NEW YORK In most cities, the All-Star game comes with giddy welcoming stories anticipating the annual gathering of baseball's best.
Well, the front page of one New York newspaper Sunday was devoted to baseball, all right, but with a different sort of headline: "A-ROD LOVE NEST."
Only in New York, where players' off-the-field lives and wives are scrutinized as intensely as their batting averages and won-lost records. And while the All-Star game is a season highlight in the Big Apple, it's also an interruption of the daily obsession of the pennant races.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman stood behind home plate, explaining why he hoped this wouldn't be the ballpark's national send-off.
"Certainly we're hopeful that we can get our act together," he said, "and extend it into October."
As the scoreboard in center field points out, just 32 regular-season games remain at Yankee Stadium, the 85-year-old living monument to baseball history. There have been 106 World Series games played at the big ballyard in the Bronx more than one-third of the American League's home total of 300.
"I've had a lot of great memories here and a lot of sad memories," said Hall of Famer George Brett, who hit three homers during a 1980 playoff game at Yankee Stadium but is best remembered for the 1983 Pine Tar Game, when his go-ahead, ninth-inning homer was disallowed by umpires, then reinstated by the AL president.
While 13 of the Yankees' last 14 regular-season games sold out and the team is headed to its fourth straight 4 million-plus season at the box office, the stadium was at-best half-filled for the All-Star Futures Game, which had an announced attendance of 48,383. Season ticket-holders had to buy seats for Sunday as part of strips that included today's home run derby and Tuesday night's All-Star game, the commissioner's office said.
Tuesday's game is the highest-priced in baseball history, with lower-deck seats costing $525-$725 and bleacher tickets going for $150. In New York's Wall Street-driven economy, the home run derby sold for $100-$650 and the Futures Game $50-$225.
And that's the list price.
On Stubhub.com, tickets for Tuesday's game were on sale for up to $6,390 each. That's cheap next to the regular-season finale against Baltimore on Sept. 21 the asking price on Stubhub is as much as $65,000. Per seat.
"It is a museum. It's a baseball museum," said NL manager Clint Hurdle, who listed Yankee Stadium alongside Boston's Fenway Park and Chicago's Wrigley Field. "They're dripping with the historic ambiance of the game the individuals that have played the game, the world (championships) that have been won there, the monuments in the outfield. I mean, the pope. Correct me if I'm wrong, didn't he speak at Yankee Stadium? It is a venue that holds its own amongst all venues."
Davey Johnson, manager of the U.S. squad that lost 3-0 to a World team in the Futures Game, remembered when he played at Yankee Stadium in the 1960s for the Baltimore Orioles against Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris.
"I hate to see it go," Johnson said. "I didn't think Yankee Stadium would ever change."
So what was his fondest memory?
"It wasn't that Jeffrey Maier game," he shot back quickly, remembering back to when he managed the Orioles in the 1996 AL championship series and a 12-year-old fan leaned over the right-field wall, above right fielder Tony Tarasco, and deflected a fly ball that wound up as a home run for Derek Jeter.
Futures players had to sign three dozen baseballs, two home plates, two pitching rubbers (pitchers only) and three jerseys. When the major leaguers walk into the clubhouses today, each will have 14 dozen baseballs to sign.
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner is expected at the All-Star game. The 78-year-old owner's health has declined in recent years, and he hasn't attended a game at the ballpark since opening day.
Yankee Stadium hosted the All-Stars in 1939, 1960 and 1977 on a day when it was 102 degrees. The '77 game was played 1 1/2 years after the stadium reopened following a reconstruction that cost $167 million.
The new Yankee Stadium, which will be 63 percent larger, is rising across the street at a cost of at least $1.3 billion. It will feature a Hard Rock Cafe, a Martini Bar and regular-season seats that cost up to $2,500 a game. But it won't be the same.
"Being at the final All-Star game at Yankee Stadium is going to be very special," said Cleveland pitcher Cliff Lee, the expected AL starter. "Everyone knows the heritage there, and to be part of it is something I'm really looking to experience. It is going to be a crazy time."