For me it was Friday, August 23, 1968 at Yankee Stadium in the second game of a twi-night doubleheader. Mickey Mantle pinch hit in the bottom of the ninth for Yankee shortstop Gene Michael with one out and the score tied 3-3. Mantle singled to left field off lefty John Hiller so Mantle must have been hitting right handed. I have no recollection of that hit. The game ended in a 3-3 tie at the 1:00 AM American League curfew.
A couple of years ago I was looking at the play-by-play of that game and it occurred to me that it was the final time I saw my boyhood favorite play in person.
This season Yankee fans will experience the same thing with Derek Jeter. They already know that 2014 is Jeter's final season. Other fans of other teams have gone through this. Cubs fans with Ernie Banks. Orioles fans with Cal Ripken.
After that one favorite player is gone, does baseball die? Even years before he retired when Mantle was not on the field it was not the same no matter how much I liked Yogi Berra, Tom Tresh, Elston Howard, etc. Then the team fell on hard times but revived in the late 1970s with Thurman Munson, Reggie Jackson, etc. That was good but not the same. Even the Jeter era since 1996 has not been the same and now even Jeter is leaving.