Thursday, April 23, 2009

New and Old Memories of The Future

I withheld comment about yesterday's events for several reasons: first, I wanted a day or so to pass before it sank in and I had time to ruminate on the subject. Second, I was of the mind that I needed to reflect on the historical event I'd just experienced, both in a personal and an "institutional" sense.

The event which I'm talking about is, of course, my father's and my first visit to The New Yankee Stadium.

We'd been hearing about it for the better part of 18 or more months. Neither of us was especially excited per se; we loved the old Stadium, even if it was not quite as shiny as it once was, or as other -- newer -- ballparks around the country. Camden Yards in Baltimore's a nice venue, Arizona's park is a good place to catch a game, and even the cross-town (blech) Mets got themselves a new place to play baseball.

So why not Yankee Stadium II?

Wellums, first of all, all the other stadiums around the country, with the exception of Wrigley in Chicago and Fenway Park in Boston, are just outdoor arenas for baseball and other sporting and concert events. That means they can be torn down, relocated, spruced up, and -- essentially -- nobody gives a shit.

You revamp or rework Yankee Stadium and people around the world -- and not just baseball people -- take notice (and chime in with their opinions, anecdotes, et al).

You propose to knock down the old Stadium and build a new one -- with or without taxpayer dollars -- and people will take notice BIG TIME.

It's not just that the old park housed some of the biggest of the best legends ever to play baseball. Ruth, Gehrig, Dimaggio, Mantle, Reggie, Thurman, Billy Martin...the list goes on and on and continues on to present day (Derek Jeter will have his number in monument park someday, hopefully not too soon).

So when you say you're not going to revamp the Stadium but build a new one and destroy the old one, a lot of people pay attention. As did we.

Personally, I wasn't thrilled -- inasmuch as I knew the old Stadium needed a facelift, we loved the place. We walked those cement floors as if we owned the place -- in a good way. We knew a lot of the people around the section in which our season tickets were located, and we always enjoyed our time at the park. Invariably, my dad and I would go to both regular season and playoff games during the week (usually Wednesday afternoons) as well as some night games here and there. Here and there we'd meet at the Park -- him by car, me by subway -- and we'd spend four hours watching baseball and kicking back.

So when we heard they were indeed going to destroy the park, we were worried about rumours of $2,500 tickets, luxury boxes and prices for concessions and food going through the roof. When the economy imploded we were increasingly concerned we'd be priced out of the season ticket subscription completely.

Well, happily, we were able to retain tickets -- albeit in a section farther into left field -- that, surprisingly, offer almost a better vantage of the game than our old seats. Not only that, the new seats are more comfortable and give us a better sense of the game as a whole, especially because we can see just about the entire field (our old seats were occasionally blind-spotted by the left-field foul wall).

We arrived a few minutes before yesterday's first pitch and were quickly awe-struck at the clean, shiny lines of the faded white concrete and the faint blue overtones surrounding the exterior facade. My dad got a little choked up seeing the whole entrance from inside, as the atrium was semi-open -- meaning you can just barely see the field from only a few steps into the structure. And walking through the new areas, rather than getting the claustrophobic tunnel sense, the entire space is open so air and light are free-flowing and you feel as if the entire structure is an almost organic, living thing.

Which it is.

Once we finally arrived at our seats, we were amazed at how nice the new field is; while the same grass is used here as it was in the old park, the layout is radically different. The dimensions are, more or less, the same, but the seating and the layout is completely updated. Rather than describe it, I posted a shitload of photos here, so if you haven't seen the interior of the Stadium but want to -- and somehow managed to avoid seeing same to date -- knock yourself out.

We were really impressed at the shiny new sense of old-meets-new. But for both of us, we were most impressed by the facade which rings the entire top of the Stadium. It's an updated yet similar white fencing that existed in the old Stadium, but it's even more majestic than it was in the old park, and it just shines. I was really blown away by it.

The new "Yankee Stadium" logo, as well as the retired number wall in center, were also nicely presented. And while Monument Park was a bit subdued -- it's hidden below the bar located right behind the blackout (for batters) in center field -- we know that the Yankees made sure that Monument Park is treated as well as any current and past Yankee.

But overall, it wasn't the details which were most special to me. It was the fact my Dad and I were able to share our first visit to the new Yankee Stadium. Visiting a place like Tampa, Cleveland, Chicago or LA and seeing things together is one thing; but since we both bleed Yankee blue, Yankee Stadium is an institution. So the fact we were able to see it for the first time together made the game, and the event, very special to me. It could have been just another game, even our "first" game, in the new park, but that we shared the day was what made it most important to me. I may not remember that the game dragged on to 14 innings, or that Melky Cabrera's home run won it in walk-off fashion. But I will remember that we both really enjoyed seeing this new place that will remain in our hearts forever.

There are complaints from within and without. Some people are worried the home runs are flying out of the stadium at an alarming pace (and compare it to Coors Field and some other parks, like Rangers Ballpark in Arlington). But I think part of the issue is the open-air aspect of the front gate (Gate 4, specifically) as well as the fact that the old Stadium is throwing off the wind currents that formerly were not there (in other words, with the Old Stadium still standing, the wind is different than it will be once the old Stadium is torn down).

Another complaint, and this is one with which I concur, is that the new place won't have been the original location where Babe, Joe D, Mickey and Thurman played their ball. But the truth is that the ghosts of these great players will not have far to travel -- across the street -- and the old Stadium's footprint will serve as baseball parks for kids. What better way to celebrate the game and these greats than to create places for more kids to learn and love the game?

Finally, the issue of finances. Regardless of the economy -- which is actually a fairly dumb thing to admit -- the tickets for the new Stadium are astronomical. Front section seating (ie the first 20 rows from the field) from first base to third base start -- START -- at around $2,500 a ticket. That means a family of four -- before parking, sodas, pennants and hats -- will be charged $10,000 to see a Yankee game.

That's fucking insane.

I'd love to attend a game with my dad and sit behind home plate just once. But I'd much prefer using that money to put a down payment on an M3 or an S5.

The tickets aren't the only pricey thing on the menu; speaking of which, the food is expensive, the beer is expensive, the merchandise is expensive, and the parking is expensive.

Unfortunately, that is the cost -- no pun intended -- of fielding a top-notch, expensive team in a top-notch, shiny new Yankee Stadium.

Most importantly, aside from the prices of everything, with the new dollar structure, a lot of people who frequented the games won't be able to afford to do so anymore. That means a lot of old-time fans are going to be watching games at home, in bars, or with friends (or a combination thereof).

That means, between empty seats and the "old-time" fans not in attendance, that the new Stadium is a lot quieter than was the old Stadium. And that is a shame. Looking around us, I would say there were about 10-12,000 empty seats during yesterday's game. However, a mid-week matinee rarely gets a huge crowd, especially when it features a mediocre opponent (the Oakland A's) on a rainy day.

Having said all that, though, seeing so many empty seats and being in a quiet park was a bit of a shock to us. While we had a blast and enjoyed the game -- all but the last six outs of it -- it was a little different than what we're used to.

I suppose the real way to tell what kind of a place this is is to keep visiting it to get a better sense of the "real" Stadium. And hopefully, that includes visiting during the playoffs.

But even it had been a lousy game on a shitty day, I'd still happily have spent the three or four hours with my Dad at the park. And even if the new Stadium had been a letdown and the Yankees got blown out by 20 runs, it would still have been a great day because we got to see it together. And each time I go from this point onward -- whether with my father or anyone else -- yesterday was the first and best memory I'll have of that place, not because of where we were or what we saw but the fact we were there together.

And like my love of the Yankees, that will stay with me forever.

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