Last Friday was my first visit to the new Yankee Stadium. The first year the place was built, I was in South Jersey, actually doing work in college. The next year I moved across the country, which is where I’ve been until I got the chance to take a vacation back to see my family on the East Coast. Making the pilgrimage to the House that Jeter Built was one of the things on the must-do list. Keep in mind that my home stadium, so to speak, is the Coliseum, so my baseball stadium expectations are set almost embarrassingly low. Disclaimer: I sound like a slack-jawed tourist. Because I was.
To start, there’s the view from outside of the place. Here are the things that surrounded the Coliseum: a storage yard filled with overused freight train cars, a mysterious BBQ place that looks like a hole in the wall filled with disease, and some kind of chemical plant. There’s also a train station and a somewhat-disgusting looking river. Then, of course, there’s the facade of the Coliseum, which might remind one of a bomb shelter more than anything else. Aside from the banners promoting the various records by the A’s and A’s players (lowest ERA, World Series Champions, their 20-game winning streak, and so on…), it’s fairly unremarkable cement. Very safe place to be if you’re thinking about a major earthquake, I suspect, but not exactly the prettiest thing in the world. To approach Yankee Stadium, rising with all its grace out of the Bronx, all arches and flags, was breathtaking. Every inch of the surrounding area has been thought out and decorated, to Babe Ruth Plaza to the huge gate numbers to the giant NY set into the ground. I basically had to consciously think about keeping my mouth shut so I didn’t walk around with it gaping open in awe.
Then there’s actually being inside. First off, being a somewhat crazy Yankees fan (you might have suspected this already), being in the park was like arriving at the scene of one’s pilgrimage. Make no mistake, Yankee Stadium is a cathedral just as much as it is a ballpark. From the archways to the monstrous banners in the Great Hall and from the entrances to the giant screens in center field, everything is a testament to how good the Yankees are and have been. Yes, it might go slightly into the realm of ostentatious and even a bit noveau riche, but as a tourist I loved how obvious Yankee Stadium made itself. This was not a place for losers. You came here, you played baseball, and you won, and that’s the way things were. It is impossible to be in Yankee Stadium for more than two seconds without realizing that you’re in the home park of an almost-too-successful sports team filled with superstars. For an opposing fan or team, I could see how it might be intimidating and oppressive: there’s nowhere to go, especially when the home team is winning on the field, to escape the perennial success of the New York Yankees. To me, it felt a little like being home in that fan way where other fans of your team are like brothers and sisters, and filled me with all kinds of crazy emotions, mostly joy that I was raised to feel like a part of that history. (Of course, I wasn’t alive for most of it, but fan psychology is a discussion for another day.)
Usually, I see people talking about how the stadium doesn’t have the same soul or it’s too commercial or the tourists have taken over or something along these lines. And while I could understand where those people are coming from, given the extreme number of shops with their too-expensive fan merchandise and the ads placed over most of the available space, I didn’t mind it one bit. Maybe this vibe sets in when you’ve been to the park a couple of times, but I found the ads a great splash of color added everywhere, especially considering the change from the mostly-cement coliseum where many of the signs were hung from the walls (to avoid drilling into concrete), and seat indicators were spraypainted onto plastic between aisles. And the shops were, again, just another relentless indication of what the Yankees were and how they did what they did. Call the team greedy and the place overly-commercialized if you want (certainly a legitimate argument), but remember that that poster being bought for $40 is helping to pay Mark Teixiera’s salary. Those tourists buying $120 seats are helping to pay the team just as much as you are, and maybe more.
And then there was the game itself. Oakland possesses two color screens that I suspect were both smaller than the giant ads in center field, and they’re not easy to see or watch. The rest of the screens are black and white. Just the sheer amount of information displayed in New York practically confused me: total bases, OBP, SLG, and the random miscellany that was displayed made me stare. It was like taking a starving Ethiopian child and putting him in front of a souped-up computer and telling him he could have anything he want. I gaped. Even past the actual information, there were the graphics, which were in color shocking, brilliant color: Russell’s mountie hat, Wrestler Brett, Swishalicious – these kind of things simply wouldn’t be possible in the Coliseum. There were different graphics to display the next batter up! Every player had a witty related graphic! Guess the Baby Bomber! The Subway Race! Not only were the screens themselves huge and the information so bright and colorful, but people were paid to make those designs and run them, and there ain’t no one on the Coliseum’s payroll doing that.
All-in-all, it was in every way an experience for me. To see my team at home again was really only the beginning of the visit: the stadium in itself was a whole different animal. There’s a way that I love the Coliseum in that it’s where I routinely see baseball – and extremely cheap baseball at that ($12 bleachers) – but it obviously doesn’t hold a candle to what Yankee Stadium is. The ballpark in the Bronx is a temple that worships the Yankees far more than it is a place where baseball is played. This might be obvious, but going from the Coliseum to Yankee Stadium was walking into a freezing room on a boiling day. Everything about it – the giant ads everywhere, the shops, the confused people who didn’t care about the game, the $15 margaritas – was wonderful. Don’t take it for granted, you lucky people in the city. You could be attached to the
Oakland-Alameda Overstock.com O.com Coliseum like I am.