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April 3, 2009

Out at the Ballpark

A Visit to the New Yankee Stadium

by Neil deMause

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The new Yankee Stadium is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean... But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

The Yankees officially open their new $1.3 billion-or-so digs tonight, with the first of a two-game exhibition series against the Cubs (weather permitting), but yesterday 15,000 fans and curious onlookers got a peek inside the gates courtesy of the team, which handed out tickets to an open batting practice via the Bronx's community boards. (This was part of the team's "community benefits" strategy, launched to distract the locals from the fact that they were building their new home on top of a public park.) Since I work part-time in the Bronx and have friends there, I was able to tag along and see what we got for our $1.2 billion public subsidy.

Needless to say, and given what I've written in the past, I was a little apprehensive about seeing the new venue in person. Would it still feel like the place where I've seen close to 500 games? Were the cheap seats as bad as everyone feared? Would "Welcome to the Jungle" be replaced by "Puttin' on the Ritz"?

First of all, let's dispense with the stats- and fantasy-related elements of Yankee Stadium, Mark II. The field has the same dimensions as the old stadium-"old" here referring to the House That Ruth Built in its final incarnation, as the fences that were moved in for Jack Clark in 1988 are now set in concrete-so it should play roughly the same. The grandstand is rotated a bit more toward the north, so center field may be more of the sun field; the new open concourses will probably do away with the swirling winds you used to see at the old place, as the wind will blow through, rather than around, the grandstand; foul territory is dramatically reduced to get those $350-and-up front-row customers closer to Andy Pettitte's sweat glands; the corners jutting out down the lines seem slightly less prominent, possibly leading to fewer cheap doubles; and so on, but none of this should significantly affect gameplay.

Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, what about the stadium? There have been billions of pixels spilled of late about the "grandeur" of the new place, with its Hard Rock Cafe and sushi concession; so much so, in fact, that I half-expected to find myself in a Vegas version of the old stadium, with staircases of polished marble and ushers wearing cummerbunds. Once inside, though, and past the dramatic Great Hall that serves no apparent purpose other than to prolong the walk to your seats and provide a place to hang banners of Yankee greats (not to mention blast Guns 'n Roses at even louder volumes than outdoors in the seating section), the new Yankee Stadium is, well... a bit drab. "Underwhelming" is the word that my Bronx friend used, though his impression could have been colored by the fact that we were watching a Yankee employee sweep a two-inch-deep puddle of water into a poorly placed drain.

The Yankees actually did a better job than I expected of imitating the feel of the old stadium. There's the same broad sweep of blue, a darker near-navy in the new place, and the new grandstand is the same general shape as the old. Don't look too closely, and you could mistake your surroundings for a radically renovated version of the Yanks' ancestral home. And yet...

A story is in order here. A few years ago, when it still seemed as if the old stadium might live on indefinitely, a friend of mine from Boston came down to see a game, since she'd never been. She walked up the ramp, got her first look around, and stopped. "Oh," she said. "This is nice." She'd been mentally girding herself for the shock of a mammoth edifice compared to Fenway, she explained, but Yankee Stadium felt relatively human-scaled despite its 57,000 seats.

I'm guessing that she would not say that at the New Stadium. The differences may be subtle-a deck lifted skyward a few feet here, pushed back a couple dozen there-but the overall effect is of a more imposing structure, without any of the close-stacked feel that made the old stadium more intimate, despite having nearly 5,000 more seats. Where in the old park it was perfectly reasonable to prefer the front of the upper deck to the back of the lower, no one will make that mistake here; the $70 "Terrace" seats at the front of the new upper deck feel as far away from the action as the $25 reserved seats were across the street, and the new cheap seats at the stadium's top are as bad if not worse than the last row at the old place (sorry, Jay). As at many of the new stadiums, the class segregation here feels both deliberate and complete-only further compounded by the obstructed-view bleacher seats (the TV screens set up as a belated fix, I found yesterday, didn't help much), by the team's decision to exclude cheap-seats denizens from even eating at field-level concessions stands, and by a sunken walkway behind the "Legends" seats at the field's edge that gives the odd impression that the Yankees have surrounded their highest-priced seats with a moat.

