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Friday, August 18, 2006



Last season I took to the road and I saw a few ballgames.

I visited Toronto, where I sat in the summer sun underneath the CN Tower and drank a very good microbrewed pale ale and ate a dog as I watched tiny elevators ferry specks of humanity up 1,000 feet of vertical concrete. I saw the Skydome's (now 'Rogers Center') massive roof open and close, and after the game I walked right back to my hotel. It was cool.

I visited the new ballpark in Philadelphia as well. I saw the giant team store where you can customize your own jersey, The Schmidtter's Cheese Steak Shop, the restaurant in centerfield, and the build your own Philly Fanatic booth. I strolled around the staudium's airy concourses and marveled at all the new wonders that a modern stadium is equipped with. It, too, was cool.

I also visited Camden Yards in Baltimore. I walked from my hotel to the stadium, stopping of to get fresh Maryland crab cakes on the way. I partied on Eustaw street, drank some beers with my best bro, and met some sloppy pig at a brewhouse afterwards who I prolly should have banged but thought better of. It was a great day and a fun night, and it was cool as well.

One month ago, I went to a Yankee game.

I've been to Yankee Stadium countless times. It's where I saw my first ballgame; It's where I brought my oversized glove with hopes that Dave Winfield would hit a fould ball just to me, and where I saw Mikey Mantle and the great Joe D on old timer's day, and where my pop bought me a plastic Yankee batter's helmet that I tried to wear in a little league game but the umpire made me take it off and wear a real helmet.

It's where I sat in the bleachers during the summers of my college years, during day games drinking beers, singing profanity-laced bleacher songs, and tanning in the hot sun. It's where I was tossed from a game when my best buddy got into a fight with a drunk, and someone dumped a beer on me as the NYPD escorted us from the premises.

It's where I was in 2001, not long after the thick stench of September 11th had subsided, when Tino tied the game in the 9th and Jeter won it in November. I remember the stadium shook like an earthquake as 56,000 people jumped for joy in unison.

It's where I was in 2004, when Schilling pitched with his sock soaked red and A-Rod slapped the ball and Boston finally got past a century of demons.

So its where I was last month; a hot summer Sunday in the upper deck. The grass glowed, as it does in a peculiar way in Yankee Stadium, especially when you walk out of the dark tunnel towards your seats. And it was hard to even get to my seat, because the concession lines were backed up as usual with girls in pink Jeter jerseys and guys in faded O'Neill shirts.

And I waited for ten minutes to get a beer and a dog, and the beer was flat and warm and I had to walk over to the industrial sized mustard pump to attend to my dog, which is always a crude balancing act.

And I took my food back to my seat, and walking down the nearly vertical steps of the upper deck is tough enough without trying to balance an overfilled beer, and the bottoms of my sneakers stuck to the steps as if they were chemically bonding with the warm concrete.

And then I sat. The air smelled of coconut suntan lotion and dried beer and hotdog water, and the ground made a satisfying crunch as I stepped on spent peanut shells. And the tiny Yankees were all on the field in thier home whites with famous navy blue pinstripes, with navy blue caps adorned front-and-center with a white interlocking 'NY', and on thier backs navy blue numbers with no names.....of course.

And they threw the ball around in twos, limbering up before the game. From the upper deck, the warmup throws from Bernie to Giambi almost seemed to float weightlessly, and Bob Sheppard boomed out the starting lineups in his classic baritone, and the organ wafted the strains of "Yankee Doodle Dandy" into the balmy air, almost as well as when Eddie Layton used to ply his trade there.

And then, as if on cue, the Yankees all moved to the dugout and then Sheppard commanded: "Ladies and Gentlemen, please rise....."

"for the playing of our National Anthem"

And from the stands: "Hats off!!"

And I stood up and I removed my cap and I was happy. The sun beat down on my face. I had come to watch baseball.

And thats what they just don't get.

Yankee Stadium is about baseball, and baseball is more than a game.

They will tear down Yankee Stadium. They will build a new park, with airy concourses and a team store and build-your-own-doll shops and microbrews and sushi restaurants and luxury boxes so that corporate hacks can be comfortable as they play around with thier blackberries. And it will have flat screen TVs and wireless hotspots and waiters and 'dining experiences' and ATMs.

It will have everything they can think of. In every way it will be 'better'.

But it won't have that smell, or that glow, or that stickyness when you walk down the aisle in the upper deck. And it won't have the gleaming white facade of the criminal courthouse towering over right-center, and it won't appear like a mirage as the 4 train emerges from the underworld. And it wont be the same place where Ruth, DiMaggio and Mantle once roamed, or where Gehrig was the luckiest man, or where Maris hit 61, or where Reggie hit 3 in one game, or where Charile Hayes caught that foul pop, or where I first saw the great Don Mattingly with my mom and my dad as a wide-eyed 6 year old.

And when they tear it down, they will take something from us forever. Part of me will be lost in those bricks and steel beams. Parts of countless others, alive and dead, will be carted away in the rubble. Part of New York will be lost forever. Part of baseball will be lost forever. Part of America will be lost forever.

And, like so much else these days, in its place will be an empty gesture; a meaningless cliche. A fruitless $1 billion attempt to capture and improve upon a presence and a spirit and the feel of what was.