NEW YORK — During the Yankees’ last game at their old stadium in September, players dug their hands into the ballpark dirt to take some home along with the memories.
On a hushed, rainy field Saturday, a group of Bronx youths and a few former stars used shovels to dig into the soil around home plate and the pitcher’s mound, filling dozens of blue and white buckets.
Workers then removed the plate and pitcher’s rubber, and the group walked across the street to the Yankees’ shining new stadium to mix the old dirt with the new.
Gabriel Nieves shoveled about 5 pounds of dirt from the home plate into his pail.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s something you remember forever,” the 15-year-old said as he moved dirt with about 60 other youths, joining former Yankees David Cone, Paul O’Neill, Scott Brosius and Jeff Nelson.
Nieves’ mother, Audrey, watched the ceremony with tears streaming down her face.
“This is just awesome,” she said. “This is a big deal. This is the end of an era.”
Cone, a member of the Yankees’ 1998 World Series championship team who pitched a perfect game at the Stadium a year later, stared Saturday at the hole in the ground after a worker pulled up the rubber.
“This piece of rubber is special, because this is how we made our living, on this piece of rubber,” said Cone, standing on the wet grass in the empty, illuminated ballpark.
Glancing up at the bleachers, the 45-year-old added with a smile, “That’s where the ‘Bleacher Creatures’ would yell our names, and the bleachers shook during games.”
The Yankees played their final game at the 85-year-old stadium on Sept. 21, winning 7-3 over the Baltimore Orioles. Players scooped handfuls of dirt from the ballpark before they left the field.
“Take the memories from this stadium, add it to the new memories that come with the new Yankee Stadium and continue to pass them on from generation to generation,” team captain Derek Jeter said at the time.
In the new field, part of a $1.3 billion stadium set to open in April, Nieves helped set down the home plate, dreaming about his future as an engineer: “Maybe I’ll help build the next Yankee Stadium.”
He is part of a Yankee-sponsored afterschool program aimed at helping Bronx youths pursue careers in architecture, engineering and construction. Scholarships are granted to selected high school seniors.
Later on Saturday, 17-year-old Omar Liriano stood proudly in the subway with his shovel and bucket. Inside, wrapped in plastic, was something special he was taking home — a mound of dirt from the old Yankee Stadium.
“I’m, like — wow,” he said with a grin. “I’ll keep it at home in a jar.”