While the seating feels only moderately ginormous, the stadium's interior is super-sized in every way. There are food stands everywhere you turn (with similarly grandiose price tags; it will be interesting to see whether $9 beers, $5 slices of pizza, and $12 "souvenir buckets" of popcorn provoke sticker shock in this economy), and broad corridors that, for the first time, have an open view of the stadium interior. (Forget about watching the game from the hot-dog line under real game conditions, though; even with only 10,000 or so fans milling about, it was still impossible to get more than a glimpse of the field.) There's the Great Hall, there are broad ramps for entry and egress, and there are more branded cafes and restaurants than you can shake a stick at: the Yankees Hard Rock Cafe, the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar (in the center-field batters' eye, looming over the relocated Monument Park and blocking those bleacher views), the Audi Yankees Club. The feeling of immensity is only heightened by the fact that it's absolutely impossible to find your way around the place without getting lost in a maze of kettle corn stands and dead-end stairways; I wasn't able to figure out whether this was an intentional "dazed customers make better consumers" department-store trick or mere incompetence, though a sign marked "This stairway to bleachers" when I was already standing in the bleachers mitigates toward the latter.

I realize, by the way, that I've neglected to mention the true star of the show. In dead-center field, dwarfing even the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar, is the new scoreboard. That word, though, doesn't do justice to the awesome might of this video screen: 100 yards long and 10,000 feet high (all measurements approximate), it delivers images in such crystal-clear high-def perfection that I quite literally found it hard to focus my attention on the field when I could watch on the screen. Whether you think that's a good thing or a bad one-come to the ballpark, the view is just as good as in your living room!-is a matter of taste, but suffice to say that, like the sliding roof at Safeco Field, the center of attention at new Yankee Stadium is likely to be a piece of technology, at least until fans grow jaded by the fact that it's only in 2-D.

What's missing in all of this, meanwhile, is even an iota of charm. While most new stadiums have had nods to the retro and the quirky (some more gratuitously than others), the Yankees seem to have missed the memo-any genuinely interesting quirks of the old stadium's architecture have been rounded off, and even the cinderblock-and-painted-aluminum interior is strangely generic considering the sky-high price tag. As much as it felt like Yankee Stadium at times, at others it felt a little like being in US Cellular Field, a little like Comerica Park, and a bit like nowhere at all in particular. One bleacher regular arrived at the new park yesterday and immediately remarked, "I feel like I'm on the road!"

Part of this, no doubt, is lack of history. The renovated stadium probably struck fans the same way in 1976, but a Chris Chambliss homer here and a Wade Boggs horseback ride there can do a lot to make a place feel like home. While the new place bulges with stuff to buy-some of it good stuff, including fresh fruit stands selling bananas and apples (for $1.50 apiece, a mere 500 percent markup from the "green cart" out on 161st Street)-it also feels lacking in character. The broader sweeps of the grandstand not only make the views worse (if less vertiginous), they eliminate what used to be the distinctive two-winged shape that helped the old structure feel more tightly enclosed. And whereas even at the post-renovation old stadium you could still squint and make out the tracks of history-Roger Maris' 61st landed there, though there were pillars then; that wall there in the Yankee bullpen is how deep "Death Valley" was when Mickey Rivers played here, and about the same as when Joe DiMaggio did, too-all of that was left across the street, and now we have only a faint imitation of a ballpark that was already a faint imitation of its 1923 original. Moving the famous stadium frieze back to the roof doesn't help much, as it only makes it more obvious that this is a plasticky replica of the copper original.

The new Yankee Stadium, in short, is a new stadium first, and a Yankees stadium second. And despite sharing a name and a few superficial details, it should not be confused with the Yankee Stadium across the street, which as of yesterday had a demolition fence beginning to go up around it, and two neat holes already punched in its outfield wall. Some of the change is good, some of it is bad, and much will be a matter of taste, but contrary to what Derek Jeter might think, the ghosts stopped here.

