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Stars soak in Stadium's festivities

Stars soak in Stadium's festivities

NEW YORK -- Believe it or not, actor Richard Gere was 12 years old once. And when he was that most impressionable age, in 1961, there was no other player to love than a certain member of the Yankees.

"No question," Gere said, "my favorite player had to be Mickey."

Mickey Mantle, the Yankees' preeminent star in the 1950s and '60s, flew around the bases and took the actor's heart in his childhood. Even for a boy born in Philadelphia, the Yankees and their stadium underlined the essence of baseball, something he hoped his son, Homer, would grasp as they watched batting practice from outside of the home dugout at Yankee Stadium on Sunday.

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In the stadium's final moments, Gere brought his family to the venue that hosted his childhood idols, saying he almost came to tears as he walked on to the field.

So what is his favorite moment in Yankee Stadium?

"It was bringing them here for the first time," Gere said of his wife and child. "I keep thinking about the history, the sense of tradition. It's important to culture."

In agreement with that, filmmaker Spike Lee was in attendance to capture the stadium's final moments. Also in attendance were actor Matthew Modine and famous college basketball coach Bobby Knight. Actor Val Kilmer also strode foul territory, keeping it short and sarcastic when trying to think of his favorite moment at Yankee Stadium.

"I had a date here once," Kilmer said.

With who?

"A girl," he said, still smiling.

Is that really your favorite moment?

"Oh no, it would have to be today," Kilmer said on Sunday, beginning to walk away from the conversation. "It's so sad, but so exciting."

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, like any good politician, spoke at length about his years heading the city while the Yankees were king. But he also witnessed greatness at Yankee Stadium as a kid, which came in the form of Roger Maris' 61st home run, stellar performances from the DiMaggio brothers and interactions with a gracious star, Yogi Berra.

Farewell Yankee Stadium

Giuliani was a catcher as a youth, and he stood outside Yankee Stadium waiting for the legendary backstop after a game. Beyond his expectations, Berra appeased Giuliani and a group of kids by signing every autograph.

But his greatest keepsake he held in his hand Sunday -- a "PD" NY "FD" hat. After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Giuliani wore the cap around town, despite the fact that the yellow letters on either side of the Yankees' logo were flipped.

Regardless, baseball helped rehabilitate a devastated city, and it was then that the mayor learned how important sports were to the residents of New York. They identified themselves as Giants fans, Jets fans, Mets fans and Yankees fans.

And Yankee Stadium was the largest part of that heritage. While it will be sad to lose the dirt and the grass where the current stadium stands, a new era, he said, can be started across the street.

"You realize you are very lucky to be a Yankee fan. You have more championships than all the other teams," Giuliani said. "To be standing in the exact spot where Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio stood and Lou Gehrig stood ... to a sports fan, history is important, and this place has more history than any sports venue, I believe, in the world. Now it's going to be moved across the way."

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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