I N 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 Yan-
kee Stadium at that ballpark's "final game" 18 years ago.
I doubt the final baseball game at Memorial Stadium
How do you close a stadium?
Sunday will resemble that 1973 season finale before Yan-
kee Stadium closed for two years for major renovations.
For Orioles fans craving souvenirs, that'll be too bad.
===== My buddies and I left the baU
yard in the Bronx that late Sep-
Andrew tember afternoon carrying a row
of blue seats we had wrestled from
Ratner its concrete pad, and enough out-
field 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 on-
to the "El" — the elevated subway — for the trip
home. So we returned to get single seats. And like thou-
sands of other fans that day, we left not by the escala-
tors, but through the bullpen via the outfield. We
walked backward so we could relish the view from Di-
Maggio'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 Yankees and, truth to tell, 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
Actually, as I recall, the start of that final pre-reno-
vation 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 stand-
ings, 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 sta-
dium's final months, but haven't experienced much. A
few other souvenir shoppers who made post-game for-
ays 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 expect — in fact, I'm quite sure — that the scene
at 33rd Street Sunday will be much 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 Memorial Stadium's hosting of the an-
nual 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 Comiskey Park was be-
ing 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.
Andrew Ratner is an assistant metropolitan
editor o/Tfee Evening Sun.