Take me out to the House That Ruth Built


NEW YORK / / If you want to get a double take from a Manhattan cabdriver, climb into the back seat when snow and slush cover the streets in February and ask him to take you to Yankee Stadium.

That's what my husband and I did with our 4-year-old tee-ball player in tow, and after telling the driver our destination a second time, we were off for the Bronx.

The reason for our oddly timed trip: Yankee Stadium, the storied ballpark that opened in 1923 and has been home to 26 World Series champions, is closing after this season. The public tours that have been offered year-round will continue on designated dates through at least Sept. 19, and we wanted our son to see Monument Park and have a picture of himself in the New York Yankee dugout for posterity.

As our group of about 30 waited for our tour, we looked across the street at the cranes on the construction site of the huge new stadium. The $1.3 billion ballpark will re-create the familiar arched stone facade of the original, but the words Yankee Stadium are in large gold letters instead of blue.

Our guide, Paul Apollo, gestured at the edifice we stood beside.

"This is the House That Ruth Built," he said. "Across the street is the House That George Built."

The city and the fans will help Yankees owner George Steinbrenner pay for the new stadium, which was designed by HOK Sport, the firm responsible for Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards and Washington's Nationals Park, among others. Ticket prices for seats near home plate will cost as much as $2,500. That's for one game.

We entered the old stadium, which was extensively remodeled in the 1970s, and made our way down a dark, narrow concourse as we headed for one of the tour's highlights, Monument Park.

The small area beyond the outfield fence is lined with plaques and monuments that honor, among others, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and the heroes and victims of Sept. 11, 2001.

We took pictures next to the Ruth monument and paused to read the inscription on Gehrig's: "A man, a gentleman and a great ball player whose amazing record of 2,130 consecutive games should stand for all time."

History catches up with us all. Cal Ripken Jr. broke Gehrig's record in 1995.

As we filed out of Monument Park, relieved to know the markers would be moved to the new stadium, my husband and I saw the field as neither of us had seen it before. It was covered in snow.

Next was the Yankee dugout, where we got a player's-eye view, looking across the infield toward the famous frieze that resembles a white picket fence above the outfield stands.

I glanced around at the people in our group listening to Apollo tell tales of Yankee lore and wondered how many were thinking about what it would be like to sit there next to Derek Jeter.

Next came the inner sanctum -- the Yankee clubhouse. Check carefully when you schedule your tour, because it is not always included, and it is never included when the team is playing a home game. It is also the one place where rules prohibit not only video cameras -- which are not allowed on the tours -- but also the use of any type of camera. "Out of respect for the guys' privacy," Apollo said.

I didn't imagine the Yankees would have wanted anyone taking photos of what was inside Jason Giambi's locker over the years. Or Roger Clemens'.

In a way, the Yankee clubhouse is underwhelming. The players' simple stalls are nothing like the lavish ones that have become common, not only for professional teams but at many colleges as well. In the Yankee clubhouse, history is the interior designer.

The pantheon of players who have passed through that room, in use since 1946, is staggering. DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto and Yogi Berra. Whitey Ford. Mantle and Roger Maris. Reggie Jackson and Ron Guidry. Don Mattingly. And the current Yankees, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez and Jeter among them.

Nor do the memories of those who are gone dissipate quickly. A stall has been left empty in honor of Thurman Munson since he died in a plane crash in 1979.

We stayed a long time, and our guide bantered with a boy about 9 or 10 years old, quizzing him on the players' jersey numbers:

"No. 25?"

"Jason Giambi."

"No. 55?"

"Hideki Matsui."

"No. 42?"

"Mariano Rivera."

When it was almost time to go, Apollo gestured toward the manager's office. "Over there is Joe Torre's office," he said, then caught himself. "I mean Girardi."

Joe Girardi is the Yankees' new manager. Torre's office, after 12 seasons and four World Series titles, is at Dodger Stadium this season.

One of the final stops was the press box. Sportswriters used to write their game stories on typewriters and file by Western Union. Now they e-mail them via wireless Internet. But the lineups are still handwritten on a chalkboard.

Baseball isn't the only history that has been written at Yankee Stadium, which is scheduled for partial demolition.

In 1928, Knute Rockne made his "Win one for the Gipper" speech at halftime as Notre Dame defeated Army here. The Baltimore Colts beat the New York Giants here in overtime in the National Football League's 1958 championship game. Pope Paul VI celebrated Mass here during the first papal visit to North America in 1965. More than 40 years later, Pope Benedict XVI did the same in April on his first visit to the U.S. Joe Louis fought here. So did Muhammad Ali. Nelson Mandela spoke here. U2 played here.

In 2001, when the Yankees played in the World Series only seven weeks after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the nation watched a city mourn and begin to heal here.

Our tour over, we took the elevator downstairs and received a small souvenir -- a red-white-

and-blue key chain that reads, "The House That Ruth Built."

The location of the exit is crafty: You have to pass through the gift shop. There were Yankee jerseys for sale, including a Clemens jersey, prominently displayed even in the wake of the congressional steroid hearings and even though Clemens is no longer on the roster.

There was a wide selection of books and videos, and for $85, a rhinestone-studded Yankees tank top. I wondered how much more expensive it would be if it had sleeves.

That new stadium next door sure is costing a lot.

Robyn Norwood wrote this article for the Los Angeles Times.


Advance tickets are essential for Yankee Stadium tours and can be purchased at yankees.com. The tours are offered seven days a week, but there are many exceptions, and availability is limited at peak times because it's the team's final season in the park and because of events such as the All-Star Game on July 15.

Check availability on the Yankee Stadium Tours Web page and note the red-letter print at the bottom of the page for details. Be advised: No video cameras are allowed, only still cameras. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for ages 14 and younger and 60 and older.

The Orioles play a three-game series at Yankee Stadium beginning May 20. The team also has dates there in July and September, when it will play in the last scheduled home series for the Yankees.

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