Orioles take in experience as fans
Team glad to be part of history in final game at Stadium
NEW YORK -- How do you take a professional baseball team and turn them into fans? Remind them of their roots.
The Orioles were given that kind of turn-back-the-clock experience at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, when they stood transfixed and watched a pregame ceremony to mark the final game at the venerable park. Most of the team lined up along the dugout to watch the hour-long service, and they said it wasn't something they wouldn't forget anytime soon.
"It was very special," said Aubrey Huff after his team's 7-3 loss. "Glad it's over -- it was a very long day. I've played here in the American League East for eight years. It's always been special coming here. I've always enjoyed playing here, great atmosphere and a hitter's park. It'll be missed, but I'm sure it will be top of the line over there next year."
"There's nothing wrong with being a fan," said second baseman Brian Roberts, who will go down in history as the final batter to hit in Yankee Stadium. "We all grew up fans. We can't lose that aspect. That's what makes this game so fun. You look out there now and you have such an appreciation for all the people who ever played here.
"Certainly, those guys they ran out there on the field tonight have had some great accomplishments."
With that comment, Roberts was referring to a veritable cavalcade of former Yankee heroes, a list that began most prominently with Hall of Famers Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra and Reggie Jackson and wound down to stars of more recent vintage. Throughout the night, reminders of all the great moments that have happened in the park flooded the video board.
"We were out there at 7 p.m. ET watching all the ceremonies," said Kevin Millar. "For the first hour, from 7-8 p.m., it was 100 percent baseball fan. You have to appreciate having the opportunity to come out here, closing down the Bronx."
It was enough to overpower the most sober of baseball minds, and it completely overwhelmed anyone with a reverence for the history of the game. Baltimore manager Dave Trembley, who paid his dues for two decades in the Minor Leagues before getting his break, mused early in the day about his unlikely opportunity to go down in the record books.
"I'm the last guy on a visiting club who's managed in a game here," he asked. "How ... did that happen? I was telling [Joe] Girardi, 'When you were in Pittsville in 1988 in the Eastern League as a catcher and I was managing, did you ever think you and I would be standing here managing the last game?' He said, 'Boy, that's something, isn't it.' You never know.
"But I can tell you one thing, there isn't anybody that appreciates this more than I do. Nobody."
Many of the people involved could make that claim, and Roberts said he wasn't even upset at his dubious achievement. The two-time All-Star said he thought about the possibility of making the last out -- especially against closer extraordinaire Mariano Rivera -- and came to the easy conclusion that he was just happy to be involved in history.
"I probably wasn't as mad as I might be normally against Rivera in the ninth inning with the game on the line," he said of his final at-bat, a ground ball to first baseman Cody Ransom. "I didn't want to make the last out. I figured I'd either make the last out or get the last hit or something. I couldn't go wrong. But Mariano is pretty good at getting outs."
Several players arranged to get autographed lineup cards from the game, and there was a rush along the dugout to get souvenir foul balls that rivaled anything in the stands behind them. The Orioles understood the significance of the game so much that they turned it into a scavenger hunt, looking for anything that could help remind them of the moment.
"I have some stuff," said Roberts. "I got second base from my 50th double Friday night, which was pretty cool. And the ball. I have the bat that I made the last out at Yankee Stadium with. That one will be a good one to keep at home."
"Everybody was like, 'What are you going to get? What are you going to get?'" said Millar, who scooped up some infield dirt. "I'll keep my batting gloves. I took my No. 15 [locker tag], and I got a lineup card and had all the team from the Orioles sign it. I figured a thing of dirt would be nice to have, put it in a little shadow-box. I told Huff, 'Lets go get some dirt, man.'"
But to some, the idea of taking a souvenir seemed almost sacreligious. Trembley, who often talks about the sanctity of the game, preferred to leave baseball's cathedral exactly the way it was when he managed his first game there.
"I'd like to remember it as you see it," he said. "I don't want to take any dirt or grass. I see people scraping paint off the walls. No. This place is special and should be preserved and respected. Obviously, there is a certain sense of dignity there and I think we should all abide by that. What's in your mind and in your heart? That's what you take."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.