The New Yankee Stadium
June 17, 2009
Richard J. Garfunkel
I can’t say that I have spent an inordinate amount of time at any of the three Yankee Stadiums that have existed in my lifetime. But nowI have been now to all three incarnations of the House that Ruth built. My first visit to “the big ballpark in the Bronx,” as the late, great Mel Allen would describe Yankee Stadium, was way back in 1951, when Harry S Truman was president. I wrote about one of our last visits to the stadium in August of 2008, in my piece “The Last Time at the Big Ballpark in the Bronx, and one can open the essay below:
http://www.richardjgarfunkel.com/blog/_archives/2008/8/17/3860182.html . The essay was taken in part from an earlier piece that I wrote called, “Take Me Out to The Ballpark”
http://www.richardjgarfunkel.com/blog/_archives/2006/9/21/2363327.html. I was also at the last game of the original Yankee Stadium in 1973, which was opened in 1923. That day, the old ballpark looked like a tired, hulking relic of a bygone era. But its triple deck, its support columns and its graying façade had an eerie majesty about it. One could imagine that it was like some old dreadnaught that had too much time at sea and the rust and barnacles could no longer be scrapped off.
Over the years I have watched thousands of games on Channels 11, 9 and 5. I have been watching on cable television for decades now, but being at the ballpark has its own special and unique charm. The re-built, now old Yankee Stadium had pretty much of a glorious finish. Over that past 12 years the Yankees enjoyed an almost unparalleled success that rivaled just about any of their dynastic eras. The ballpark hosted record crowds, over the past number of years. Back in 1951 when I attended my first Yankee Game their season attendance was 1,950,107 and it had been actually shrinking since 1946 when post-war baseball shattered all attendance records around the big leagues. In actuality, attendance continued to decline almost every year, except in 1961 when the Mantle-Maris race to break the Babe’s hallowed homerun record, caused it to bounce back and peak at 1,747,725. From that year on, until 1972 the year before the renovation of the old park in 1973, attendance slipped badly. With the new opening of Yankee Stadium in 1976, attendance broke the 2 million mark for the first time in over 25 years. As the Yankee success of the last decade continued, with the general prosperity of NYC, fans flocked back to the Bronx.. Over the past four years the Yanks averaged over 50,000 fans per game and attendance broke the 4 million mark each year. How could there be greater success?
But according to the owners, the old ball park was aging quickly and the structural integrity of the stadium, though redone only 32 years earlier was being questioned. Of course, plans were formulated to build the current Yankee Stadium, which is now opened and fully operational. Of course, as a lifetime Yankee fan, I wanted to see the new ballpark. As everyone knows there was a great deal of controversy over the pricing of tickets for the 2009 season. In the fall of 2008, with the implosion of the economy, which affected financial services and Wall Street in particular, it seemed that the Yankees ticket pricing for many of its better seats was way out of line. As the season opened with much fanfare, the controversy peaked regarding the outrageous cost of the edifice itself, the pricing of tickets and the cost of food and trinkets in the park. But over the ensuing weeks, much of the media and the fans lost interest in that story and started to concentrate on the progress of the team. Across town, the Mets moved into their new ballpark, Citi Field and for probably the first and last time in history, the opening of two new ballparks in one city was accomplished. The Mets also have felt some “heat” regarding their ticket pricing policies, but generally since the Yankees are more glamorous, have a bigger payroll and have been generally much more successful over the past 15 years the focus has been on the team from the Bronx.
With all that in mind, Linda decided to get tickets for a game. Calling Yankee Stadium for tickets is useless because all of the seats that they have left are in the front section, where prices are not only astronomical, but idiotic. Over the years we have been sitting as guests of a generous patron, in seats that gradually escalated from $70 to $200. These seats were about 10 rows in back from the dugout and almost behind first base. In the world of the new Yankee Stadium, those seats are now unoccupied, but could be had for $2500. Linda therefore went to the online ticket broker, Stub Hub, and we both found out that there are about 8000 tickets available for almost any game in the future. The tickets could go up or down in price reflective of demand. I picked a date to see the lowly Washington Nationals because I thought that the Yankees would manhandle them, they were a National League team, and they actually had some good hitters.
