• Image about Tony Morante
Beth Perkins
Yet, while wandering from clubhouse to bullpen to executive suite with the familiarity of a longtime homeowner, Morante doesn’t seem the least bit upset about his upcoming move across the street. Born and bred in the Bronx, Morante started coming to Yankee Stadium with his father, who worked as an usher, in 1949. He was six. Nine seasons later, he began working part-time as an usher himself. “My dad said to me, ‘It’s about time you started earning your keep,’ ” he recalls. In between his stints on Wall Street and in the Navy, Morante kept popping in on the stadium, finally becoming a full-timer (as a group- and season-ticket sales rep) in 1973. He started leading tours in 1986.

Friendly and unassuming, devoid of the “bow before my superior knowledge” attitude often associated with people in his type of position, Morante wears an engraved 1999 World Series ring that’s about the size of a newborn’s head on his left hand. He casually rips off any number of stats about the building: Its original capacity was 58,764, and its current capacity is 56,886; it has 800,000 square feet of space, which will soon be dwarfed by the new park’s 1.35 million; and $675,000 was the price tag for its 11.6 acres of land -- 10 acres for the stadium and 1.6 more for surrounding property -- purchased in 1921 from the William Waldorf Astor estate. He very clearly loves his job, especially when it comes to righting some of the misconceptions about the park.

Like the notion of a sporting venue being “hallowed ground,” a phrase often bandied about by metaphor-happy broadcasters. Morante notes that Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass at the stadium in 1965 and 1979, respectively, and that Pope Benedict XVI did the same this past April. Too, the stadium has hosted Billy Graham, faith healings, and Jehovah’s Witness convocations. “The idea of hallowed ground -- that has nothing to do with Joe DiMaggio or Mickey Mantle. The ground literally has been blessed,” Morante says.

He even takes pains to correct some of the misconceptions perpetuated by the stadium itself. Prominent in the downstairs lobby of the team’s offices is a plaque stating that Tiffany & Co. designed the interlocked NY insignia to honor the first New York City police officer shot in the line of duty, way back in 1877, and that the Yankees adopted it in 1909. Not exactly so, says Morante with an arched eyebrow: “You’re telling me that with all the Five Points riots, the draft riots in 1863, not a single cop got shot?”

And don’t get him started on the famed Yankee Stadium facade -- which, he points out with the slightest hint of annoyance in his voice, is not, in fact, a facade. “A facade is the face of a building. A frieze is an ornamental band. What’s up there,” Morante says, gesturing toward the iconic white replica of the original copper beams that line the top of the stadium, “is a frieze.” The frieze’s initial role, he adds, was to serve as a spectacular curtain rod for the team’s early-era 15-by-31-foot championship banners, a few of which Morante recently unearthed from storage in the Yankee Stadium basement.