Neil deMause is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Neil's other articles. You can contact Neil by clicking here

29 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

tbraxton34

I finally figured out the best way to describe new stadia in general after reading this article thanks to a casual phrase Neil dropped in: "the class segregation here feels both deliberate and complete". You know what new stadia are most like? Airplanes. They are designed intentionally to make it clear whom is in coach and whom is in first class so that the people in first class feel justified in paying what they are paying for those seats. The business model is the same too--it takes a lot of $25 tickets in the upper deck to add up to one $500 dollar seat at field level so you do everything you can to cater to the people in first class. It will be interesting to see how the stadium fills up over time--if it is like airlines, first class will be empty and coach will be overflowing. Probably not this year, but we'll see.

Apr 03, 2009 09:32 AM
rating: 7
 
BP staff member Neil deMause
BP staff

The high-backed, extra-luxe seats in the Legends section in the new stadium actually bear an amazing resemblance to those in the business class of airlines.

At least, that's how they looked from as close as I could get without being arrested — even at an open batting practice with free tickets, they wouldn't let you in the field level without a ticket for that section.

Apr 03, 2009 13:15 PM
 
jonramz

how sad....

Apr 03, 2009 09:37 AM
rating: 0
 
Rob_in_CT

Ouch.

Apr 03, 2009 09:41 AM
rating: 0
 
Corkedbat

Here's a panoramic view: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/04/02/sports/20090402-yankees-pano.html

Apr 03, 2009 10:28 AM
rating: 1
 
McLovins

The only Yankees games I will be attending this year will be of the Staten Island variety.

Apr 03, 2009 10:34 AM
rating: 2
 
BurrRutledge

Lest we forget, all that is solid melts into air.

Apr 03, 2009 10:59 AM
rating: 1
 
amazin_mess

CitiField is better.

Apr 03, 2009 12:04 PM
rating: -2
 
buddaley

From everything I have seen and read, and now this review, it confirms my conviction that the Yankees opted for cheap sentimentalism instead of bold innovation. I recognize the desire to maintain tradition and to remind us of the glorious Yankee past; it is a legitimate motive. But there is also a stodgy smugness about it all, and even a rather boring result that the new Stadium is simply another faux retro ball park, copying the success of Baltimore. I would have preferred a more innovative approach, along the lines of the retractable sail that the Rays proposed recently. I don't mean that particular design, but something that made us excited about a new look.

Apr 03, 2009 12:08 PM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Neil deMause
BP staff

I wouldn't call the design "retro" unless your idea of historic is 1976, or 1995. But the rest of your point taken.

Apr 03, 2009 13:18 PM
 
awayish

Though something as significant as Yankee stadium isn't a good opportunity to adventurous innovation. It has all sorts of conventional inertia tying it down.

Apr 04, 2009 09:17 AM
rating: 0
 
lpiklor

"...it felt a little like being in US Cellular Field, a little like Comerica Park, and a bit like nowhere at all in particular". To me, that says it perfectly. As a Chicagoan and Cub Fan, it makes me think "God save Wrigley Field! Please!"

Apr 03, 2009 12:39 PM
rating: 2
 
Pietaster07

IF Wrigley and Fenway go.... I don't want to even think about it. And I'm a Marlins fan. The new Yankee Stadium feels like one of thsoe parks where the day games aren't very fun at all. Go to a day game at say Wrigley or Camden Yards or Dodger Stadium, and the field looks beautiful and you forget about the hot wather at least a little bit.

Apr 03, 2009 21:27 PM
rating: 1
 
adecker31

Went to the game tonight to see the Cubs - I wrote to my friend it reminded me of the Cell - lots of emphasis on easy walking around in the concourse and you know, it's convenient (the food choice is not as good as it is at the Cell). But it has the personality of a corporation. I think the comment about the airplane-feel and how airplane companies treat their customers is really keen. There's enough corporate here in NYC (even now...) where I don't think the Yankees are worried about empty seats up front. But if I were an "everyday" Yankee fan, I would be a bit bitter to think about how I'm viewed vs. how somebody on a corporate expense account is viewed. Although, thinking about some of the things the Cubs have done (the re-selling tickets thing/no player release really anymore) and other teams as well lately, the Yankees aren't really any more guilty of that than any other team really. Just a bit more crass perhaps.

