Yankee Stadium has a date with a wrecking ball, but thanks to Tony Morante, the memories are indestructible.
It is world-renowned as the House That Ruth Built. It has sheltered 26 championship baseball teams. It has opened its gates to three popes, Nelson Mandela, Johnny Unitas, Muhammad Ali, Pelé, and Bono.
But for all the rhapsodizing about glory and tradition, for all the talk about ghosts and aura and mystique, the reality is this: On a cold but sunny winter morning, the soon-to-be-demolished Yankee Stadium feels like something out of I Am Legend.
Though a handful of staffers shuffle around its subterranean corridors, the 85- year-old Bronx stadium remains in a state of winter slumber, the scoreboard unlit and the mound accessorized with an unadorned Christmas tree. The real action is taking place roughly 400 yards beyond the leftfield flagpole, where the new Yankee Stadium, set to open its doors in April 2009, pulses with the rhythm of jackhammers and whirring cranes.
If there’s a person on the planet who has a right to get weepy and sentimental about the imminent demise of the old building, it’s Tony Morante. While he officially holds the title of director of stadium tours, a member of the team’s media staff refers to him as “kind of the Yankees and Yankee Stadium historian. He knows everything about everything and everybody.”