Seven Questions with Tony Morante
New York Yankees' Tour Guide
|Tony Morante, the New York Yankees' director of stadium tours, brings a sense of history into the team's new ballpark.
Photo by Bruce Gilbert
Tony Morante first set foot in Yankee Stadium 60 years ago, when he was a 6-year-old kid growing up on Bathgate Avenue and 184th Street—a stone’s throw from two other Bronx institutions that would play a major role in his life: Fordham University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1979, and the New York Botanical Garden, where he was a docent and met his wife, who took one of Morante’s tours of the garden more than 15 years ago.
The Yankees are in Morante’s blood. His father, also named Tony, was a longtime usher at the stadium. He brought young Tony to work during the summer of ’49. “I kept going to games for about 10 years,” Morante recalled, until one day, “My dad said, ‘You’re coming out here long enough, now you’re gonna to have to start earning it.’” And so he did—first as an usher, in 1958, later in group- and season-ticket sales. He created and gave his first official tour of Yankee Stadium in 1979, and he has been the team’s director of stadium tours (and unofficial historian) since 1998.
Last year, Morante helped the Yankees—and thousands of fans—say goodbye to their old ballpark. He spoke with FORDHAM magazine in March, about a month before the Yankees play their first regular-season game in their new stadium, just across the street from the place that had been Morante’s home away from home for decades.
You’ve been through a big move. Do you feel a bit as if you’ve lost your home?
Yes, so to speak. This was a big move. We took the whole operation, increased the number of employees to accommodate this larger venue. This is about 500,000 square feet more than we had in the old stadium, which had about 800,000 square feet. We have more restaurants, more restrooms and the concourses are a lot wider. There are so many other whistles and gongs in here that we didn’t have in the old stadium—state of the art facilities and audiovisual additions that are just incomparable. We’re really excited about turning a new page in Yankees history and forging a new chapter in the book.
How much of that history has come over to the new stadium?
For one thing, Monument Park has many of the legends and icons who contributed to Yankee Stadium history, including three commemorative plaques to the popes—Pope Paul VI, John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI—who celebrated Mass at the stadium. The history lies right out there in Monument Park. It’s a constant reminder. People can visit that every day. We have tours that go out there and it will be open to the public prior to games, so if you want to take a look back and take a peek and maybe feel the ghosts that might be there, you can. These are the same monuments and plaques and retired numbers that were in the old stadium.
Did you watch as the monuments were moved into the new park? Were you there?
Yes, I was. They gave me the honor of unveiling Babe Ruth, the last monument that was put in place. The company, Port Morris Tile and Marble, said, “Tony, we’d like you to unveil the Babe.” And that was an honor. You know, I’ve been coming here for 60 years now, so if I had to look back at the old stadium’s history, it all stemmed from what the Babe had contributed. And what they asked me to do, to be in the same sentence with the Babe as far as unveiling the monument, was very rewarding to me.
Did it make you feel more at home in the new ballpark when the monuments arrived?
|Morante wears his 1999 World Series ring next to his wedding band.
It did, because that is a large part of what we’re about; it’s our history. So we did move that history across the street, into a completely new venue. And hopefully the team will rise to the heights in this new stadium that the Yankees and their fans have been accustomed to throughout the decades.
We also invited the community to participate in moving home plate and the pitcher’s mound from the old stadium. And I thought that was great. It was a great day to see the kids out there. You know, some of them obviously didn’t know all of the history, but the feeling of being in Yankee Stadium, on the pitcher’s mound—things that they see on television and now they’re participating in? A lot of them were totally in awe. It was great.
Do you remember how you felt the first day you stepped into the original stadium?
Now that the stadium is going down, I keep on revisiting that spot. I was in that area again today. What I recall about the day was that I walked out into the upper deck behind home plate and it was breathtaking. All I saw was this beautiful, luscious green grass. And the blue sky with these big white puffy cumulus clouds and naturally the players down on the field. The aroma from the hot dogs and the beer and the peanuts—all that made a very indelible imprint on me. Not so much what was going on down on the field, but that sensory feeling, the sights and the smells, more so than what that history meant at that point in time. And that never left me. I don’t know who played that game besides the New York Yankees. I don’t recall. I just remember that I was so in awe of what was going on around me.
About how many tours did you give at the old stadium?
I would say a couple of thousand. It’s what you might call a labor of love because I saw it grow from seed, first with groups of schoolchildren. The revenue from the tours goes into the Yankees Foundation, which has programs that benefit children in the city and throughout the New York metropolitan area. So when you go from this seed to 150,000 people, which we had pass through our gates last year, it’s a very rewarding feeling.
Have you planned the tours of the new stadium?
We’re in the process of putting them together right now. They’re going to be a little different than the ones last year. We have a brand new museum that is going to be unveiled to the public on Opening Day [April 16]. I’m most excited about taking the people out to Monument Park. And the museum is going to be a wonderful place to take a look at some of the artifacts from players and teams of the different decades. I am looking forward to showing the fans our new home in this living museum.
Tours of the new stadium are scheduled to start on May 4.