THE BRONX - (AP) - When the Yankees heard the crowd's last cheers 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 kids and afew legendary players dug shovels into the soil around the homeplate and pitcher's mound, filling dozens of blue and whitebuckets.
Workers then removed the plate and mound, and the group walkedacross the street to the Yankees' shining new stadium to mix theold dirt with the fresh soil.
Gabriel Nieves, 15, shoveled about five pounds of dirt from home plate into his pail.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It's something youremember forever," he said as he moved dirt with about 60 otheryouths, joining Yankee legends David Cone, Paul O'Neill, ScottBrosius and Jeff Nelson.
Nieves' mother, Audrey, watched the ceremony with tearsstreaming down her face.
"This is just awesome," Audrey Nieves said. "This is a bigdeal. This is the end of an era."
Cone, a 1998 World Series champion who pitched a perfect gamefrom the old mound a year later, stood by the hole in the groundafter workers pulled up the long, white piece of rubber.
"This piece of rubber is special, because this is how we madeour living, on this piece of rubber," said Cone, standing on thewet grass in the empty, illuminated ballpark.
Glancing up at the bleachers, the 45-year-old baseball greatadded with a smile, "That's where the ?Bleacher Creatures' wouldyell our names, and the bleachers shook during games."
The Yankees played their final game at the 85-year-old stadiumon Sept. 21 - a 7-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles. Players scoopedhandfuls of dirt from the ballpark as they left.
"Take the memories from this stadium, add it to the newmemories that come with the new Yankee Stadium and continue to passthem on from generation to generation," team captain Derek Jetersaid at the time.
In the new field, part of a $1.3 billion stadium set to open inApril, Nieves helped set down the home plate, dreaming about hisfuture as an engineer: "Maybe I'll help build the next YankeeStadium."
He is part of a Yankee-sponsored afterschool program aimed athelping Bronx youths pursue careers in architecture, engineeringand construction. Scholarships are granted to selected high schoolseniors.
Later on Saturday, 17-year-old Omar Liriano stood proudly in thesubway with his shovel and bucket. Inside, wrapped in plastic, wassomething special he was taking home - a mound of old YankeeStadium dirt.
"I'm, like - wow," he said with a grin. "I'll keep it at homein a jar."