Hail And Farewell

Jeff Greenfield is senior political correspondent for CBS News.
As a lifelong New Yorker, I've taken for granted many of the iconic symbols of my town: the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and Central Park are each part of my extended neighborhood, and rarely stir the emotions.

But for nearly 60 years, every time I've walked into Yankee Stadium, my heartbeat begins to accelerate.

It happened the first time I went to a ballgame there, walking into the huge fortress, emerging from a tunnel into the startling blue sky and green outfield – having only seen baseball on a mid-century TV, I guess I assumed the real thing would be black and white. More than the physical power, it's the power of memories that the stadium holds that make its last season so poignant.

Some of them are personal: I was there on Memorial Day 1956 when famed slugger Mickey Mantle came within 18 inches of hitting a fair ball completely out of the park – something no one has ever done, and likely never will. I was there for games four and five of the 2001 World Series – just weeks after the attacks of September 11th – when the Yanks won two successive games after tying the games with two-out ninth inning home runs.

And yes, I was there for games six and seven of the 2004 League Championship Series with the Red Sox, when Boston completed its astounding four-game comeback. I never heard such silence.

But other memories are second-hand; I did not witness the 1958 National Football League championship between the New York giants and the Baltimore Colts – an overtime thriller called "the greatest game ever played." I was not there for the Papal masses of Paul VI and John Paul II. I didn't see Joe Louis knock out Max Schmeling, the German heavyweight champ and a symbol of Aryan supremacy. I did not see a dying Lou Gehrig bid farewell to the fans. Okay, those last two happened before I was born, but the newsreels burned them into my memory.

The keeper of such memories is Tony Morante, who has been guiding Stadium tours for three decades, and whose dad worked as an usher in the ballpark. Interestingly, he professes little angst about leaving for the new stadium across the street.

"For me, the old Yankee Stadium – before they remodeled it in the '70s – was the real Stadium," he says.

I know what he means; we lost something when the immense dimensions of the outfield – 461 feet to home plate – were cut down to accommodate the fans' hunger for more home runs.

Still, it's going to feel very strange next year to look out on a different ball field, after a lifetime spent in a single stadium. We can spare the maudlin handwringing, but a small sense of "hail and farewell?" I think we're entitled.