Reality of finale sets in for Yankees
Pride in Stadium's history felt by all in hours before final game
NEW YORK -- It finally happened. The long-unimaginable reality of Yankee Stadium's finale hit Derek Jeter on a sunny Sunday afternoon, as he navigated New York's thoroughfares and made a sharp left turn into the players' parking lot for the last time.
"Just driving in, I think it really starts to hit you," Jeter said. "This is the last time I'm driving to Yankee Stadium to play a game."
Jeter made his walk across Ruppert Place for the final time as a member of the Yankees' starting lineup at approximately 2 p.m. ET, dressed in a navy blue suit, a white shirt and a blue tie. Accompanied by director Spike Lee, Jeter's oft-repeated claim that playing at Yankee Stadium is a lot like appearing on Broadway seemed appropriate.
So, too, did the attire -- with a Red Sox victory earlier in the day, the Yankees have business to attend to if they wish to avoid remembering Yankee Stadium's finale as also the day they were eliminated from the postseason.
"The last couple of days, I've been looking around," Jeter said. "It's pretty special. Those are the moments that are going to stick with you forever.
"This is a special place. I've been here for parts of 14 years. I still can't envision myself going over to the new stadium yet. This place is pretty comfortable playing here. It's an old stadium, but it's in pretty good condition. I just enjoy coming here every day. I'm going to miss it."
Many of his Yankees teammates knew the feeling. The afternoon has been a difficult one for catcher Jorge Posada, who is on the disabled list and will be unable to appear in Sunday's game.
Posada said that there had been no discussion of activating him so he might at least be able to appear in the contest, saying, "It doesn't make sense." Thus, Posada had a different perspective than most who traveled to Yankee Stadium on Sunday, already missing something.
"I was looking forward to seeing the guys and to be a part of this special day, and hopefully the Yankees win and everybody can take that last memory," Posada said. "But emotionally, when you're not playing, it's tough."
In the Yankees' clubhouse an hour before game time, a cross-section of Yankees past and present took place. David Wells sat at Posada's locker in full uniform and Bernie Williams passed through, wearing the pinstripes as he had hoped as an active player in 2007.
First-base coach Tony Pena eyeballed Yogi Berra wearing a vintage crème uniform and playfully untucked the foreign material, leaving Yogi to grin his Yogi grin and shove Pena playfully. Reggie Jackson brought out his old-school, circa-1977 stirrups to commemorate the occasion.
Phil Coke, a Yankee for less than a month, celebrated the early afternoon in his own special way.
"I pushed my grandmother up all of the ramps because I didn't know where the elevator was," Coke said. "I pushed her all the way up to look down on the field. You want to talk about something amazing? That was amazing."
Coke was one of the first players to wander onto the field as fans roamed the warning track, circling around the storied field after visiting Monument Park.
"Everybody was almost misty-eyed," Coke said. "I was walking in just watching people, and there were saying, 'This is amazing -- I'm on the field!' I thought, 'You're not kidding. I'm lucky enough to do it every day.'"
Jeter has been reluctant to give in to the avalanche of memories that have preceded Sunday's finale, though he has secretly picked out what memorabilia he'd like to bring home. He refuses to say, knowing that as soon as he does so, someone else will pluck that item from its spot.
"I've got to get it before I can actually tell you what it is," Jeter said.
The nostalgia began to steep as Jeter watched television before leaving for the stadium. He saw highlights of the fifth game of the 2001 World Series and Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series against the Red Sox, and the sentimentality began coming back.
"My parents told me about a week ago to make sure I enjoy this," Jeter said. "You don't want to look back and wish you'd done something differently."
It was in the ninth inning of Saturday's game, and Jeter took a little extra time before stepping into the batter's box, knowing that it was one of his final opportunities to do so. He looked around and, as he said with a smile, promptly was hit on the left hand with a fastball. Add another memory to the list.
But as Jeter dressed at his locker late Saturday afternoon, Jackson stopped by to offer words of wisdom, already in the nostalgic mood as his presence was felt all week. What he said resounded with Jeter.
"Reggie came by and said that he doesn't feel sad -- he feels proud to be part of history here," Jeter said. "I don't think anybody could have put it any better."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.