Improving the Yankee Stadium experience

When Opening Day rolls around in a few months, it will be the fourth at the new Yankee Stadium. Christened with a World Series in its first year, the new Stadium has simply become a comfortable home. I haven’t forgotten the old park; considering how much time I spent there during my teenage years, I never will. But the new place is where I got to see a lot of games every summer and will be for most of the rest of my life.

That said, the new stadium is far from perfect. I miss the intimacy and vastness of the Tier level, and I miss the view into Monument Park. The current home is a temple to the gaudiness of the Yankees, and it’s easy for a guy who doesn’t want to go broke attending baseball to feel a bit marginalized from the field.

As the seasons have marched on, the Yankees haven’t really done much to the new Yankee Stadium. They painted the overbearing concrete in the bleachers a darker shade of blue and made some minor upgrades, but as the Mets lower the fences and try to bring some semblance of their own history to their new stadium, the Yankees are content with what they’ve built. They could make some changes though, and as Opening Day inches closer, I have my own wishlist for the new house.

1. Mystique and Aura in the Stands
Once upon a time at the old park, it used to be possible to roam the stadium before the game with, by and large, free reign of the place. At a certain time, ushers would gently ask fans to head to their seats, but autograph hounds could stake out batting practice. At the new park, the general atmosphere in the lower seating bowls is one somewhere between antipathy and hostility. Guards will promptly sweep out people who aren’t where they should be a good 90 minutes before first pitch, and forget about ever crossing the moat that separates most fans from the field.

The Yankees needn’t compromise on their high-ticket packages to make the place a bit more welcoming for those who just want a close-up of the field. Calling off the hounds earlier on and making the fans more welcome would go a long way toward instilling the stadium with its own set of mystique and aura. We’re fans. We want to be there, and we’re not out to cause trouble.

2. Better Food
For all the promise of better food the new stadium brought with it, the non-exclusive dining options are your run-of-the-mill stadium stands. The hot dog buns aren’t much, and the specialty stands feature bland and overpriced items with ever-shrinking portions. The debut of Parm in the Great Hall was a fantastic start last season, but with Shake Shack and Blue Smoke headlining Citi Field, our ballpark in the Bronx has a long way to go. The crab legs I had that one time in the Legends Suites were pretty damn good though.

3. Monument Cave
At the old stadium, Monument Park and the retired numbers were a point of pride for the Yankees. They were visible throughout the stadium and during the game. At the new park, the monuments are buried beneath a sports bar and are covered for first pitch. The Yanks’ rich history has been rendered an afterthought, and we espy only glimpses of the retired numbers. I have to think the club could flip the visitors’ bullpen with Monument Park to make it a more open-air attraction as it used to be.

4. Between-Inning Entertainment
We’ve had the same between-inning entertainment options for eons now. Yankee trivia, Who’s That Baby?, Match Game NY — the list goes on and on and on. Between that and the staid selection of stadium songs that filter over the PA system, the in-game production could use a refresh.

Winter Classic at Yankee Stadium? Wait ’til 2016

The Yankees have been trying to bring the NHL’s Winter Classic to the Bronx since their new stadium opened in 2009, but scheduling conflicts with the Pinstripe Bowl have prevented that from happening. Despite the team’s continued efforts, Larry Brooks says Yankee Stadium is likely out of play until their Pinstripe Bowl contract expires just before 2016. The 2013-2015 Winter Classics are expected to be held in Ann Arbor, Washington D.C., and Minnesota.

If you’ve been reading RAB long enough, you know I’m also a hockey fan, casual more than anything. I know a few people that went down to Philadelphia for yesterday’s game at Citizens Bank Park, and I have yet to hear a bad thing about the experience despite the wind and cold. A game in the Bronx would be absolutely amazing and another huge cash influx for the team, presumably bigger than whatever they’re getting out of the Pinstripe Bowl. If you missed the Rangers beating the Flyers in yesterday’s crazy dramatic Winter Classic, there are the highlights.

Surprise! Ticket prices going up in 2012

The Yankees announced their general ticket prices for the 2012 season today, saying that 70% of the prices are unchanged or have been reduced. That does not include the bleachers though, where non-obstructed view seats will now cost you $20 a pop. They were only $12 as recently as 2010. Grandstand level seats between first and third bases will jump three bucks to $28, while seats beyond the bases at that level will remain at $20. Field level and main level seats beyond the bases are dropping as much as $50. David Waldstein and David Li have some details.

Yanks still trying to bring NHL’s Winter Classic to Yankee Stadium

Yankee Stadium hosted its third college football game this weekend, as Rutgers beat Army by a score of 27-12 on Saturday. While at the game, Mark Herrmann asked Lonn Trost about possible future non-baseball sporting events at Yankee Stadium, to which the team’s CEO responded “Hopefully, we’ll have hockey here.”

