A letter to Babe: You would be proud
New Yankee Stadium is bigger, better than one Ruth built
Dear Babe Ruth,
You would be proud.
They built a new house, and the people like it.
Friday night was the first baseball game played in this new Yankee Stadium, which looks a lot like the House That You Built right across the street in The Bronx. Only this one is bigger and better, the way you would have wanted it.
"I swing big, with everything I've got," you once said. "I hit big or I miss big. I like to live as big as I can."
This is as big as that Called Shot you hit in the 1932 World Series against the Cubs, and that same Cubs team was here 77 years later on this night to play the Yankees in a Spring Training game before the regular season starts on Monday. People still talk about whether you really called that home run at Wrigley Field, but that is beside the point. The teams still are here, playing in a new and bigger house.
You especially would like the Great Hall on the main concourse level. Inside the store there, your jersey is hanging proudly next to those of Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Reggie Jackson.
The best part of the Great Hall is the row of 10 banners that each are 20 feet high, larger than life, just like you were. It is the first chill down the spine that many people, this person included, got when they entered the new place. That's because you look at them in one direction and they all are in color, Yankees in the modern era (1970s to now). Then when you walk to the other end, by Gate 6, you look back at them from that angle and all 10 are black and white, a glorious and chilling tribute to Yankees tradition.
You are the first one on that end, and you are taking a vicious cut at the ball, at a time when those brave photographers would come out near the field of play and shoot you right there, close-up. In succession after you, there is Roger Maris (He broke your record with 61 home runs, sorry.), Yogi, Larrupin' Lou, Joltin' Joe, the Mick, Elston, Scooter, Whitey and ol' Bill Dickey.
But what you would notice more than anything, I suspect, is that magnificently manicured field that still is just bases each 90 feet apart, not 89, not 91, a never-changing measurement that somehow stays perfect and always provides a game of inches.
The wall is 314 feet in the right-field corner, with that same short porch above it. The sign on the wall there says "SONY," and that is an electronics company. It is better if we don't get into the technology that companies like that provide these days; you probably would not even believe it in the first place.
You'd love the hot dogs. They have regular-size dogs and foot-longs. They have burgers, chicken strips, something called a Hard Rock Cafe, pizza and a steak joint I know you would love. No cigars there, though. The food is beyond belief -- the same way all around the Major Leagues today.
What would you think of the Farmer's Market right inside the main entrance, though? It is on a big cart and it features the following items: sweet red pears, Anjou pears, bananas and Red Delicious apples. People eat healthy these days.
When you walk into the main entrance at Yankee Stadium, you are greeted by something that would have been so familiar to you -- it truly would make you feel like home. It is a six-foot-diameter bronze eagle seal, a giant sculpture up against a wall, just like the two that were mounted on each side of the words "YANKEE STADIUM" outside the ballpark when old Fords lumbered past it in your Roaring '20s.
Right across the hallway from that eagle seal is a giant wall mural of the guy who hit right behind you in the lineup, the guy who hit cleanup and thus took No. 4 while you batted third and took the No. 3. It's Lou. He is standing there in the dramatic and iconic photo, looking down at the ground, giving his farewell speech. They play audio as you stand there watching it, so that today's young people can know what it felt like then, so they know how important it was.
I stood there, and the familiar voice was saying again: 'I got a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for ...
We all feel that way today, and we all are thankful for what you did for Major League Baseball, for generations of people who passed down your stories.
In the seventh inning of Friday's game, I met a gentleman in the Great Hall who was just as amazed and stupefied as everyone else who witnessed this unofficial first game in "new" Yankee Stadium history. His name is Leonard Gelman, 55, from Saratoga, N.Y. I asked him what he would say to you on this night.
"He's gotta come back and hit a home run," Gelman told me.
Your 714 were plenty enough.
Gelman was there that season when Maris broke your record, and some people said at the time that it should have come with an asterisk, because it was the first year that the American League played an expanded regular-season schedule of 162 games instead of your customary 154. Maris hit 61 homers in 1961.
"I've been coming since '61, and I was 8 years old," Gelman said. "The first game I went to that year, Mickey Mantle hit an inside-the-park home run. For years, I wondered if I really went to it. My Dad always talked about it. Then I went to the Internet a few years ago and looked it up. It was a June day in 1961, and he indeed did it. We sat in the upper deck that day. Whitey Ford pitched."
There were 48,402 fans at Friday's game, and it will be a sellout crowd when they officially open the new House on April 16 against the Indians. You remember them, too. They won it all in 1948 behind Bob Feller, but they have not won it since.
Those fans who showed up for this game came with many indelible memories of the place you built. They spoke of watching world championships, of seeing Derek Jeter give the latest famous speech at Yankee Stadium, on the final day of the 2008 season. They unanimously gave their approval for this ballpark, which did justice to your legacy.
"Pretty," was the first word out of Cubs manager Lou Piniella's mouth as he stepped out of the dugout onto the rainy field earlier in the afternoon, surveying the pantheon.
That said it all, but the superlatives were nonstop, and they will go on all year.
"It exceeded my expectations," said Jeremy Warren of Commack, N.Y. "The other Stadium had these narrow passages that you'd try to peek into to watch the game, and they used to usher you out all the time. Here, it's so airy. It's a more inviting feeling."
The woman with him said: "Escalators!"
That was her highlight, or at least one of them. You would have loved the escalators here. But you probably would not have used them. You would have gone straight into the most wonderful clubhouse in the world. It is plush. You said you like to live "as big as I can," and you would have been right at home in the biggest of clubhouses.
It is better than any train car you ever encountered while traveling around the big leagues.
Each locker is double-wide, and on the right side of each one is a touch-screen computer. That is a modern contraption, another one of those technology things you don't want to know about. If you were here, you would be happy. The Yankees players are raving about something in the clubhouse training room area called a Swim-X, a therapy pool. There is frieze ringing the entire clubhouse, above all the lockers, just as it rings almost the entire ballpark. Everywhere you look is tributes to a past that seems to always go back to you.
Out beyond the wall in dead-center, about the same distance as your Called Shot at Wrigley off Charlie Root, they have set up the new Monument Park. You are there. All the Yankees legends are there. Two hours before game time on Friday, there was a long, long line snaking around a concourse as fans waited just to glimpse your monument and the others. Your presence is unmistakable here, even though it is a new House.
Brett Gardner likes it that way. He is your Bombers' new center fielder, winning the starting job during this Spring Training down in Florida. Long after the Yankees' 7-4 victory on Friday, he was one of the last players remaining in that big clubhouse. I asked him what he liked most about Yankee Stadium.
"Everything," he said. "Out there, I was standing in center field looking in, and it feels like the old Stadium -- the facade all around the Stadium, the signs. We feel like home out there."
Fans will feel that way all season, as they stream in for at least 81 dates and get to know this new House. They are carrying on a tradition in a big way, your way. The game of baseball is stronger than ever, and while The House That You Built may be dark now, it not only is remembered here, but carried on in spirit and modern form.
It's like one of your 714 homers.
You would be proud of this.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.