As I walked down the steps from the elevated 4 train platform at 161st St. late Saturday morning, I paused at the top to survey the scene. On my left was a new building carrying an old name, shiny and surrounded by people. On my right was Yankee Stadium, looming over the street, empty and silent.
I wanted to walk up that old building and give it a hug. I have so many memories, good and bad, from 25 years of games at the stadium. I didn’t care if it didn’t have the same charm as pre-renovation Yankee Stadium. I didn’t care if the concourses were a little cramped, if the bathrooms were a little small, if the luxury suites weren’t there. On a night with a packed house, there was no better place to be.
Maybe I’m predisposed to look at the new ballpark with a critical eye. Maybe I have very high expectations for one of the most expensive sports stadiums ever constructed. Whatever the reason, I came away from new Yankee Stadium underwhelmed and unimpressed. For all the political machinations, for all the money, I expected a better pure baseball experience. What I saw was a spectacle of commerce inside a ballpark while a game went on below.
What follows then is my review — an admittedly curmudgeonly one at that — of the new home. For a more glowing review of the new digs, check out Mike’s take. The links below go to my photoset of scenes from the game.
The Upper Deck
At Yankee Stadium, the old one, I loved the upper deck. From the seats behind the plate, you could see the entire stadium unfold in front of you, and because of the overhang, even seats in the upper reaches of the Tier Reserve seemed close. The Tier level was also a mass of Yankee fans, 36 sections, 36 rows, of screaming Yankee fans.
I start then with a photo:
This is a scene from the evening of the final game at Yankee Stadium. The game had ended and no one — not a single fan — had left the upper deck. The similar view at New Yankee Stadium:
I know it’s one game. I know I took that picture a few minutes before an exhibition game on a blustery gray day in early April, but the differences in the Upper Deck are immense. The seats in the grandstand are isolated from the equivalent of the Tier Boxes, and there are ten fewer rows in than in the Tier Reserve. The Terrace, once the Tier Boxes, has five fewer rows than the equivalent section at the old park. No longer does the entire Upper Deck feel as though half the stadium is there.
Instead, recessed from the field and with most of the grandstand shoved under the frieze, it feels like an afterthought. The upper decks aren’t the places about which the Yankees care. They’re the seats for the stragglers those who aren’t rich enough to pay $350 a ticket to use to catch a game. While the Stadium looks good from up there, the intimacy of the overhang and the feel of a densely packed house just won’t be the same.
Across the street, fans sitting upstairs didn’t just feel as though they were a part of the action; they were a real part of the stadium. Now, the upper decks are excluded from the rest of the park, and that brings me to my next theme.
New Yankee Stadium is all about exclusion. Throughout the stadium, intermingled with the broad concourses and seating sections, are exclusive areas. There are restaurants that cater only to people who are ticketed for those sections. Get to close and an overanxious security guard will eye you suspiciously while awaiting a ticket stub to confirm that, yes, you actually do belong here.
Even on the upper level of the stadium, exclusivity is the rule. While everyone is free to wander the corridors, only patrons sitting in the Terrace MVP seats can get into the exclusive Jim Beam sports bar. And lest the Yankees employ subtlety, all of the exclusive restaurants have floor-to-ceiling windows so those without access can see what they’re missing.
It goes beyond the hoity-toity restaurants though. As YF explained, this exclusion is everywhere. Two hours before the game starts, don’t expect to get a close-up of the field. If you’re not ticketed for the field level, the best you can do is to walk around. Security guards snap at anyone inching up for a better picture, a better view, a two-minute glimpse of batting practice. You have a Grandstand ticket? Well, you don’t belong anywhere closer to the field. This is the best view you’ll get.
“A Mall Featuring a Baseball Field”
There is, of course, one thing from which the Yanks won’t want anyone to be excluded: the opportunity to buy stuff! From disappointingly soggy and lukewarm garlic fries, raw meat and a full-service food court to a pair of in-stadium team stores, the Yankees want you to spend, spend, spend. I bought two hot dogs and a small garlic fries for a grand total of $17. Yikes.
In dissecting this element of the stadium, Alex Belth referred to the new park as “a mall featuring a baseball field.” From food stalls to stores to TV screens and rotating ads too numerous — and distracting — to count, the stadium almost wants you to forget you’re at a baseball game.
As with any mall, going to new Yankee Stadium is an overwhelming experience but for the wrong reasons. Baseball is dwarfed as noise and screens take centerstage. While old Yankee Stadium was loud with one giant speaker stack above center field, this new park is L-O-U-D with speakers above every section. Hopefully, the team will turn down the volume before each game. Last weekend, it was deafening.
Similar to sound problem is the giant screen the Yanks proudly installed above the field. The problem — as you can see here, here and here — is that the screen is simply too big. When it’s on during the game, showing replays and graphics, it dominates the field in such a way as to detract from the game. If I wanted to watch a screen, I’d stay home.
The Yankees wanted big. What that got is far too big, but in a way, this giant screen is a perfect metaphor for this ballpark. It is in fact a far better metaphor than the obstructed bleacher seats and the pathetic attempts at fixing the problem.
The Yanks wanted a multi-billion-dollar stadium to enhance their revenue intake. What that got is something that, in my opinion, leaves the die-hard fan yearning for something a little more baseball-y and something a little less flashy. Architecturally, the ballpark looks great. It’s Yankee Stadium as it should look, but inside, it’s nothing at all like how a baseball stadium in 2009 should be.
Maybe I’m being too pessimistic. Maybe I need to wait to experience the stadium with a packed house in the middle of June. Maybe I’m letting my opinion and love for the old stadium color my biases. I’m certainly willing to allow for that. Right now, though, I can admire the grandeur of new Yankee Stadium, but I don’t quite feel as though I like it. It’s definitely going to take some time to feel at home there, but considering that I’ll be watching Yankee games there for the rest of my life, it’s time to suck it up and start that adjustment process.
Addendum: Scenes from the Game
I realize this is a rather negative review of a new ballpark. I realize that many Yankee fans haven’t seen the new stadium yet and many more will disagree with me. There were aspects of it that I liked though, and while I wrote this guide to highlight the problems with the new stadium and the problems with the rationale behind the new stadium, I would like to share some scenes from the park too.
Did know that there is a Farmers Market fruit stand by Gate 4? Good luck though getting Yankee fans to properly contribute to the Compost bucket. I still can’t decide if I like the concrete-and-metal bleachers. The old blue ones across the street seemed more in tune with the colors, and these still look unfinished.
The subway race and Yankee cap game both made the trip across the street. So did an out-of-town scoreboard that can show only four games at a time. The Yanks should have sacrificed some ad space for a full 15-game scoreboard.
The sections are now numbered consecutively, and every seat has a cupholder. The Great Hall is, well, great, and the signs outside are excellent. Fans can still watch the 4 train pass as well. It wouldn’t be a Yankee game without it.