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A fond farewell: NY pays tribute before final game at Yankee Stadium
NEW YORK — Even Yogi Berra knew this was the end.
As baseball said farewell to Yankee Stadium, one of the game's most beloved players stood beneath the stands in a full vintage uniform. Now 83, the man who coined the phrase "it ain't over till it's over" put his own stamp on the day.
"I'm sorry to see it over, I'll tell you that," Berra said.
The goodbye completed an 85-year-old run for the home of baseball's most famous team. What began with a Babe Ruth home run on an April afternoon in 1923 ended Sunday with Mariano Rivera retiring Brian Roberts on a grounder to first baseman Cody Ransom, completing a 7-3 victory over Baltimore on a warm September night.
Johnny Damon and Jose Molina homered, Andy Pettitte got the victory and Rivera threw the final pitch at 11:41 p.m. on a bittersweet evening, when the Yankees staved off what appears to be inevitable postseason elimination. Appropriately enough, the final Yankees player to bat was Derek Jeter, whose grounder to third ended the eighth. Jeter was removed with two outs in the ninth, leaving the captain to take the final in-game curtain call.
But first, all the greats were remembered during a 65-minute pregame ceremony that included 21 retired players, six of them Hall of Famers.
"I feel like I'm losing an old friend," Reggie Jackson told the crowd.
Bob Sheppard, the 90-something public address announcer who started in 1951, read the opening welcome. He missed this season because of illness, but recorded his greeting and the introduction of the Yankees starting lineup.
The 1922 American League pennant, the first to fly in the ballpark, was unfurled in the black batter's eye beyond center field. Young men and boys were introduced representing the opening-day lineup in 1923.
Then came the living Yankees who make the stadium a standard for excellence.
Willie Randolph slid into second base when he was announced. Fan favorite Paul O'Neill pointed to the Bleacher Creatures in right field. Bernie Williams, back at the ballpark for the first time since the Yankees cut him two years ago, received the longest ovation, which lasted nearly 2 minutes. Don Larsen scooped up dirt from the pitcher's mound in a plastic cup, assisted by Whitey Ford.
Accompanying them were the sons of some deceased stars: Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Billy Martin and Thurman Munson, joined by the wives of Catfish Hunter, Bobby Murcer and Phil Rizzuto, the daughter of Elston Howard and Murcer's son and daughter.
George Steinbrenner, the team owner since 1973, did not attend.
Julia Ruth Stevens, 92-year-old daughter of the Babe, threw out the ceremonial first pitch before a crowd of 54,610 — bringing the stadium total to 151,959,005.
"I'm very, very sad to think that the Yankee Stadium is not going to be in existence any longer," she said. "I wish it could have remained as a New York landmark, but I guess like all things it has come to its final days as we all do."
Jeter received a crystal bat for breaking Lou Gehrig's record for hits at Yankee Stadium earlier in the week. There were so many cameras popping when Pettitte threw the real first pitch, Roberts seemed startled and didn't even try to swing.
Outside the stadium, the marquee that usually has the day's start time and opponent said: "Thanks for the Memories."
When Damon hit a three-run homer in the third inning, the ball was caught by Brian Elmer, salesman from Trenton, N.J. — and a Mets fan.
"This is my first time here," he said.
When Pettitte left in the sixth, the four-time World Series champion received a prolonged ovation and came out for a curtain call. Then in the seventh, a video was played of Sheppard reading a poem:
"Farewell old Yankee Stadium, farewell/What a wonderful story you can tell/DiMaggio, Mantle, Gehrig and Ruth/A baseball cathedral in truth/Farewell."