How do you close a stadium?

Andrew Ratner

October 04, 1991|By Andrew Ratner | Andrew Ratner,Andrew Ratner is an assistant metropolitan editor of The Evening Sun.

IN MY basement sits what some of my house guests would describe as a paint-flaked wooden chair.

To me, it's a treasure: the box seat I took from Yankee Stadium at that ballpark's "final game" 18 years ago.

I doubt the final baseball game at Memorial Stadium Sunday will resemble that 1973 season finale before Yankee Stadium closed for two years for major renovations.

For Orioles fans craving souvenirs, that'll be too bad.

My buddies and I left the ball yard in the Bronx that late September afternoon carrying a row of blue seats we had wrestled from its concrete pad, and enough outfield turf stuffed in our pockets to sod a small suburban yard.

We weren't strong enough to wrestle the row of seats out of the stadium and feared we'd never squeeze it onto the "El" -- the elevated subway -- for the trip home. So we returned to get single seats. And like thousands of other fans that day, we left not by the escalators, but through the bullpen via the outfield. We walked backward so we could relish the view from DiMaggio's former patrol.

Our heist was comparatively modest. One unknown fan got second base. Others peeled down signs and pulled hunks of padding off the outfield wall. The next day's Daily News had a picture of a nun taking some grass. About 10,000 seats were taken in all, according to one estimate after the game, which drew 32,000.

I was too young to appreciate the glories of the post war-era Yankees and truth be told, loved the Mets, not the Bronx Bombers, but for months I had that Yankee Stadium sod on the window-sill of my family's ground-floor apartment, looking like brown dried pasta in empty Cool Whip tubs. A city kid, what did I know about keeping grass alive? But I cherished my prize for a long time, and my memories of that day, unlike any baseball game experience before or since, still haven't withered.

Actually, from what I recall, the start of that final pre-renovation game at Yankee Stadium was a bit frightening. By the third inning of a contest between the Yanks and Detroit that meant nothing to the season's standings, fans around us with all manner of tools began to dismantle the place. When the home team started a rally, metallic thunder clapped as fans banged wrenches off the metal seat frames. (The Yanks lost that day, their manager was fired and the New York Times speculated that Frank Robinson, still a player but considered future managerial material, might replace him. He didn't.)

Orioles spokesman Rick Vaughn said the O's plan to raffle off several souvenirs to fans at tomorrow's penultimate game, including bases, the pennants that decorate the stadium roof, Rex Barney's microphone and clubhouse chairs and locker nameplates signed by visiting players. Winners will be able to claim their prizes after the final game.

Weeks ago, someone not inclined to take his chance on the raffle climbed a chain link fence at Memorial Stadium and stole a hunk of padding from the outfield wall. Vaughn said the Orioles have held their breath in expectation of more vandalism and pilfering in the stadium's final months, but haven't experienced much. A few other souvenir shoppers who made post-game forays to Memorial Stadium got caught, Vaughn said.

"These [fans] have respect for what really for them are shrines, what this place has become to the city of Baltimore," Vaughn said.

I don't suspect, and in fact am quite sure, the scene at 33rd Street Sunday will be quite different from my experience at the House That Ruth Built.

For one thing, Baltimore isn't New York.

For another, the chance remains that a new pro football team would need Memorial Stadium for a few years if the city gets a franchise to replace the Colts -- not to mention that the stadium will host the annual University of Maryland-Penn State football match-up Nov. 9.

Plus, baseball, a mirror of America, is a lot more commercial than 20 years ago. Now, entrepreneurs sell Memorial Stadium infield dirt in engraved jars and last year, as Chicago's old Comisky Park was being torn down, its bricks were sold to collectors.

I don't think a baseball team would ever let its fans walk out of the park with something as valuable as a square of sod anymore.

:. Even if you brought your own plastic tubs.

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