For Yankees, nostalgia comes to life
Players old and new choose parting gifts as part of sendoff
NEW YORK -- From the moment they entered Spring Training, the Yankees knew they would be playing their final season in the stadium that has housed the organization since 1923.
They answered countless questions about their favorite memories or spots in the building, but for most of the season, the Bronx Bombers held off on nostalgia to focus on the game in front of them.
But as the Yankees walked off the field on Saturday following the celebration of their walk-off win over the Orioles, there remained only one more game at Yankee Stadium to look ahead to. After weeks of talk and buzz about the closing of the historic ballpark, the club will take the diamond on Sunday for the final game at baseball's Cathedral.
And while past and present Yankees will all have emotions about the last day, the approach to say goodbye varies with each individual.
Some, like Yankees manager Joe Girardi, have specific plans in mind. Girardi said he would pay one last visit to Monument Park on Saturday afternoon. And on Sunday, before he leaves the Stadium, Girardi will walk to the spot by third base where Charlie Hayes caught the final out in the deciding Game 6 of the 1996 World Series, then walk to the mound where the triumphant team celebrated.
Others, like captain Derek Jeter, don't know exactly how they will go about it. Sunday's game is scheduled to start just after 8 p.m. ET, but Jeter said he's sure his teammates will be at the park well beforehand.
"I think everyone will have a long time to let things soak in and really get an opportunity to let the atmosphere set in," Jeter said. "I think it's something everyone's looking forward to. I don't know how I'm going to feel. I'm sure it's going to be emotional."
Jeter has grown up in Yankee Stadium, and though he said he's looking forward to the new ballpark, he still can't picture himself in it. He watched his first game in the Bronx when he was four or five years old, and though he can't remember who the visiting team was or even if the Yankees won or lost, Jeter remembers how big everything around him felt.
As he moved through the Minor League system, the captain learned more about the respect and appreciation of the Cathedral that he still carries with him.
"That's one of the things you learn really young, is about the history and the tradition," Jeter said. "You go down to the Minor Leagues and you see the quotes on the wall, the pictures on the wall."
During the past few weeks, the Yankees have had time to think about what sort of souvenirs they want to take with them from the ballpark. Some, like Hideki Matsui and Bobby Abreu, want a part of their locker. Rookie reliever Phil Coke said he would be happy with just a chip of paint from the wall.
But Jeter would not reveal what he wants from the stadium he has called home since 1995 for fear that someone else would take it first.
Sunday's starting pitcher, Andy Pettitte, said he wants to keep a couple of balls from the last game to give to his kids. He had also been eyeballing a picture of Whitey Ford and had to inquire of its whereabouts when it came off the hallway walls along with other pictures and retired numbers earlier in the week.
Pettitte had originally expressed interest in taking part of the outfield wall, though for practical reasons, the lefty is not sure he will follow through on that request.
"I'm kind of backtracking on that a little bit just because of shipping, and how am I going to get that down to Texas?" Pettitte said. "It's Yankee Stadium, though, so if I can get stuff and it's possible, I'll probably do what I can to get it down to Texas."
As for Girardi, the manager took time on Saturday morning to gather his souvenir as he filled several bags with dirt from home plate. He said he plans to keep it in mason jars and give them to his children. And Girardi added that in the process, he saw several others collecting dirt.
The Yankees have watched along with their fans as the countdown has ticked down throughout the year, and with anticipation at a peak, the number displayed above the bleachers in the outfield stands at one.
"I'm interested to see the emotions of all the players tomorrow, because I think until it really gets here, it's probably not going to hit you," Girardi said. "But what I noticed today when I woke up, personally, was I can't believe how fast this week went. It seemed to fly by. It's amazing how fast 10 goes to seven to two, and then tomorrow when you wake up, part of me is extremely excited it's a night game, because it makes the day longer."
Samantha Newman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.