Also, the people who bring food to people in the expensive seats might want to learn to wait to walk down the aisle you're sitting in AT LEAST until between pitches. At bats might be the most polite and least obtrusive.

Apr 03, 2009 22:33 PM
rating: 0
 
Matt Kory

I'm struck by two lines from this article. First, the price-tag of the new stadium is $1.3 billion, and second the new frieze is made of plastic. So, I'm left to ask, how was the other $1,299,999,999.99 spent?

Apr 04, 2009 05:37 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Neil deMause
BP staff

I believe the new frieze is actually fiberglass or something. But it still looks pretty chintzy up close.

As for the rest, the granite cladding on the outside must have cost a pretty penny, and there's a lot of steel involved in supporting all those concessions concourses. And, of course, the new scoreboard is powered by burning $100 bills.

Apr 04, 2009 12:18 PM
 
Ross11903

I admit I hated this place at first, but I believe if RYS was to ever be replaced, this stadium is the best possible replacement (aside for a couple details - i.e. CF restaurant placement).

However, I have a feeling that when I plop myself down into my upper deck or bleacher seat for the first time and watch a yankees game, all these 'little things,' the politics and conspiracy theories are gonna disappear.

Apr 04, 2009 09:20 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Having gone to the game last night, I can tell you that it feels like they put some idealized version of Yankee Stadium on steroids and stuck it in the middle of Times Square. Pure sensory overload -- bright flashing lights with sound surrounding you from every angle, and the scoreboard video dominating the action on the field even when you're sitting in the bleachers.

Man, the Yankees need a new ballpark more than ever.

Apr 04, 2009 14:29 PM
 
Ross11903

Realistically, it IS a new stadium first, it was not meant to be a rebuilt version of the old. It's a tribute. Its nice to see styling from the old, but it's 2009, and its supposed to be overwhelming, large with new bells, whistles, and technological additions, just as the old stadium was when it was new.

A lot of people who have been to games at the original version of Yankee Stadium probably had similar negative feelings about the renovated version of Yankee Stadium when it debuted. However, the renovated version is the only version anyone under 40 knows, and that generation has grown to love it, despite significant changes. Therefore while NYS may be tainted for this generation, it will prob not be the case for future generations who do not have a previous version to compare it to.

Anyway, many of the people I am hearing from enjoyed the new stadium, but still with their own critiques. However everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion.

Apr 04, 2009 16:18 PM
rating: 0
 
IAPiratesFan

I have to say my first impression of seeing it on TV last night was that I hated it. I just didn't know what was bothering me about it. It just didn't feel right. I was expecting some change, but I didn't expect that much change. It felt like, as you said, it could have been anywhere and no where in particular. Even worse was this sense to me that seeing it on TV, there were no quirks, no little weird things they put in to ball parks these days. Any quirks that were there came from the old stadium. It felt like a big corporate stadium meant to show big corporate games. I get this feeling that the designers felt that nothing about this stadium would ruin the charm of a game more than having a personality.

Apr 04, 2009 18:15 PM
rating: 0
 
betances10

While I enjoyed going to the stadium for the first time and was marveled by plenty of things inside and out, when I saw the game on TV, it did feel a little generic. It might just be me just not being used to it but it felt like I could glance at the field and mistake it for GABP, CBP, or new Busch while I didn't have that sensation with the old stadium.

Apr 04, 2009 20:19 PM
rating: 0
 
BeanoCook

Neo Yankee is a missed opportunity that New York will never get back. They built a rather bland, corporate monument that looks sterile in person and generic on TV.

It was small thinking to pretty much copy old Yankee. Weak.

