Dr. Cary Goodman, Executive Director of the 161st Street Business Improvement District, showed a group of eager Greeters that sports and art make a beautiful couple. As he guided us around the old Yankee Stadium, he shared historical tidbits and spoke about the murals of the famous baseball players that now grace the area where the stadium used to be.
The old Yankee Stadium was the first to be called a “stadium,” making it sound grander than Fenway Park or Ebbets Field. A decorative archway was the only piece of architecture left from the old stadium, its majestic style suggesting a sense of Yankee power. Looming in the background was the iconic bat, a 138-foot-tall exhaust pipe in the shape of a baseball bat that was whimsical and magical.
Our next stop was Rupert Plaza, with many memorial plaques carved onto the stone walkway. One was from Mayor Bloomberg honoring Colonel Jacob Rupert who built the first Yankee Stadium and brought Babe Ruth to the Yankees from the Boston Red Sox. Another plaque paid tribute to the victims of 9/11, and another celebrated Mohammed Ali for keeping his heavyweight title against Ken Norton.
Then on to the “Magnificent Seven:” the murals of heroic players painted by Lexi Bella and Danielle Mastrioni on storefront gates or restaurant windows. We saw Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard (the first black Yankee), Mickey Mantle, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter. The paintings were joyful and high-spirited, reflecting the neighborhood’s energy and celebrity.
When we parted ways with Cary, we took one last look at the mural of Derek Jeter. With his thousand-watt smile and his steady gaze, he looks like he was born to greatness. And he was.