Over the last few years, I’ve been a vocal opponent of the new Yankee Stadium. I didn’t approve of the political process or the kickbacks the wealthy Yankees received from the city for the new park, and I didn’t believe old Yankee Stadium was beyond repair. Yet, from the day, Mayor Bloomberg announced his support of new ballparks for the Mets and Yankees, I was fighting a losing battle.
When the new stadium opened, I reluctantly embraced it. The Yankees, after all, would be playing in the stadium on the north side of 161st St. for the bulk of my adult life, and I could either choose to leave behind the Yankees or swallow the sting of losing the old House that Ruth Built. Not yet prepared to give up on the Yankees, I enjoyed my first year as a fan in the new ballpark. Although parts of it seem sterile and very much the same as any of Populous’ new ballparks that dot America’s baseball landscape, it’s very much a unique Yankee Stadium, modernized for the 21st Century.
Yesterday, I steeled myself for some tough sights as I made my way up to the Bronx. Throughout 2009, old Yankee Stadium remained a familiar sight across the street. Crews were too busy ripping out the stadium insides to knock down any of the walls, and I could pretend that my old home – the place I spent so many nights growing up – wouldn’t be gone any time soon.
I took the D train yesterday to Yankee Stadium and didn’t have the shocking experience of seeing the old stadium in ruins from the elevated tracks as the 4 train emerges above ground after its stop at 149th St. Instead, I climbed the transfer from the IND platform up to the IRT, and the view was shocking. Fans getting their first glimpses of the destruction were silent and morose. This was a funeral for a friend, and it brought the glimmer of tears to my eyes.
It might be rare to be so sentimental over an old building, but this one featured so many baseball memories and New York City memories for me and millions of other fans. It provided solace after Sept. 11 and countless warm nights in high school when nothing mattered but the outcome of the game. The electricity of a postseason game would fill the air, and even during those early years of my fandom in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a sunny Saturday afternoon meant Yankee baseball. It meant a trip with my mom, dad and sister to the ballpark, and it meant watching Donny Baseball play the game with a bunch of schlubs around him.
New York City has a long record of tearing down its history. Parts of Lower Manhattan were settled nearly 400 years ago, but rare are the signs of anything newer than the skyscraper boom from the middle 20th Century. We tear down Penn Station; we tear down Yankee Stadium. We bury our past in picture books and minds, hoping that someone will try to save something – save Gate 2, save the dugouts, save home plate – and yet the wrecking ball brings it all down in the end anyway.
I arrived at the stadium yesterday at around 11:45 and spent some time just staring at the Yankee Stadium destruction pit. I tried to take some pictures that expressed the magnitude of the destruction, but it’s hard to capture the emotional depth of the sight. By mid-summer, the stadium will be gone, and the Parks Department will begin the process of constructing Heritage Field, a new park that, despite its name, will be without much Yankee Stadium heritage. And so it goes.
The full photoset from the Destruction of Yankee Stadium is available here on flickr. I’ve embedded the slideshow after the jump. All photos are by Benjamin Kabak.