By the way, will the WTC rebuild be finish in the next 20 years?

Apr 05, 2009 07:34 AM
rating: 0
 
Saroff

I am a season ticket holder in the bleachers, had a largely positive seat relocation process - and upon sitting in my new seats for the Cubs I was struck by the following positives.

(1) The place doesn't smell
(2) The game is very enjoyable from my seat and from most of the other seats that I sampled throughout the Cubs game. I disagree with Neal about the Terrace Seats. I think all-in-all (especially if you WANT seats that are protected from the elements), they are better than the old Tier Reserved.
(3) Contrary to Neal's comments, the game is completely watchable from the concourses.
(4) The food choices are better - the $5.50 hot dog actually tastes good.
(5) The place is HUGE - it feels like a cathedral (albeit one built in 2009) which is what the original stadium was about. The size that Neal views as a negative, I see as a positive.

Few problems:

(A) Thinking about my positives, some of them could have been accomplished (ie better food) without the move.
(B) The Mohegan Sun Sports Bar is an ugly monstrosity and won't last 20 years. The thing is ugly from every place in the ballpark.
(C) The improvements don't justify the new, higher ticket prices. Sitting at Field Level is still sitting at Field Level, but now it's much more expensive. My seats are almost exactly the same in location and exactly the same in price. I lucked out. If I was paying 2x-10x as some are, I would be really peeved.
(D) Missed architectural opportunity. I believe the Yanks should have pulled a Wembley, decided that they couldn't imitate the old place and built something completely out of the box. In many ways, that is what Col. Ruppert did in the 20s.


Apr 05, 2009 08:05 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member William Burke
BP staff
(963)

Making the new Yankee Stadium aesthetically pleasing really probably wasn't important to Yankee management. Baltimore or San Fran or Arizona might have NEEDED a pleasing design to justify the costs involved in building their new parks and generating buzz about their teams, but the Yankees don't need it the people will come regardless. The Yankee management only needed to focus on one thing to serve its needs, maximizing revenue. I am sure that all the elements of the park are designed to do just that. Whether those items included 'building a metaphorical moat', charging for obstructed view seating, having a sports bar in the OF or making the "cheap seats" 3 blocks away from home plate, each item has a purpose and its purpose is not to make Yankee fan happier, its purpose is to extract dollars from Yankee fan's wallet. So, while Yankee Fan has every right to be annoyed by this, it is my guess that Yankee Management is concerned about your feelings just about >| |< this much right now.

Apr 05, 2009 09:32 AM
 
Kyle E.

The Metrodome is 27 years old and has different gates for the upper and lower decks. People with upper deck tickets have never been allowed in the lower deck. This isn't just a function of new stadiums.

Apr 05, 2009 22:16 PM
rating: 0
 
repeater

The Yanks didn't move the fences in for Clark. Or at least they claimed they didn't.

http://www.nytimes.com/1988/01/24/sports/sports-of-the-times-new-measurements.html

Apr 06, 2009 05:06 AM
rating: 0
 
Rob_in_CT

Seeing it on TV... it looks just like the old one. A quick glance and you wouldn't even know.

That's ok for me, since I was comfortable with the look of Yankee Stadium and I don't need anything new (for my TV viewing pleasure... when I go in person at some point, and sit in the upper deck, I expect to miss the old version). But does it justify $1.3 billion? Only if they milk those luxury boxes and concession stands the way they hope to.

Apr 06, 2009 06:15 AM
rating: 0
 
Meddler1

The odds of catching a foul ball in the seats of the new Yankee stadium: Two to the power of two hundred and seventy-six thousand, seven hundred and ninety-nine to one aainst.

By a totally staggering coincidence, that is also the telephone number of an East Village Flat where Derek Jeter once went to a very good party and met a very nice girl whom he totally failed to get off with.

Apr 16, 2009 11:40 AM
rating: 0
 
CCarlucci

The frieze is made of structural steel, not plastic.

Apr 20, 2009 14:18 PM
rating: 0
 
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