Director of the Pinstriped Pilgrimage

Tony Morante breaks down the big ballyard in the Bronx

Consistent home crowds of near 50,000 do little to support the misconception that bothers Ultan— that the location of the stadium discourages attendance. This year, attendance has already shot past the 2.5 million mark. "I fully expect by October well over 3 million people will have come to Yankee Stadium," says Ultan.

On the way to the dugout, adults become wide-eyed kids recalling Mantle's towering home runs. Kids with mouthfuls of statistics impressively recall the '96 and '98 world championships. Morante's own recollections include the Mantle home run on May 22, 1963, that came within 18 inches of leaving the Stadium, and the Giants' win over the Colts in sudden death in the first televised professional football game on December 28, 1958. As a baseball devotee, a writer for Yankees magazine, and columnist for the Bronx Times Reporter, Morante is a compendium of baseball lore.

From inside the dugout, the slopes of the infield obscure the third base line. Morante points out where in 1961 the "suicide squad" he was a part of would escort Mickey Mantle off the grounds before the crowds got to him. Rushing to second base after the ninth inning, Morante would assist the frequently injured hero to the clubhouse. "Do you know what it's like to help protect your boyhood idol?" he says to his rapt listeners.

Sightseeing at the stadium: Morante digs in.
photo: Andrew Goldberg
Sightseeing at the stadium: Morante digs in.

Remarkably, Morante doesn't see George Steinbrenner as Nero, fiddling while Rome burns. If the Yankees abandon the Stadium, it will leave an open wound that no amount of luxury boxes could possibly heal. For Morante, the possibility means that the sentimental journey he takes with his visitors is becoming more urgent each passing day. "I personally don't want to see it happen; there is a part of me here. The Stadium is in my heart, but it will have been a good run."

After a visit to the press box the last stop is at loge level. Morante points toward Coogan's Bluff at 155th Street over the Macomb's Dam Bridge, where the Polo Grounds once stood. The sight is an eerie one, and one wonders whether someday such a group will be standing in a different Yankee ballpark, looking to where this group now lingers. Maybe there will be a dry cleaner, a bodega, or a Yankee Stadium housing project.

Throughout the tour, the group hears about the professional boxing cards, Pro Football games, NASL soccer events, and Negro League contests that have made the Stadium the "Outdoor Mecca of Sports." But Morante's closing remarks are about the Yankees. He quotes writer Donald Honig: "There is only one team in professional sports that sustained an image so long, resisting the caprices of time, and that team became a legend— that team is the New York Yankees." A team, it is hoped, that will keep resisting at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx for a long time to come.

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