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More to Stadium closing than goodbye

More to Stadium closing than goodbye

It was the closing of Yankee Stadium but it was so much more.

It really was a story of tradition, of families, of memories, of emotional times.

It had to do more with fathers and sons and daughters, of families together at the ballpark than with statistics or famous games or Hall of Fame careers.

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It was the emotion of it all that captured me as I watched the curtain come down on Yankee Stadium on Sunday evening.

In a way, it was the distant ballpark of my youth. I grew up in a small town in Ohio and Crosley Field in Cincinnati was the first place I attended a game with my family.

I fell in love with the game of Major League Baseball the first time I saw Crosley and the terrace in left field and the pure white uniforms of the hometown Reds.

That was baseball at its best, but when I thought of championship baseball, I thought of watching games on television of Yankee Stadium in the fall as the shadows crept onto the playing field and the voices of the announcers gave every indication that this was of national importance.

I was later to be at Yankee Stadium, first as a reporter and later as an executive for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

When I first stepped into Yankee Stadium, I knew I was in a baseball shrine, a holy place, the home of Babe Ruth and so many great players.

I always was proud to represent the Dodgers, but I always respected the Yankees.

If you are fortunate to work in Major League Baseball, you realize it's impossible to separate your family and the families of those involved in the game from the business and the playing of the game.

The primary reason is that you seem to spend all of your waking summer hours at the stadium. If you are a player and you want to see your children, you know it's important to make them as much a part of your daily routine as you can.

And thus, the youngsters of players see their dads and know they are living a special life. They may not understand why or how, but they know this is different from their boyhood pals.

The closing ceremonies at Yankee Stadium brought the type of reviews normally reserved for openings on Broadway in New York.

Both Yankee Stadium and Broadway are big stages, as the Yankee captain and shortstop Derek Jeter pointed out on Sunday.

"Playing in Yankee Stadium is sort of like playing on Broadway," said Jeter.

The critics who watched the curtain come down on Yankee Stadium were quick to offer their criticism. Where were the tributes to Roger Clemens and Joe Torre, they wondered.

Critics usually nitpick, even when the production is well-staged and meaningful.

There is no way one could really fault the final production at Yankee Stadium. There was Reggie Jackson jogging out to right field once again with the chants of "Reggie, Reggie" raining down from the upper deck.

There were some of the first basemen through the years -- Moose Skowron, Chris Chambliss and Tino Martinez -- taking their position, and it seemed the size of the men was enough to tilt the infield to the right.

There were Whitey Ford, Don Larsen, Goose Gossage, Ron Guidry, David Wells and David Cone going to the pitcher's mound, and the veteran Larsen having enough experience to scoop up some of the dirt as Ford seemed to look for a place to stash a little of the memorable earth himself.

There were sons and daughters representing their famous fathers, along with widows of fallen heroes, but most striking perhaps was when David Mantle ran to center field as a representative of his famous dad and Billy Martin Jr. taking second base in honor of his family.

For the moment, David Mantle was Mickey and Billy Martin was present once more.

And you know the sons had a million memories flash through their minds of their dads and of days gone by.

This ceremony really was more about fathers and sons and families than saying goodbye to a famous stadium.

Stadiums don't speak and stadiums don't remember history. They are the stage where history is recorded.

I thought about my old friend Lee MacPhail as I watched the ceremonies. He was the Yankees' farm and scouting director from 1948 through 1956 and was a key figure in the signing of Mickey Mantle. He later served as the Yankee general manger.

MacPhail will turn 91 next month and now resides in Delray Beach, Florida. When I contacted MacPhail, he said he had watched the closing Yankee Stadium ceremonies on television and "they brought back a flood of memories."

When I asked MacPhail to reflect on his career in baseball, he said, "Working with the scouts and the Minor League people was the highlight of my career. And Mickey Mantle was the most important player in my career."

MacPhail had followed his father Larry as a general manager of the Yankees and MacPhail's son, Andy, is the GM of the Baltimore Orioles, the final opponent at Yankee Stadium.

From the field, to the front office, to the fans in the stands, the closing of Yankee Stadium was about families and emotions.

Seated in right field for the final game were former Yankee public relations director Marty Appel and his son Brian.

Appel undoubtedly knows as much about the history of the Yankees as anyone on the face of the earth. He started out as a teenager working part-time for the Yankees by answering fan mail with most of it directed to Mantle.

Appel later became the public relations director for the Yankees and worked for the team from 1968 through 1977. He now has his own public relations firm and the background page on his web site reflects, no surprise, pinstripes.

"Sunday evening at Yankee Stadium was magical," said Appel. "To see the sons of Mantle and Martin go out to their positions and so resemble their fathers was like going back in time.

"I had the honor to know Mickey Mantle on a personal level and he was a special man. He liked me and he used to give me the gift certificates he would receive for going on radio and television shows. I still have each and every one of them. If I ever need 10 dollars off on Thom McAn shoes, I know I'm set."

What was most special for Appel on Sunday evening was to be at the game with his son.

"I had attended my first game at Yankee Stadium with my father in the mid 1950's and the Yankee right fielder was Hank Bauer," he said. "Now here I was for the final game with my son and the right fielder is Bobby Abreu. Did you know that the names Bauer and Abreu contain the same letters?"

I hadn't really thought about it, but leave it to an old Yankee PR man not to miss a trick.

Besides, those are the things you talk about when you are sitting in right field at Yankee Stadium while enjoying the game with your son.

It doesn't get any better than that. It won't get any better than Yankee Stadium.

Fred Claire was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1969-98, serving the team as Executive Vice-President and general manager. His book Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue was published by SportsPublishingLLC. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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