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Yanks alumni consumed by nostalgia

Yanks alumni consumed by nostalgia

NEW YORK -- The flashes from thousands of cameras lit up the stands of Yankee Stadium during Sunday's pregame ceremony to celebrate the final game at the ballpark.

But the desire to capture a moment of history on film spread from the crowd to the field.

As a collection of Yankees alumni took their respective spot on the diamond, several carried cameras, wanting to commemorate the historic evening. Every player on the field stood along with the fans in attendance to honor the stadium that has played host to some of the most memorable moments in sports history.

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"Just to be out there amongst the legends and the greats, and, obviously, Yankee Stadium, it's just heartwarming," former pitcher David Wells said. "That was the best part of it, being part of it. I'll never live this down for the rest of my life."

Before Wells jogged out to the mound, the DiamondVision screen in right field showed moments from his perfect game in 1998. For the left-hander, it brought back memories of the relationships he had with his teammates, and the family atmosphere he felt at Yankee Stadium.

And while the perfect game and World Series championship stand out to Wells as unforgettable moments at the Cathedral, the emotions he felt whenever he put on the Yankees uniform in the Bronx are something he will always remember. Wells wore the jerseys of eight different organizations throughout his career, but he said the New York fans always show their appreciation when a player puts on the pinstripes.

"These Yankees fans never forget," he said. "They hate you when you wear another uniform. I'm living proof of that, going to Boston and coming back here. But once you come back in the uniform and you pay your respects, these fans don't forget."

Wells stood in a prime spot atop the Yankees dugout during the ceremony, giving him a chance to talk with all the honorees before they took the field. Before former second baseman Willie Randolph took the field, Wells and several others provoked him to slide into second base.

And as Randolph started to jog out to the cheers, he picked up speed and the crowd roared as he slid into second base with a smile spread across his face.

Farewell Yankee Stadium

"I knew they knew what I am all about," Randolph said. "I feel their love and I love them. To be back here is always special. To walk through those gates, I am going to miss the old place, man. But it's time to move on."

For certain legendary names, the honor of taking the field was bestowed upon family members. As Mickey Mantle's name was called over the public address system, his son, David, jogged the center-field position his father took for most of his 18 seasons with the Yankees. And David wore the same sort of flannel uniform his father did, saying that he now understood why his dad had always complained of the itch.

Before he arrived at the stadium, not even Mantle knew what the night's ceremonies entailed. A bus came to pick him up at the hotel, and from there, the day rolled along. But as he got to catch up with some of his father's former teammates, he had time to take in the special day.

"It was a great pleasure and a real honor," Mantle said. "It was the pride and tradition, playing 18 years for the Yankees was just what Dad always dreamed of. It's too bad that he's not here to represent instead."

The names of those who stood on the grass at Yankee Stadium prior to Sunday's contest was a staggering remembrance of years of history, and the experience was overwhelming for many.

"They all had heart and they all had soul," Dave Winfield said. "I'm just happy to play for a great organization. Your little contribution adds up to great contributions. When I saw Babe Ruth's daughter, you could have hit me over the head with a feather. That's awesome. Then to see Whitey [Ford] and Yogi [Berra] and think about over 80 years. Think about that."

One of the more poignant moments took place when Bobby Murcer's name was announced and his wife and children walked to center field in his memory. His daughter Tory's eyes filled with tears as the cheers filled the stadium and the fans and players alike remembered Murcer.

"That was a moment right there," Wells said. "I just lost it. I knew I would at some point."

As the ceremony continued, fans waited with anticipation for the announcer to call one name -- Bernie Williams. Williams had not returned to Yankee Stadium since 2006, and prior to the celebration, he said he felt the nerves he used to feel before a playoff game. And when his name was announced as the final player to be honored on Sunday night, chants of "Bernie! Bernie!" accompanied him on his way to the field.

The night was a remembrance of a historic ballpark, but for the players who returned to honor it, it also marked a chance to reunite and reminisce about the times they'll keep with them from baseball's Cathedral.

"It's great to have all those guys back," former first baseman and team captain Tino Martinez said. "It's teammates you won titles with. Fans really showed their appreciation.

"I just kept looking around. I was standing at first base, just looking at the fans, just thinking about what a great night it is, all the great moments that I was able to experience here."

Samantha Newman 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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