The Yankees tried to bring the NHL’s annual Winter Classic to the Bronx three years ago, but conflicts with other events at the Stadium prevented it from happening. The Rangers are playing in this year’s outdoor exhibition, but it will be played at Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia on New Years’ Day. There are rumblings that the 2013 Winter Classic will played at Michigan Stadium on the campus of the University of Michigan, so Trost might not get his wish until 2014 at the earliest. Whenever the Yankees do get the game, I will totally be there.

Did the Short Porch Sink the Yankees?

Amount of parks this is a home run in: 1.

The “too many homers” narrative was one of the most common ones to the plague the Yankees this year, staring from game 1 (home runs from Granderson and Teixeira) and dragging all the way through the season. The Yankees eventually finished first in home runs with 222 and second in total runs with 867, meaning that roughly 25% of all the runs the Yankees scored were via the longball. While this seems like a lot, the fightin’ Baltimore Showalters had 191 home runs and 708 runs, pulling almost 30% of their runs from dingers. I guess that’s what happens when you employ Mark Reynolds. Yankees fans have spent most of the year making fun of this narrative and defending the team from it.

However, it was the long ball that both carried and sunk the Yankees in this short series. The right field short porch that has been so constantly vilified (but only when the Yankees hit homers in there), allowed Delmon Young, Miguel Cabrera, and Don Kelly to launch it out of the park. Two of those homers, Kelly’s in game 5 and Cabrera’s in game 2 would help sink the Bombers entirely. According to Hit Tracker Online, Delmon Young’s homer in the first part of game 1 would have been a homer in only one park: you guessed it, New Yankee Stadium. Cabrera’s was a homer in only two, while Don Kelly’s would have gone out in five different stadiums. Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson (Game 2) both would have left the park in seven different stadiums, while Delmon Young (a la game 5), and Robinson Cano (both times) hit it big enough to go out in every park.

It would have been nice if the Yankees could have take advantage of their own homer-friendly park (and Derek Jeter certainly tried), but in lieu of that, a clutch hit would have helped, in either Comerica or New York. Could the Yankees not get the hits with runners in scoring position at the most unfortunate time this year?

Game 1

Yankees: 2-for-12 w/ RISP, one homer (Cano)
Tigers: 4-for-7 w/RISP, one homer (Young)

Yankee Stadium Specials: one (Detroit)
Yankee hits w/ RISP that weren’t homers: (2: Cano, Gardner)

Game 2

Yankees: 0-for-7 w/ RISP, two homers (Swisher, Granderson)
Tigers: 3-for-10 w/ RISP, one homer (Cabrera)

Yankee Stadium Specials: one (Detroit)
Yankee hits /w RISP that weren’t homers: 0

Game 5

Yankees: 2-for-9 w/ RISP, one homer Cano)
Tigers: 1-for-9 w/ RISP, two homers (Kelly, Young)

Yankee Stadium Specials: 0 (You could argue Don Kelly’s was, but I’m going to say no.)
Yankees hits with RISP that weren’t homers: 1 (Cano, though this did not score a run)

It’s morbidly entertaining to me to see that another team can take advantage of a stadium feature that the team was constructed to use for their advantage, and then use it to thoroughly beat the Yankees. I’m not complaining about the short porch, just saying that it helps and harms in equal measure. The two runs Cabrera scored in game 2 were all that decided the game, and the tentative YS Special of Don Kelly’s dinger decided the series in the end. Plus, in Yankee Stadium, the Yankees went a total of 4-for-28 with runners in scoring position with a bases loaded walk, with only one of those hits being a home run (Cano), and one of them not scoring a hit at all. That really says it all.


PS: Does anyone have an official qualifier for what makes a Yankee Stadium Special? Footage? Exact row?

For This Fan, a Homecoming

(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 Overstock.com O.com Coliseum like I am.

Torrisi-run Parm to make Great Hall debut

When Yankee fans return to the stadium tomorrow after nearly two weeks away, they will be greeted by a new set of sandwiches in the Great Hall. As The Post reported, Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone, the braintrust behind Mulberry St. hot spot Torrisi Italian Specialities will be opening a branch of their new sandwich shop Parm tomorrow in the Great Hall. The branch of the sandwich shop will sell the Torrisi and a new meatball parm offering. No word yet on the prices, but the turkey sandwich goes for $11 at the downtown restaurant.

One of the investment partners, Jeff Zalaznick, spoke about the challenges facing the team as they prepare to expand their business. Usually, they sell 200-300 sandwiches per day, but with over 40,000 fans per game heading to the Bronx, their volume will increase. “For a small restaurant group, we have a lot on our plates,” Zalaznick said to The Post. “We’re probably the first restaurant of our size to do something like this. It’s a totally new market, who we hope will have an equal appreciation for our sandwiches.” Having a Torrisi sandwich outlet in Yankee Stadium greatly improves what I believe are lackluster food options in the new stadium; these sandwiches should be quite good. The bricks-and-mortar version of Parm will open later this summer.