- As Stadiums Fall, Belmont Endures
The closing of Yankee Stadium, as well as that of Shea Stadium and the next impending incantation of Madison Square Garden, will indelibly change the landscape of iconic sports venues in the Metropolitan area. My first experience at the "Stadium" came November 17, 1968 when my father took me to see our beloved Philadelphia Eagles play the New York Football Giants for my 9th birthday.
That was during the 2nd year an awkward and forgotten transitional period in the NFL, when expansion created 4 silly divisions known as the Capitol, Century, Coastal and Central. (It wasn't until 1970 that the NFC-AFC we now know came to fruition.) The Eagles, on their way to a smashing 2-12 season, lost 7-6. I saw a number of baseball games in the Bronx before the famed, or infamous, renovation, but given that I never was a Yankees fan, none stay with me particularly well.
Post-renovation, I saw Game 2 of the 1977 Yankees-Dodgers World Series, and in a memorable experience in and of itself, took the subway to get there. The game was the last time the Dodgers were close in the Series, knotting it at one apiece behind a terrific Burt Hooten complete game. Ron Cey, Steve Yeager and the great Reggie Smith hit early inning homers off Catfish Hunter, as the Lasordas built a 5-0 lead on the way to a 6-1 win.
While the fan and historian in me appreciates the role Yankee Stadium has in American sports, and social, history, I'm only mildly saddened by its' passing. I might feel differently had the Series game I attended been a Brooklyn Dodger-New York Yankee tilt around which my father's memories of the Stadium are constructed. But as someone whose full devotion is now focused on thoroughbred racing, my first thought watching coverage of the end of the Stadium epoch was that Belmont Park would now be the most important principal sporting venue still standing in greater New York.
Ruth and Gehrig, Louis and Shmeling, Stengal and Berea, Mantle and Ford, Giants and Colts, Steinbrenner and Martin.. Those memories won't be entirely buried with Yankee Stadium, but there will be no "memories" or ghosts when fans in the Bronx look out upon their new field next spring.
But at Belmont Park, the ghosts of the Triple Crown winners, near winners, upsetters and fallen, still thunder down the stretch whenever you gaze out upon the vast oval..
Man o'War.. Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons.. Citation.. William Woodward.. Native Dancer.. John Nerud.. Secretariat.. Woody Stephens.. Ruffian.. Venezia.. Affirmed-Alydar..
Many sports media types eagerly dismiss the impact of racing on today's sports panorama due to their lack of comprehension of the game's nuance. But their ignorance doesn't diminish the importance on American sports and society by racing's greatest equine and human achievers. And no where do those exploits live and breathe as they do at Belmont Park.