- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2008

NEW YORK — The flashbulb-inducing landmarks are still the main attraction, the peeling paint less glamorous but just as prevalent. The spirit of Babe Ruth still might be here. The moths are definitely here - so many of them that hours before one of the few Yankees-Red Sox games left at the stadium, the main attraction in the home clubhouse is a bout between a clubhouse attendant and one of the insects.

“It’s like ‘Silence of the Lambs’ in here sometimes,” one worker said.

The underlying current that still draws people to Yankee Stadium in droves, however, still remains, and it’s that of a sporting public trying to reach back into lore and touch the legends with the best vehicle they have: their fathers.

This season, the final one at the legendary ballpark that opened in 1923, fathers and sons are as constant a presence as the monuments or the moths. As bad a shape as the stadium might be in, it’s still as central a piece of Americana as baseball has, and that’s reflected every day in how many families come to share the experience.

Each day in Monument Park, there’s a 7-year-old learning about Mickey Mantle or a 10-year-old staring slack-jawed at the plaque of Ruth.

It’s where they come to bathe in the mystique, pass along the stories and, in a way, wave goodbye to the ghosts.

The moths - or for that matter, the exposed wires in the stadium’s tunnels and the occasional bathroom faucet that sort of turns off with a twist to the left - won’t receive such a sentimental farewell.

In fact, the prevailing thought among those who grew up inside the ballpark walls - as so many of the Yankee Stadium workers did - is that while the site of Tuesday’s All-Star Game is dripping with history, maybe it’s time to see how much of the legend can be picked up and moved across the street to the new Yankee Stadium, which opens next year.

And besides, would it be so bad to have wider concourses and a new scoreboard?

“The new stadium will have lots of amenities for the fans,” said one ticket-taker, who has been working here for more than 25 years but did not reveal his name because of a team policy against stadium employees making public comment. “This park is beyond its years.”

So what’s the prevailing opinion on the old park? Depends on where you’re from.

Making a pilgrimage

David Taylor and Carlos Reyes planned their trip a year ago.

The Plano, Texas, residents have 9-year-old sons, Ronnie and Elijah, who play Little League baseball together. Neither family has a connection to New York other than all the Yankees games they saw on TV as kids that made David decide to root for them in the 1970s because “I like to go with a winner,” he said, and “my son is brainwashed. He came out of the womb a Yankee fan.”

They bought tickets for the early July Yankees-Red Sox series in January, arranging to tour the stadium on the first day of the series.

To them, the history of Yankee Stadium makes it untouchable.

“It’s a bad thing,” Taylor said. “You just don’t tear down Yankee Stadium, period.”

Tom Losee and Malcolm Anthony also came back for one more game. The two native New Yorkers met years ago as part of the same church, and while they since have moved away - Losee lives in the Catskill Mountains, while Anthony lives in Roanoke - they have kept in touch and met up for a handful of Yankees games over the years.

This particular trip coincided with the return of Anthony’s son, Aaron, to the United States from Ghana, where he has been a missionary for 16 years.

“I come back every two years, and it happened to line up,” said Aaron Anthony, whose 7-year-old son, Michael, was visiting Yankee Stadium for the second time. “That makes it more special.”

Opinions in the Anthony family differed on whether the team should be moving into a new ballpark - Aaron said the business reasons are tough to ignore, while Malcolm said the old park is “perfectly fine,” despite citing the trouble with parking at the stadium.

“It’s tough to leave here where all the monuments are in the playing field,” he said. “I hope they try to keep all those things.”

‘Bring them over’

If anybody should feel emotional about parting with Yankee Stadium, it’s Tony Morante. Born and raised in the Bronx, Morante has been working at the stadium since 1958, when at 16 he became an usher alongside his father, Tony Sr.

The list of events he has witnessed, working alongside his father in the Mezzanine Loge, or “Millionaire’s Row,” at Yankee Stadium, includes some of the seminal moments in its history: the 1958 Colts-Giants NFL championship game, championship boxing matches, the first papal Mass in the United States and the Yankees’ stirring comeback wins in Games 4 and 5 of the 2001 World Series less than two months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

He’s still able to point out where he was sitting on almost all those occasions.

His most memorable moment, however, is talking to his wearied father at a midsummer game in “1985, 1986, just before they had knocked the ushers out,” - and learning three months later his dad was having a heart attack at the time.

“Part of my family history is Yankee Stadium,” he said.

Now the team’s tour director and unofficial historian, Morante is charged with passing the stadium’s lore on to the estimated 95,000 fans who tour the ballpark each year. This year, that number will balloon past 100,000, and all the daily tours for the rest of the season are sold out.

But as much of the history as he doles out to fans on a daily basis, he’s far from despondent about Yankee Stadium’s end.

Morante draws such a distinction between the Yankee Stadium before its 1973 renovation and the one the team came back to in 1976 that he refers to the current park as “Yankee Stadium II.”

He’s optimistic about the new stadium, which will bear more of the classic Yankee Stadium look than the current ballpark - complete with archwork on the exterior, the return of copper frieze all the way around the top and the return of the team’s championship banners for the first time in more than 20 years.

Those 26 banners were collecting dust in a storeroom until Morante asked to restore them. They will hang from the frieze on special occasions like Opening Day, Old Timers’ Day and postseason games.

Even to longtime members of the Yankees, that deal - bringing along the history, while leaving behind the wear and tear - doesn’t sound so bad.

“Sometimes change needs to be done, and I think this one is good,” said closer Mariano Rivera, who occupies the corner locker in the home clubhouse as the senior Yankees player. “All the moments that this stadium has, you cannot take it away. You can bring it with you. The mystique, the legacy, everything, you bring it to the new stadium.”

Morante’s one reservation about moving is that the new ballpark won’t allow him to imagine exactly where his father was standing for some of those iconic moments.

But if the main draw at Yankee Stadium is all those ghosts, all those memories - fathers and sons still can talk about those across the street.

Ideally the moths won’t follow.

“It’s going to be tough to forget it,” said catcher Jorge Posada, in his 14th season with the team. “But all the players that played before us, we’re going to bring them over.”

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