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Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Updated: August 19, 2:03 PM ET
Yankee Stadium (continued)

Special to ESPN SportsTravel

• Photo gallery: Yankee Stadium

Others made their marks here, too

Ex-Yankees, however, aren't the only ones who left their spirits here.

Knute Rockne gave his famous "Win one for the Gipper" speech here at halftime of the 1928 Notre Dame-Army game. U2, Muhammad Ali and Pope John Paul II also worked their magic on the premises.

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The old place was honored in its final year by hosting the All-Star Game. Forty Hall of Famers, including Berra and fellow Yank Whitey Ford, were set to join the 2008 All-Stars in what was billed as the largest gathering of baseball stars ever.

Earlier in the season, on my last night in the stands here, I was joined by 52,199 fans; and Yankee Stadium seems to hold enough memories for everyone. Of course it's not quite done making memories.

The Yankees have won 26 World Series titles, but I keep feeling the presence of a former player who never wore pinstripes. The aura of George Brett, who had a sublet on this place in the 1970s and '80s, is everywhere.

Brett hit a three-run home run in the eighth inning of the fifth and final game of the aforementioned 1976 American League Championship Series to tie the score at 6-6 before Chambliss won it in the ninth. He also hit three bombs off Catfish Hunter here in a 1978 ALCS game. And he blasted a three-run homer into the stadium's third deck off Goose Gossage in Game 3 of the 1980 ALCS to send the Royals to the World Series. Coincidentally, Brett's most famous home run here was another off Gossage that he had taken away in 1983 because of what was ruled excessive pine tar.

Others remember these grounds as the site of "the greatest game ever played," when Alan Ameche scored from a yard out in overtime to propel the Colts to a 23-17 victory over the Giants in the 1958 NFL Championship Game.

When the Yankees move across the street next season, Monument Park will be relocated to the new Yankee Stadium. Whether the ghosts also will make the move remains to be seen.

Can't take it with you

But other aspects of the Yankee Stadium experience will be gone forever after this farewell season. Accordingly, everywhere you venture inside the venerable facility, an inescapable air of finality goes with you.

Quaffing a cold one in the basementlike Pinstripe Pub feels like attending a wake.

A brace of Stella Artois beers at the alehouse will set you back $12, but the cocktail napkin, adorned with the Yankees' classic interlocking NY logo, makes it seem like a deal. So do the locals – many of whom appear to be off-duty cops and firemen – and the despondent bartender, who must be from central casting and is desperate for a happy ending.

"Three straight losses," he grumbles. "We gotta turn this thing around and get a win tonight. This is no way to say goodbye to Yankee Stadium."

In case you've forgotten where you are and who these people are, the bartender curtly offers a reminder to a patron who makes the mistake of ordering a Perrier.

"This," the bartender says, "is the Bronx, not Paris."

Given that the team is leaving the stadium but not the neighborhood, Yankees fans will always have the Bronx.

You get the sense arriving for a game here this season that it might be a little like rewatching "The Godfather" before moving on to "The Godfather: Part II"; Yankee Stadium is a one-of-a-kind original, but the sequel might be even better.

The Yankees have long been baseball's headliners, even if they haven't always been a hit. If you came of age as a baseball fan in, say, 1965, you saw the Yankees go 11 seasons without making a single postseason appearance. And there was an even longer playoffless streak from 1982 to 1994.

But even when the Yanks weren't such a hot ticket, their theater was always Carnegie Hall.

When George Steinbrenner took over in 1973, he saw to it that the Yanks had stars big enough to do the venue justice. Four years later, Chambliss' walk-off home run against Kansas City sent the Yankees back to the World Series for the first time in 12 years. Among the players honored in Monument Park, Jackson, Don Mattingly and Ron Guidry were hired by The Boss.

It certainly has been well used

All that drama and history packed into Yankee Stadium comes at a price. The corridors are cramped and dingy, and the team store feels a little like a truck stop merchandise mart … a nice truck stop, mind you, but a truck stop nonetheless. When the late Robert Merrill's canned national anthem blares through tinny speakers, it sounds as if it were emanating from a Little League game.

As game time draws closer, the regal voice of public-address announcer Bob Sheppard reminds you that you are, in fact, at a baseball palace.

When Sheppard, who has been the voice of Yankee Stadium since 1951 and has a plaque honoring him in Monument Park, announces Derek Jeter's name, the stadium shakes. So does your heart. As Jeter steps to the plate for the first time, the dirt walkway between the on-deck circle and home plate becomes a red carpet as fans pop flashbulbs as if they were members of the paparazzi.

Sheppard finishes the crowd off, accenting the moment like John Williams dropping his score on a Steven Spielberg flick. "No. 2," Sheppard intones, "Derek Jeter. Shortstop. No. 2."

The same voice – Jackson calls it "the voice of god" – introduced DiMaggio and Mantle and Berra and on and on. It's chilling.

There aren't enough innings in a game to recognize all the great Yankees in history, but the bleacher creatures conduct their role call, and everyone in tonight's lineup is present and accounted for.

Chien-Ming Wang starts mowing down the Mariners, and the Yankees get out to an early lead. There's a stiff wind blowing in, but forecasts of rain have not materialized. After five innings, we have an official game.

Before you know it, Mariano Rivera makes a grand entrance, and soon everyone else is forced to make a quick exit. After Rivera nails down a 5-1 Yankees win, the same crowd that rushed the place four hours earlier meanders out into a cold night fans are in no hurry to face.

Yankee Stadium has been the most enduring character in the franchise's storied history, and, like a lot of characters, it looks a lot better on the outside once you get to know what's on the inside. No one here wants to say good night, let alone goodbye.

"New York, New York" echoes through the Bronx, and Sinatra lives on. Yankee Stadium will live on, too.

Tours of Yankee Stadium run through Sept. 19; click here for details.

Doug Ward is a southern California-based freelance writer.