For This Fan, a Homecoming

Late rally comes up short, Yankees fall to O's
Game 104: Bartday
(Photo by Kwong Yee Cheng from flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons.)

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 Coliseum like I am.

Late rally comes up short, Yankees fall to O's
Game 104: Bartday
  • bgeary

    Nice job on this, Hannah. Just reminds me of how badly I want to go to the Stadium for the first time.

  • SCT

    Nice article, Hannah. I was raised a Yankee Fan and grew up on Long Island. I’m now living in FL and haven’t been back to NY in almost 15 years. Now, 31 with a wife and three kids, it’s kinda hard to make the trip back. I’m actually visiting NY in September and hitting up a Yankee game while I’m there (an absolute must). I know for a fact my jaw will be dropped to the floor and I will look like a fool walking around taking pictures every two feet. Seeing the Yankees vs the Rays at the Trop, just doesn’t cut it. Again, great article, makes me even more excited about seeing the stadium in Sept.

  • sjferrari

    I finally made it to new Yankee Stadium this past April for a game against the Rangers. It was an advanced scouting trip for our move back to New York from Chicago. I was certainly impressed and now that I’m back for good (although living in Queens), I hope I make it to the Bronx more often.

  • Grit for Brains

    House that George built.

  • Ro

    Wonderful post. I have lived in NJ all my life, have been to the new Stadium at least a dozen times, and it is still as majestic as the first time I experienced it. The whole place and its immediate surroundings were built to inspire a sense of awe, and it succeeds every time.

  • Mickey Scheister

    Nice article! I was living in Seattle when the stadium opened up and I planned a trip to NY the first (exhibition) game against the Cubbies. If I remember correctly Cody Ransom hit a homerun. The seats were mostly empty because everyone was walking around and taking in all it’s grandeur. A must see for any baseball fan. I haven’t been back to NY since, but I want to go for a playoff game this year.

  • bombers

    AT&T isn’t all that far out of the beating track from oakland, which is a pretty damn nice stadium. It’s not like your stuck going to oakland games.

  • duzzi23

    The new stadium is beautiful and amazing but I miss goin to the old place and the history of it.

  • Ice devil

    One of your best, hannah. A great perspective to read for someone like me who has been near the city for his whole life.

  • Oscar Gamble’s Fro

    Great post, Hannah. Really great post.

    One of the touches in the New Stadium that I really love is the banners of the all-time greats when you walk in running perpindicular to the massive flat screen. The best thing about the banners, to me, is how they have the old-timers (Dimaggio, Mantle, Berra etc.) in black and white and the more modern day guys (Mattingly, Jackson, Guidry etc.) in color. I absolutely loved that when I first noticed it.

    I will say though, that the New Stadium just doesn’t hold sound like the old one. Yeah, the place was completely hopping in Game 6 versus the Angels, and when Jeter got 2,722 (I was there for both), but during regular season games, even big Red Sox games, or just exciting close ones, it just doesn’t get that loud. I’m not sure if that’s the acoustics of the place or if the hard core fans have been priced out, but the whole place cheering with two strikes or the “Let’s Go Yankees” chants throughout the game are few and far between; it definitely detracts from the experience and is also kinda sad.

    Ha, you mentioned the Subway Races, love ’em!

    Another nice touch is the ability to see the actual subway running outside the righfield part of the Stadium.

    I guess the New Stadium definitely has its upsides and they did a great job of making the view of the field look almost just like the old one, but man, I really do miss the raucous atmosphere that just isn’t captured at the New Stadium unless it’s an ultra huge game or ultra huge moment.

    Anyway, again, great post.

  • Gonzo

    Made me feel like a kid again. Bravo.

  • Joseph Cecala

    When I read ‘the house Jeter built’ I threw up in my mouth a little.

    • gc

      That’s OK, you’ll get over it. You could do a whole lot worse as a franchise (and not much better) than to have someone like Derek Jeter represent what you stand for. Regardless of how father time has caught up with him, he remains, and will always be one of the great Yankees of all-time. Embrace it, because there’s no getting around it.

  • Bucket Cock

    Yeah, this was a good post, I have to say, I don’t think the stadium is quite this bad but I do like it a lot anyhow.

  • gc

    I loved going to the old stadium and I love going to the new stadium. I think the new place gets a bad rap sometimes, and I understand why, but I also think the old place gets over-romanticized occasionally as well. We were all very spoiled those last ten years as the place was near capacity all the time. But I can remember before that (even during some very good years, and even some championship years in the 70’s) when the place would be half empty every night. I have vivid memories of running around the upper deck as a kid with my best friend during the 1977 championship season and there was hardly anybody up there, just blue seats as far as the eye could see. The “sound” of the place wasn’t nearly as thunderous as we came to expect during the glory years of 3 million + in attendance during the late 90’s and 2000’s before it closed down.

    The new place can rock every now and then, just as good as the old place. We all saw it in the 2009 post-season and some memorable games in between and since. It’s the fans that make the place go, just as it was in the old stadium. It wasn’t always a raucous free for all across the street back then, and it isn’t always understated today. I think we just like to remember the best times and forget all the rest, which is human nature. Especially when it comes to something that meant so much to us as the original Yankee Stadium.

    I’m glad you had such a great time on your first visit. Here’s to many more!

    • Andrew518

      If you want to remember those days of the 70’s and 80’s just stay past the seventh inning in the new stadium, I don’t mind the new stadim astheticaly however I’d rather go back to the days of 20,000 fans who wanted to be there instead of today when 47,000 people show up to say they were there and then leave.

      Seriously the last game I went to the people in front of me spent a good portion of the time looking at baby pictures on their phone. Come on…there’s 21 other hours of the day to look at baby pictures. You can do what you wish, but when you make me sit further away from the field so that you can not pay attention to the game I have a problem.

  • thumper

    I have no analysis or stimulating thoughts to provoke a discussion, I would just like to pass on my compliments to you Hannah – very well written.

  • Monteroisdinero

    I’ve lived in the East Bay. Best thing about Oakland/Alameda Coliseum are the good, cheap seats you can get when the Yanks come to town. Now I live in Virginia and see the Yanks play in ST and Camden Yards with an occasional trip to Scranton and YS.

    Times change but the Yanks live on!

  • Justin Liu

    Great article , Hannah. I still haven’t made my way back to NY for a pilgrimage.

    BTW, it’s actually worse – it’s the “ Coliseum” (no ‘m’). Just rolls off the tongue…

  • mike_h

    well hannah time for you to move back to the east coast