The end of an era

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Closing Time

The Irish wake started at 11:43 p.m., and fifty minutes later, my family and I left the Stadium. I’ll have pictures and tales from the game tomorrow. This win — a solid outing by Andy Pettitte, some timely hitting and the final Yankee Stadium home run by an unlikely slugger and one final Yankee Stadium appearance by Mariano Rivera, the greatest current Yankee — was all we could have wanted. There’s no need to recap it right now; just revel in the end of an era of baseball history.

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Today is a day that I thought would never come. Like the last day of summer vacation as a kid, I knew it would happen eventually but didn’t want to believe it. But now it’s here, the last game at Yankee Stadium, and I can best describe the feeling as sad, joyful and nostalgic.

I’ve spent many days in The House That Ruth Built, more than I care to count. Whether I was a kid annoying my father for more cotton candy, or cutting class in high school to catch a day game from the far reaches of Tier Reserved, or a yuppie deciding which dugout I wanted to sit behind, the one thing that never changed was the proud Stadium. Walking out of the tunnel to see the greenest grass I’ve ever seen and hear Ed Alstrom on the organ for the first time has always been one of my favorite memories of the Stadium.

We’ve bitched and moaned about the team on the field all season long, but I don’t even care about that anymore. Today is about celebrating a long-standing New York tradition, soaking in the best Yankee Stadium has to offer. As Doug Mientkiewicz perfectly put it: God did create heaven on Earth … it’s called Yankee Stadium.

Yankee Stadium will live on forever in our hearts and memories, but as Jane Heller reminds us: The memories — the magic — were never really about the building. Truer words have never been spoken.

The baseball gods took care of the Yanks today like they have so many times before, granting just a perfect day for baseball. Enjoy the game, enjoy the pre- and post-game festivities, enjoy being a Yankees’ fan.

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The Yankees and the South Bronx have always co-existed rather uneasily with each other.

When the Yanks first arrived in the Bronx, the demographics of the area were far different from what they become in the 1960s and 1970s and what they are today. In fact, as the borough changes, so too did Yankee Stadium. While the renovations in the 1970s were ostensibly about modernizing the stadium, the Yankees sealed off the inside of the park from the outside. Gone were the views of the tenement houses across the street. Instead those residents saw a drab gray wall backing up along River Ave.

This stark contrast between the rich and powerful Yankees and a very poor and struggling neighborhood came to head in 1977 when the South Bronx erupted in riots. As the Yankees played at night, smoke from the fires in the area wafted over that high outfield wall. While the Yanks try to make fans forget they’re in the Bronx, the Bronx would not allow the fans to forget where they were.

Today, the stories of class conflict in the city have fallen by the wayside. The areas around Yankee Stadium are still among the poorest and least safe neighborhoods in the city, but as the team grew wildly popular and successful throughout the 1990s, friend of the Yankees Rudy Giuliani made sure that no place in the city had more cops than Yankee Stadium at game time. Now, no one thinks twice about trekking up to the South Bronx to see a Yankee game.

But what about the people on the other side of this story? What about the hundreds of thousands of people who live around Yankee Stadium? For them, the impending destruction of the old stadium and the arrival of the new stadium tells a different story.

David Gonzalez, writing in The Times this weekend, delves into that story of a neighborhood defined, often reluctantly, by a stadium in which most residents could never afford to set foot:

It’s just that too often, no one much respected the neighborhood outside its walls, including Yankee executives. That’s what makes for my melancholy heart.

Over the years there was griping about how the area was unsafe — this despite scores of police officers assigned to games and the presence of two pretty well-fortified courthouses and a transit police station a couple of blocks away. And there were arguments about whether the Yankees could develop a fan base in the Bronx — a borough that is home to legions of baseball-mad Dominicans and Puerto Ricans.

On one level, you could dismiss it as just posturing, a bargaining ploy over the years meant to wrest something new from the city — tax breaks or a stadium. But for a track man at Cardinal Hayes High School who ran past the stadium every day, it could feel like an entire community’s recent history had been reduced to a negotiating tactic.

