs (c) Cliff Corcoran, 2008
Comments
2008-09-22 05:22:20
1.   The Mick 536
Saw my first game at the Stadium in 1951 when I was 4. Been to more than 100 games at the big ball yard. Won't go to the new place; too expensive.

Never went to a World Series game. In the old days, you could walk on the field after the game. I can remember touching the monuments. Better yet, I can remember balls going behind the monuments and players chasing after them. The field was really big then.

Nothing better in last night's game than the Babe's daughter.

2008-09-22 05:29:41
2.   murphy
(murphy wipes away tears) thanks for the last two posts, cliff.
2008-09-22 05:34:23
3.   Ken P
Great pics, Cliff! My dad and I had a very similar experience at the stadium yesterday, and I think your post captures it very well. We got as far as the ramp in section 34 of the upper deck, but we figured that we would never actually make it to the field (it was around 3:15 by then) and decided to walk around the upper deck instead. I'm a little annoyed by the way they handled that, just because for every person who got to wander around the track at their own pace, there were probably 10-12 stuck in the bowels of the stadium that never made it. That being said, though, it was a wonderful experience just sitting in the stands behind the plate and watching the day go. I'd never seen Yankee BP before, so that was great, as well. Opening and closing ceremonies were well done, as always, and the sight of the players on the field at the end of the game, nobody wanting to leave, will stay with me for a long time.
2008-09-22 05:48:34
4.   The Hawk
Bernnnieeee! I think Williams was the very essence of the late-90s teams ... Glad he came back; they did him wrong.
2008-09-22 06:53:47
5.   williamnyy23
I was at the game last night as well and can easily say that it is now my greatest experience at the old ballpark. I actually arrived at the ballpark at about 2PM, got on line at Gate 6 and didn't actually get in the ballpark until 2:45PM. When they let us in, the announcement that Monument Park was closed went up and the crowd grew angry. The level of hostility got to the point that the NYPD pretty much stopped enforcing crowd control.

I was in the right place at the right time because a cop simply steered everyone standing where I was onto the line. After another 30 minutes waiting on that line, I got into Monument Park only to find out that access to the field was closed. I watched as a group of three people argued with a cop before just walking by him unmolested. So, I did the same thing.

After that, I spent nearly an hour walking around the field shooting video and taking hundreds of pictures. I thought it would be a cool thing to do beforehand, but the experience was even better. The fans were allowed to soak in the experience and there wasn't any of the strict enforcement that had been threatened. Fans left handprints of dirt all over the black outfield signs, scooped up fistfuls of dirt, jumped against the walls, sat on the tarp, etc. Then, Girardi, Arod and others came out to mingle a bit. The experience was incredible. By the time I came off the field, I was so exhausted, I felt as if I had just played the game.

It was about 4:45PM when I exited the field and then spent the next 90 minutes walking the entire length of each level, snapping photos at anything of interest. By 6:30PM, it was time to take a seat and get ready for the pre-game, which matched the All Star Game in enjoyment for me because this was more like a private moment, whereas the ASG was shared with the rest of baseball.

As Cliff mentioned, the game was anti-climatic except for a few defining moments like Jeter's ABs, Andy's first pitch and Mariano's entrance. Finally, having Jeter lead the team to the mound and address the crowd put the cherry on top. Afterwards, the police allowed us to remain in the stands for over an hour. It was fun to watch the players taking pictures with their families (Pudge had a ball with his kids in the outfield grass) and to see the old guard assemble for some pictures. After taking that all, I slowly walked down the ramps (peeling some paint chips off the wall along the way) making shore to take one last look from each level before walking out onto River avenue.

I've been to the All Star Game, countless playoff games, old timer's games and a clinching World Series victory, but this was the best day I ever had as a baseball fan. The reason I think this was the case is because the feeling was so different than any other game I've attended. It almost had a high school graduation feel to it. All your old friends are gathered together in the place you spent a significant part of your life for one past time. You don't really want to leave the place, but you realize that bigger and better things are ahead. You may or may not see some of these people again, but the memories will last for the rest of your life.

Interestingly, I did not detect a lot of sadness in the crowd, and surprising I didn't feel much either. In a weird way, it was almost as if the closing of Yankee Stadium was required to make this night possible (or necessary, as Yogi would day). Well, the event was so great, it was a price many seemed willing to pay. In an even weirder way, I think the Yankees being out of it was a blessing in disguise because the day was all about the Stadium and not the pennant race. There were simply no distractions…they even turned off the out of town scoreboard as if nothing else in baseball mattered. Also, because there would be no playoffs, true finality existed. This wasn't just the last regular season game; it was the last game. I am still wrestling with this feeling, but in a way, I am kind of happy the season played out the way it did.

I'd never spent over 10 hours at Yankee Stadium, so that added to the uniqueness of the event, but when I was driving home, I was exhausted. I took about an hour of video, 900 pictures and a bagful of Stadium relics. The memories are countless.

2008-09-22 06:58:34
6.   Raf
My first game was in '91... The Memorial Day game where Mel Hall hit a HR off Reardon to win it.

