After 85 years the most famous sporting lights in America are about to go dark forever.
New York Yankees stadium under construction, 18/09
Opinions are divided on the wisdom of the move
The New York Yankees do battle with the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday evening in their last home game of the regular baseball season, marking the team’s final appearance at Yankee Stadium.
Their millions of fans all over the baseball world had hoped for a bigger climax, as the most successful era in US sporting history draws to a premature close.
This season’s Yankees have failed to reach the play-off stage, which extends deep into October for the two teams who end up competing for baseball’s biggest prize.
With 26 World Series wins overall, the Yankees are the most successful sports franchise ever.
It is the first time in 13 years they have failed to reach the post-season phase, and the decline has been slow but steady since their last victory in 2000.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Sean Keller, who despite a leg in plaster, had flown to New York from the west coast city of Seattle, to visit Yankee Stadium one last time.
“It’s hard to believe. They call it a cathedral, and it feels like that in our hearts,” he said.
He was one of hundreds of fans who had come to pay homage in the final days.
‘New is better’
The eponymous new stadium is less than 50m away and is due to be completed in time for the start of next season, at a cost of $1.3bn (£710m).
The father and son team of Jonathan and Alek Morrison, had also travelled from the west coast to catch the game, and take one of the last guided tours.
“It makes the hair on my back stand up, just walking in,” said Mr Morrison.
Yankees fan Sean Keller
Fans such as Sean Keller travelled from the other sides of the US
“He grabbed some dirt off the outfield – he’s got it in his pocket,” he added, pointing at his grinning 13-year-old.
“It’s the greatest day of my life,” said Alek.
The 60,000-seat stadium was home to many of baseball’s star players and characters – from “Babe” Ruth to current captain Derek Jeter – but it also hosted many a world title boxing contest, and several papal masses.
“It’s time to change,” said retired school principal Bill Blazek, who had driven to the Bronx with a group of visitors from Iowa.
“I’ve been in a lot of baseball stadiums and it’s old. You’ve got to move on, and new is better,” he added, wistfully.
11th hour plea
Visitors slowly milling around the asphalt walkways, gazing up at the concrete walls, were euphoric with a sense that history is being made in these final hours.
Yankees stadium, file image
The old stadium has seen many thrilling victories for the home team
But one fan – conspicuous for not sporting a Yankees cap or shirt – said New York was making a terrible mistake in letting the stadium be torn down.
“It’s ridiculous. It’s a national icon,” said Eric Jones. He said he had signed an online petition calling for an 11th hour reprieve for the building, which is owned by the city.
“There’s 11 acres here they want to use for parkland, but they could go elsewhere. It’s a place of American culture.”
But for the vast majority, coming to the stadium was a chance for final photographs and the hope that some unusual souvenir could be found and carried away without the security guards noticing.
Ronak Trivedi, a 24-year-old from neighbouring New Jersey, said he had skipped work, in order to pay his respects.
“Man, it’s the holy land of baseball. I don’t think it can ever be replicated,” he said.
“The new stadium – it’s a whole different feeling.”
Despite the team’s poor performance in recent years, he said that the $250m players’ wages – and rising costs of the new stadium – were a price worth paying.
Yankees new stadium, 18/09
Will the new arena bear witness to such heroics?
After a turbulent season which saw the loss of their long-term manager, and ructions throughout the boardroom and dressing room, it is clear that the custodians of America’s premier sporting franchise are hoping to turn a new page in 2009.
But for now, the gleaming stadium across the street remains a virtually-ignored construction site.
All eyes are on a glorious past, contained within the crumbling walls opposite.
It will take a Herculean effort for the 21st Century Yankees to match the triumph of their predecessors in the Bronx, both on and off the field.