The Yankees exist in Yankeeland, as much a part of the Boogie Down Bronx as the tony Riverdale neighborhood is. The rest of the South Bronx neighborhood along the Grand Concourse, near 161st St., exists in a separate world. It is one in which neighborhood — and, in particular, the now-gone Macombs Dam Park — matters to those who live there. It is a neighborhood defined by adversity and a neighborhood much better off than it was 15 or 20 years ago.

When the Yanks move across the street and open a new ballpark in seven months, the views we’ll change. The center field backdrop will now be 1020 Grand Concourse instead of the familiar court house. The stadium will be more insular than ever before with restaurants and martini bars and a mini Yankee City within the walls. But the neighborhood will be the same, defined not by an 85-year-old Baseball Cathedral but by a stadium that stole a park. We celebrate — or bemoan — the Yanks every day, but as an era draws to a close today, we can’t forget the countless people who have grown up and have lived in the shadows of the Yankees, for better or for worse.

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  • Whelan, Miranda returning to the AzFL

    The Yanks apparently have decided on the final two players they’ll be sending to the desert this fall: second time AzFLers Juan Miranda & Kevin Whelan. So it looks like I misremembered, for some reason I thought they only had one pitcher spot empty, but I guess they never filled that second infield spot. Scott Aldred, Double-A Trenton’s pitching coach, will serve the same role with the team in Arizona, which is great because he’s familiar with all the pitchers the Yanks are sending. Season starts Oct. 7th. (h/t Chad Jennings) · (9) ·

  • What Damaso did

    Earlier today, Damaso Marte threw yet another scoreless inning for the Yankees, and his mid-August troubles are seemingly long gone. In his last 14 appearances, stretching back to August 16, Marte has thrown 11 innings, allowing one run on three hits and four walks. He’s struck out 13 in that span and is pitching about as well as any reliever could. As he’s now shown why he was a hot commodity at the trade deadline, I believe the Yanks will pick up his option this fall, solidifying the late-inning need for a lefty next year. · (76) ·

As Robinson Cano lined a single up the middle to give the Yanks’ a walk-off 1-0 win over the Orioles, the team closed the book on a chapter of Yankee Stadium. No longer with the field at the southwest corner of River Ave. and 161st St. in the Bronx play host to day games. No longer will the Bronx County Court House preside over sun-drenched afternoon affairs.

The Yanks couldn’t have asked for better weather in late September for their afternoon send-off to the stadium. With the mercury pushing 68 degrees and nary a cloud in the sky, the Orioles and Yanks racked up zero after zero until the Yanks broke through in the bottom of the 9th. Two unlikely pitchers – Brian Burres with an ERA over 6.00 and Al Aceves with 20 Big League innings under his belt — kept the opposing hitters guessing, and the game came down to a battle of the bullpens with the Yanks’ pen pitching just a hair better than the Orioles’ relievers.

For the third time in three starts, Aceves threw six innings and didn’t allow much. The Orioles knocked out just five hits against the Mexican righthander and worked three walks. Aceves struck out three and didn’t allow a run. On the season, Aceves sees his ERA drop to 1.38, and many Yankee fans are writing him in as a presumptive starter next year. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

To me, the biggest question mark surrounding Aceves is the “luck vs. skill” debate. Right now, Aceves’ BABIP is a meager .217, and it’s highly doubtful that this mark would stand. His three strike outs today gave him just eight in 19 innings as a starter, and the 2:1 K:BB ratio isn’t stellar. Today, he recorded four outs on the ground and nine in the air. While in his first start, he induced a Wangian 14 ground balls in seven innings, if his fly ball rates are up and his strike outs remain low, he’ll start to give up more runs.

Now, I don’t mean to sound negative about Aceves; he’s shown better stuff and command than Darrell Rasner or Sidney Ponson did. But once the league gets a long look at him, we’ll know for sure what we have. At the worst, he’d make for a great long reliever next year.

Otherwise, the offense had nothing today. The Yanks mustered four hits and just seven base runners against Brian Burres. But what else is new? This team has long had a tendency this season to make bad pitchers look good. At least today they came out on top.

With one game left at Yankee Stadium, the Yanks are riding the hot hand. They’ve won seven of their last nine at home and are enjoying good pitching and timely hitting. With tomorrow’s emotional stadium finale on tap, today’s was a great win.

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