Since then, I've seen a no-hitter (Gooden), a perfect game (Cone), several ALDS games, starting in 1995 (I was @ gms 1 & 2), several ALCS games, starting in 96 (I was @ the Jeffrey Maier game), and my first World Series game in 2003. Also saw them clinch the playoffs in '96. Also saw Irabu's debut against the Tigers in 97, and many more other games.

I made it there yesterday and swung by last night for the last few innings. Snapped some pics for posterity, should be getting them up later.

2008-09-22 07:04:36
7.   williamnyy23
3 Even thouh I was lucky to make the field, I agree that they botched it. The guard I was talking to said they didn't anticipate the volume. I find it hard to believe that the Yankees didn't realize how many people would want to walk the field. Also, it seemed as if they just came up with the idea on Thursday. You'd think they would have thought it out better?

They should have opened the Stadium at 9AM and definitely should have moved the line more quickly. I was expecting a very quick and orderly funeral line like processsion, but instead you were allowed to stay as long as you wanted. The only think compelling you move on was a desire to see what was ahead. The communicatin and organization were also terrible, so anger would be justifiable.

The Yankees should try to make ammends to those who didn't make the field. Perhaps they could give a free Stadium Tour or even open up YS for a week in October, have a few players attend as greeters and let everyone with ticket to the game walk the ballpark.

2008-09-22 07:10:53
8.   Mattpat11
You know, last night I was kind of sad, now I'm a little mad. It really is a shame that this place with all this history had to be sent off by such a mediocre baseball team.
2008-09-22 07:15:05
9.   Bob B
CLiff-thanks for the excellent and very accurate report. I think yesterday was an intensely personal event for many of us who had the opportunity to be there. I know it was for me. It was sad, no doubt,in many ways. Since my Dad and both my brothers have passed on, I couldn't help but remember coming with my them to so many Yankee games and all the NY Giant games we saw in the old ballpark. I got to hug the guys in my section who became like a family to me over the past dozen years, especially after my younger brother died in the summer of '98. They helped me through that awful time almost better than my family could since I sought solace at game after game in the Stadium that summer and fall. After the pre-game ceremonies, which had the whole place rocking, the crowd was eerily silent during the first couple of innings. You might have thought you were at a funeral. Johnny Damon's HR finally woke the fans up from the collective melancholy and when Molina hit his HR the crowd really seemed to get into game mode. Last night was something I hope I will never forget-it was like when Kevin Costner said in Field of Dreams -"It's perfect".
2008-09-22 07:22:16
10.   JL25and3
I'm with you, Cliff. I'm still having trouble grasping the idea. As I said yesterday, my ties to the Stadium aren't just about the building or the team, they're about family. I've been going there for 40+ years, but I'm third generation; my family goes right back to the beginning, or very close to it. So my emotions run very deep indeed.

I was there Saturday ("almost non-existent" is a great description, Cliff) with my sister and brother-in-law. We left by way of the right-field corner, and before we walked out, my sister wanted to take one last loving look at the field. Unfortunately, the entryway was blocked off, with a security guard standing watch.

So that was my last experience at Yankee Stadium: a barricade with a guard saying, you're not allowed in here. Seems only fitting.

2008-09-22 07:31:29
11.   spudrph
Yankee Stadium is the place where the dream died for me in 2003, and where my boys slayed the beast in 2004. It's where the 1949 Sox dropped two at the very, very end to fall short, and it's a place where, no matter the relative strengths of the teams, I was always not too surprised after a loss and very, very grateful after a win.

Yeah, it isn't exactly the place where Ruth and DiMaggio played, but it's pretty close. It's mostly the same patch of earth where they walked, anyway.

It's history, and now it's gone.

Very, very well written piece. Nice work.

2008-09-22 07:40:30
12.   ms october
thanks for this write-up cliff and for sharing the photos. and thanks to others who were there for sharing.

they should have done going to the field like a lot of national attractions where everyone who wanted to go gets one line and gets a specific time and then you go in shifts for say 1/2 hour.

2008-09-22 07:55:45
13.   Raf
7 Also, it seemed as if they just came up with the idea on Thursday.

Seems Steve Lombardi @ WasWatching thought something similar...

The Yankees should try to make ammends to those who didn't make the field.

Oh, I would love to see that. I'd be very surprised if that happened. Having said that, I see no reason why the Yanks couldn't have stadium tours up until or through the end of the season.

2008-09-22 08:55:53
14.   Jen
I was second in line at Gate 6 when the gates opened and I still didn't get onto the field. Part of that was probably due to the fact that I was waiting for my friends who were behind me in line and their bleacher tickets weren't scanning (mine didn't either but the guy let me through anyway). They didn't have the ticket scanners updated to allow bleacher tickets at the non-bleacher entrances. So that held us up for a good 15 minutes. Still I thought we'd have enough time. I think the real problem though was that people were cutting the line down below, and security either let it happen or enabled it.

We got to Monument Park a little after 5. The only reason we stayed on line is that we hadn't been in several years and my one friend had never seen it. I appreciate the gesture by the Yankees to open early and allow fans to walk the field and whatnot, but they really dropped the ball as far as organization.