We were able to purchase tickets in the fifth deck, looking right down at third base for $20 apiece and frankly the view was terrific. Linda took the new special train to the ballpark and arrived about 20 minutes from Grand Central Station. I drove down with my friend Kevin Moran and his companion Valerie, and after some interesting maneuvering we parked in the elevated parking structure, right next to the stadium’s right field entrance. The cost was $19. In the past I have paid more, but at other times I was actually able to find a space on the street.
The new stadium is immense. Its great hall and passage ways are much larger than its predecessor. The food courts are limitless, and it reminds me of the walkways that surround the Arthur Ashe Stadium at the National Tennis Center. Unfortunately one cannot walk around the stadium at any level though the seats. It is structured so that one is only able to walk to one’s seats through the interior concourse. Obviously that keeps people from constantly walking past seated fans and blocking their views. Now all traffic is in the interior. We entered the stadium and eventually made our way to one of the many ramps that led to the fifth level and after much walking, I found Linda happily ensconced in her seat in Section 425, row nine.
The new ballpark looks vaguely familiar to the one it replaced. The designers resurrected the look of the old façade of the original Yankee Stadium and that white facade now surrounds the top of the stadium just below the lights. In the old rebuilt version of Yankee Stadium, the façade was an ornament just adorning the portion above the bleachers in left and right center field. Aside from that feature, the dimensions are the same, but the ballpark is quite different. It is a visually noisy venue. There is a gigantic plasma television “info” screen in centerfield that dwarfs anything one could imagine. It has remarkable contrast and it constantly flashes information regarding the lineup, the next batter, and what is going on with the fans. But one has to constantly search for where the pitcher’s count (balls and strikes) is posted. In short, there is too much to see. There are too many advertising signs and I feel the ball park is much too distracting. It doesn’t seem to have the majesty of either version of the old ballpark. In truth, the seats and leg room are more comfortable, and one can get in and out of the ballpark easier. The old vitality and human element seem to have been removed. There is a factory clean nature to the park. By the way, up in our seats it was quite breezy and there seems to be a jet stream that makes fly balls into homeruns. There were no Yankee homeruns to right field despite the steady wind that was battering the roof top flags. Probably credit has to be given to the National’s pitcher, Shairon Martis, who baffled Yankee hitters until he ran out of gas and left the game in the 7th.
Meanwhile the game was rather pedestrian. The Yankees were not hitting, and half way through the contest they were behind 3-2. Excellent hitting and great fielding by Robinson Cano (he went 4 for 4) made him the star of the game. Timely hitting by their new first baseman Mark Teixeira and excellent outfield play by Melky Cabrera and Nick Swisher helped the Yanks edge the lowly Nationals 5-3. I personally expected a blowout, but it wasn’t to be. Alex Rodriquez continued his half-hearted, mediocre play as his batting average descended to .220. He again took “the collar” without getting the ball out of the infield. At this stage of the season he is probably the most overpaid and underperforming star in history. But it is still a long season and he’ll have ample opportunity to rebound and help the team in the coming months.
As too eating and drinking, we all planned well. We brought cold bottled water from home. Kevin brought sandwiches and I brought peanuts and pretzels. The lines to the food counters were incredible, and $9 per bottle beer, $6 hotdogs, and $5 Pepsis did not seem to intimidate the limitless amount of willing consumers. I bought a $10 program and scored the game as usual. The price of a program did not go up! It was idiotically high before and it remains at that level.
All in all, going to the stadium is a real happening. There is a lot to see off the field. But it is still baseball and the Yankees are a well-paid talented team. Will they play to their expectations, no one really knows. As to the new stadium itself, I cannot understand the reason for its existence. I loved the old stadium and it a wonderful place to see a game. It had atmosphere, liveliness and the human feel. As to their current home, the Yankees were lucky to start its construction in “flush” times. If they had waited another year or so, they may have never had the opportunity to raise the $1.3 billion that was needed to construct this monster. The old stadium held more fans, the sight lines were fine, the seats were easily accessible and one could walk around the ballpark much quicker. In a sense the old stadium was handsomer, more elegant, and less busy. It had majesty to it that this ballpark lacks. (But I’ll go back again and again, and soon I’ll be used it as the memories of the old ball yard fade into history!)