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Cathedral leaves lasting mark on fans

Cathedral leaves lasting mark on fans

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NEW YORK -- For Yankees fans, every game of baseball at Yankee Stadium is like a family gathering and a religious experience. The Cathedral has served as both their church and home.

It encompasses everything, most importantly their roots to their Yankee fandom. Take for example 68-year-old Larry Barone, his 40-year-old son, Larry Barone, and his 3-year-old grandson, of course, Larry Barone. In order to keep the family name in good standing, Yankee pinstripes serve as the thread connecting the generations of this family.

"Like my dad says, 'If he can't root for the Yankees, I don't know if you can stay in my house,' " the middle Barone said.

But as they scanned Monument Park for the faces of their extended family, such as Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, the Barones realize that the family is being asked to move. Behind the outfield walls from where they stand, the eldest Barone observes the new Yankee Stadium, which he said looks more like the original he first visited in 1947, than the renovated but soon-to-be-closed venue.

Eventually, when the last out is made, the Barones will be asked to pack up, leave and never come back. That doesn't mean their fandom will be staying behind. The youngest Barone, who was unable to attend the final game at Yankee Stadium, will hold the same affinity for the new building.

And their love for the "House that Ruth Built" will remain with grandpa, as it will for thousands of other families in the Yankees' universe. The stories will continue to be told, almost like when the first Larry Barone told his son about Mantle's speed around the bases.

"I met Mickey Mantle," the son said. "Mr. Mantle turned to me, shook my hand and I said, 'Mr. Mantle, my dad said you are so fast that you could hit a line drive up the middle and hit yourself with the ball.' And Mickey looked at me like I was crazy, like he had heard it from everybody before."

Monument Park inhabitants
MONUMENTS
Miller Huggins 5/30/32
Lou Gehrig 7/4/41
Babe Ruth 4/19/49
Mickey Mantle 8/25/96
Joe DiMaggio 4/25/99
9/11 tribute 9/11/02
MONUMENT PARK PLAQUES
(in order of dedication)
Jacob Ruppert
Ed Barrow
Pope Paul VI
Joe McCarthy
Casey Stengel
Pope John Paul II
Thurman Munson
Elston Howard
Roger Maris
Phil Rizzuto
Billy Martin
Whitey Ford
Lefty Gomez
Bill Dickey
Yogi Berra
Allie Reynolds
Don Mattingly
Mel Allen
Bob Sheppard
Reggie Jackson
Ron Guidry
Red Ruffing

"I think if he tried, I think he could have done it," the father replied.

The eldest Barone thinks of the first time he walked into Yankee Stadium, taking in the greens and the blues of the building and the players on the field. Joe DiMaggio is at bat and Ted Williams is in the outfield. Monuments to Babe Ruth, Miller Huggins and Lou Gehrig are still in center field. Recalling all of the memories of the Cathedral gives him pause.

"It takes your breath away, and it still does," he said. "Every time I come into this place, it's like I am coming here for the first time."

On the field, John DiMaio directs his brother to take a picture of his shoes touching the Yankee Stadium grass during Sunday's walk around the warning track. He wants to prove that he was there at the last game, and that his foot met the footprints of other legends.

He then recalls his father, who said the only difference between him and DiMaggio was "two g's and a lot of talent." Like many Yankees families, baseball has been their connection.

A disconnect will come after the final game, something DiMaio wishes his late father was there to help him through. But along with the spirits of former players are those of the fans -- his father -- who took their sons, daughters, husbands and wives to this stadium.

DiMaio first came in 1964, then his brother met the stadium in 1982, and his son and daughter walked through the gates in 1998. A few decades later, he'll say good-bye, but touching the outfield grass says hello to another part of him.

"It brings you close, it brings you back to your childhood," DiMaio said. "When you come back here, you become a little kid again."

After arriving early Sunday, standing in line with other fans at 9 a.m. ET, the Barones will leave Yankee Stadium for the last time, but they will return home having lost very little.

Being a Yankees fan, the Barones say, means passing the torch. From one generation to another, and now from one stadium to another, the Yankees spirit lives on.

"It's more what me and what my dad share. It's more of what the Yankees have allowed us to share together," the first Barone son said. "That's what it means when it's a part of you. And that's what it is."

Jon Blau is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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