2008-09-22 09:01:20
15.   bp1
I'm really enjoying these first hand encounters of the game yesterday. Thanks for taking the time to write it all up for us (Cliff and the other posters as well).

I have to say - and it really pains me to admit this - but ESPN did a good job during the game last night. They had Yogi and Whitey in the booth for awhile w/ Joe and John, had Reggie, Michael Kay, etc.

They even stayed in the pen to watch Mo jog out while Enter Sandman was playing instead of cutting to commercial.

The pre-game and post-game on YES were great - all the interviews. I stayed up till 1am or so watching (and still made it to work on time - dragging butt).

The reception for Bernie brought a lump to my throat. That was great.

A good feeling for Yankee fans yesterday. No anger for missing the playoffs, just a total celebration of being Yankees.

How cool it would have been to walk on the field, but the TV experience wasn't all that bad, either. They hammed it up, no doubt, but it was still kinda cool. Tino talking about watching Saturday's game in the bleachers - and nobody recognized him. Watching Posada snap shots of the monuments with his little point-n-shoot. grown men scooping up bits of dirt into dixie cups.

What a day.

2008-09-22 09:17:28
16.   Jen
Jim Leyritz made an appearance in the bleachers last night. I'm guessing he wasn't there as a guest of the Yankees.
2008-09-22 09:47:49
17.   JL25and3
16 Ah, what's a little vehicular manslaughter among friends?
2008-09-22 11:15:59
18.   weeping for brunnhilde
Thank you, Cliff.

I still can't really believe it.

I have that feeling I get after all our elimination games of late: I grasp intellectually that there's no more baseball (in this case, no more Stadium), but it just feels viscerally wrong. Like Backwards Day or something.

2008-09-22 11:26:37
19.   Cliff Corcoran
16 Yeah, Leyritz appeared in the tunnel leading to Sections 37 and 39 in the bottom of the second when Dave Trembley yanked Jamie Walker in favor of Rocky Cherry, I had decided to use that pitching change to take a quick bathroom break (that's actually possible in the bleachers) so I wouldn't have to after the final out, and when I got to the railing I saw Leryitz and the fans and security around him clogging up the ramp. I paused for a split second, the decided to just push past them all, nearly shoving a police officer out of the way in the process. When I got back to my seat, just in time for Cherry's first pitch, Becky was cracking up because she saw the whole thing.
2008-09-22 11:30:08
20.   Cliff Corcoran
Spike Lee also showed up in the bleachers early in the game. He was filming things with a little digital handheld. Becky had spotted him following Reggie Jackson around before the game, and Spike popped up over that same tunnel, I think to film the final role call and get some footage of the cowbell guy.

The bleacher creatures reinstituted the previously banned "box seats suck" chant for the last two games and last night when the folks in the right field boxes countered with their traditional "we've got beer" the bleachers answered back "we've got Spike Lee."

If I could post photos in comments, I'd post the pic I snapped of Spike, who was directly across from my row.

2008-09-22 11:38:27
21.   OldYanksFan
It was just a great day. Sad, as saying goodbye always is. I always though that Yankee Stadium might be the only original sports venue still standing on the day of Armageddon.

It was too grand a day to reharsh the politics behind the decision to tear the old girl down. I could only think during the ceremonies that other teams and fans are just in a different class. The tradition and history elevates being a Yankees fan to a whole other level.

I feel lucky to be a fan.
And lucky to share it all with the Bronx Banter.

2008-09-22 12:06:34
22.   Jen
20 Here's a bit of Spike and the Roll Call from the Daily News.

http://tinyurl.com/4t2r9a

I couldn't see him because I'm in the back of 39. (Or I was anyway, who knows where I'll be next year). I'll post a link to my pics later tonight.

2008-09-22 12:19:04
23.   Sliced Bread
Way to take us out to the ballgame one last time, Cliff. Thank you for all that.

You, Alex, and your colleagues have hooked us up with some really special remembrances, and your fine work is much appreciated.

The Yanks themselves did a great job last night of washing away the bitterness I've been feeling toward the new stadium. They closed the place in such a grand way that, I hesitate to say, it somehow almost feels right to be moving on.

What really helped me turn the corner was watching the ceremony with my young sons, and talking to them about the past, and about the new Stadium. My boys are so jazzed to go that I can't wait for the new memories to unfold before our eyes.

Heck, I became a Yanks fan in the early 70's watching the team at Shea Stadium. Corny as it is to say, being a Yankee fan is a state of mind, and it doesn't matter as much where the games are played, so long as we're there to root 'em on.

Now, here's hoping the Yanks can help their neighbors embrace the new Stadium by making good on their promise to replace the park acreage that's been taken from them.

2008-09-22 13:22:50
24.   Raf
Some of my pictures;
http://tinyurl.com/4wv446
2008-09-22 20:53:24
25.   3rd gen yankee fan
Cliff, william, Jen, and everyone else, thanks so much for your stories. Sliced -- you and your boys stand on a very special threshhold. Here's to new traditions and new memories linking to the old.

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