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Walk through history at Yankee Stadium

Baseball great Babe Ruth is cheered by thousands of fans on June 13, 1948, the day the Yankees retired his number and celebrated the 25th anniversary of the opening of Yankee Stadium.

Associated Press (1948)

Baseball great Babe Ruth is cheered by thousands of fans on June 13, 1948, the day the Yankees retired his number and celebrated the 25th anniversary of the opening of Yankee Stadium.

NEW YORK

Yankee Stadium, the storied ballpark that opened in 1923 and has been home to 26 World Series champions, is closing after this season. The public tours that have been offered year-round will continue on designated dates through at least Sept. 19, and we there recently so our 4-year-old Tee-ball player could have a picture of himself in the New York Yankee dugout for posterity.

As our group of about 30 waited for the tour, we looked across the street at the cranes on the construction site of the huge new stadium. The $1.3-billion ballpark will re-create the familiar arched stone facade of the original, but the words Yankee Stadium are in large gold letters instead of blue.

Our guide, Paul Apollo, gestured at the edifice we stood beside.

"This is the House That Ruth Built," he said. "Across the street is the House That George Built."

The city and the fans will help Yankees owner George Steinbrenner pay for the new stadium, which was designed by HOK Sport, the firm responsible for Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards and San Francisco's AT&T Park, among others. Ticket prices for seats near home plate will cost as much as $2,500. That's for one game.

We entered the old stadium, which was extensively remodeled in the 1970s, and made our way down a dark, narrow concourse as we headed for one of the tour's highlights, Monument Park.

The small area beyond the outfield fence is lined with plaques and monuments that honor, among others, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and the heroes and victims of Sept. 11, 2001.

We took pictures next to the Ruth monument and paused to read the inscription on Gehrig's: "A man, a gentleman and a great ball player whose amazing record of 2,130 consecutive games should stand for all time."

History catches up with us all. Cal Ripken Jr. broke Gehrig's record in 1995.

Put me in, coach

Next was the Yankee dugout, where we got a player's-eye view, looking across the infield toward the famous frieze that resembles a white picket fence above the outfield stands.

I glanced around at the people in our group listening to Apollo tell tales of Yankee lore and wondered how many were thinking about what it would be like to sit there next to Derek Jeter.

Next came the inner sanctum: the Yankee clubhouse. Check carefully when you schedule your tour, because it is not always included, and it is never included when the team is playing a home game. It is also the one place where rules prohibit not only videocameras, which are not allowed on the tours, but also the use of any type of camera. "Out of respect for the guys' privacy," Apollo said.

In a way, the Yankee clubhouse is underwhelming. The players' simple stalls are nothing like the lavish ones that have become common, not only for professional teams but at many colleges as well. In the Yankee clubhouse, history is the interior designer.

The pantheon of players who have passed through that room, in use since 1946, is staggering. DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto and Yogi Berra. Whitey Ford. Mantle and Roger Maris. Reggie Jackson and Ron Guidry. Don Mattingly. And the current Yankees, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez and Jeter among them.

Nor do the memories of those who are gone dissipate quickly. A stall has been left empty in honor of Thurman Munson ever since he died in a plane crash in 1979.

One of the final stops was the press box. Sportswriters used to write their game stories on typewriters and file by Western Union. Now they e-mail them via wireless Internet. But the lineups are still handwritten on a chalkboard.

More than baseball

Baseball isn't the only history that has been written at Yankee Stadium, which is scheduled for partial demolition. In 1928, Knute Rockne made his "Win one for the Gipper" speech at halftime as Notre Dame defeated Army here. The Baltimore Colts beat the New York Giants here in overtime in the National Football League's 1958 championship game. Pope Paul VI celebrated Mass here during the first papal visit to North America in 1965. Joe Louis fought here. So did Muhammad Ali. Nelson Mandela spoke here. U2 played here.

In 2001, when the Yankees played in the World Series only seven weeks after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the nation watched a city mourn and begin to heal here.

Our tour over, we took the elevator downstairs and received a small souvenir: a red-white-and-blue key chain that reads, "The House That Ruth Built."

The location of the exit is crafty: You have to pass through the gift shop. There was a wide selection of books and videos, and for $85, a Swarovski crystal-studded Yankees tank top.

I wondered how much more expensive it would be if it had sleeves.

That new stadium next door sure is costing a lot.

.IF YOU GO

Touring Yankee Stadium

Advance tickets are essential for Yankee Stadium tours and can be purchased online at www.yankees.com. Limited to 50 people, the tours are offered seven days a week, but there are many exceptions, and availability is limited at peak times because it's the team's final season in the park and because of events such as the All-Star Game on July 15. On the Web page, click on "Yankee Stadium" and then "Stadium Tours." Check the red print at the bottom of the page for details. Be advised: No videocameras are allowed, only still cameras. Tickets are $20 for adults, $14 for children 14 and younger and senior citizens 60 and older.

Walk through history at Yankee Stadium 04/17/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 17, 2008 4:05pm]
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