When we wrapped up the 2009 season, I gave the new Yankee Stadium a mostly positive review. The team, after all, had just captured a World Series trophy in its first year in the new home and had enjoyed a significant home field advantage. They drew 3.7 million fans and won 64 home games while losing just 25 over the course of the regular season and the playoffs. The stadium itself can be the team’s 26th man on the roster.
The 2009 team’s offensive splits belie the stadium advantage. At home, the lineup hit .284/.368/.490 with 136 home runs. On the road, the team hit .283/.355/.466 with 108 home runs. At least as the ball flies over the fence, the new stadium helped the Yankees.
But despite the tropes of a hitter’s paradise, the new stadium depressed extra-base hits. The Yankees hit far more doubles on the road, and triples at the new park were few and far between. When the dust settled, the new stadium played as a pitcher’s park. So now, as Yankee Stadium gets ready for year number two, what can we expect?
On the field, we’ll be able to tally more data on the trends of the park. We can say, as I did, that after one season, pitchers who aren’t extreme fly-ballers should enjoy pitching at the stadium, but the year two data could be completely different. We can say that left-handed batters with a nice power stroke will hit a lot of home runs into those alluringly short right field seats, and we’d probably be right. Yet, as the Yankees have loaded up a lineup heavy on lefties, a second year of data will hopefully help the team make that case.
Meanwhile, a key claim from earlier last year will be put to the test as well. As home runs were flying out of Yankee Stadium and meteorologists were positing wind patterns, some commentators started to blame the old stadium for the home run-happy jet streams. As the old stadium meets the wrecking ball and will be but rubble by late June, the team will see if the winds do indeed change. Color me skeptical.
But the stadium’s impact goes beyond the way it plays for the team. It is also the home for the fans, and although I yearn for the countless seasons I spent at the House that Ruth Built, I’ll spend the bulk of my life attending games at the House that George Built. What needs to go right then for the Yankees to enjoy another year of crowds above three million, constant sell-outs and a content fan base?
What the Yankees should do is again make the ballpark more fan-friendly. The team should allow young fans the chance to watch batting practice from as close to the field as possible. The team should do away with that moat that separates the Legends Suites from the rest of the park at least until an hour before the game starts. The team should relax its security guards and make fans feel welcome instead of threatened if they happen to step into the wrong section or look at someone halfway cross-eyed. The team should also sell more of those standing-room only seats. I watched Game 2 of the ALDS from SRO in the Main Level, and I will remember it forever. Fans stopped by to chat, and we were ecstatic as A-Rod’s and later Mark Teixeira’s home runs brought the Yanks a victory.
And yet, we hear tales of the Yankees making the park a little less accessible. They seem to be offering standing room tickets at all levels only for a select bunch of premium games. They’re going to allow fans in for batting practice two hours before first pitch this year instead of three as they did last year. There goes the opportunity to watch most of the Yankees take BP. As NYY Stadium Insider notes, this move aligns the Yankees with the rest of the league, and staffing concerns may warrant it. But it simply limits access.
Of course, those are but minor gripes. Unlike the Mets, the Yankees didn’t have to fix glaring omissions of history at their ballpark, and the team had a relatively smooth first year at the new stadium. I expect to 2010 to offer more of the same and more wins at home. I didn’t warm up to the new park until late in the season, and I still have a tough time accepting it as the permanent home of the New York Yankees. But it is, after all, tough to argue with the World Series. Can the stadium deliver two in two years?