Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A bonding experience at the new Yankee Stadium

I greeted my son’s request to attend a game at the new Yankee Stadium with mixed emotions. Don’t get me wrong. I always enjoy going to ballgames with him because it’s an experience we’ve shared since he was a wee lad. And I knew the drive to and from New York would be a good bonding opportunity for father and son before he returned to the University at Buffalo this week for his junior year.

But I also knew that it meant I would have to see the old ballpark – the one where both he and I had witnessed our first major-league games – reduced to rubble.

A few weeks ago, I had attended a lecture by documentarian Ken Burns about sacred places. Well, for me the original Yankee Stadium was a sacred place, not merely because this was where the Babe, Joe D, Mickey and Jeter had performed their baseball heroics. But also because this was the place where I had spent memorable moments with my dad and later my son and daughter.

Pulling off the Major Deegan onto 161st Street last Thursday morning, I saw the blue, wooden construction boards surrounding the demolition site where the ballpark of my youth had once stood. After we parked, Chris and I walked around and were able to peek in at various spots and see bulldozers leveling ground and cranes loading huge chunks of concrete onto dump trucks. The sights and sounds of the heavy equipment were unnerving to me, but most fans heading across the street to the The House That George and The Taxpayers Built seemed oblivious. A painful reminder to this aging baby boomer that time marches on.

It still, though, bothers me that at least a section of the most famous ballpark in the world wasn’t retained as a historical landmark. Yes, it’s nice that they are going to build two youth baseball diamonds in a park-like setting on the old grounds, but why couldn’t they have preserved a small section of the bleachers and Gate 2 as a reminder that there used to be a ballpark here? I suppose they’ll erect a plaque denoting the old place, but there should have been a much bigger reminder of what a historical landmark the old Stadium was.

I had closed the old place and opened the new one, and I must grudgingly admit that the architects did a wonderful job of being true to the original Yankee Stadium design while building the new one. The outside walls and the return of the façade around the roof of the upper deck are nice, nostalgic touches, harkening back to the Stadium before the mid-1970 renovations. Nice, too, are the enromous pictures of legendary Yankee players in the massive Great Hall, which greets you as you enter the park. Another wonderful feature is the museum, which features World Series trophies, bats from Ruth, DiMag and The Mick, and Thurman Munson’s old locker, which was brought over from the old place.

As expected, the new park boasts all the modern conveniences – diverse concessions, palatial luxury suites, wide concourses and clean bathrooms. But progress comes with a steep price. Tickets for ordinary seats at the new stadium are ridiculously high – I mean, 90 freaking dollars to sit several rows up behind the leftfield wall is absurd. As is $9 a beer. No wonder the Yankees have only sold out three or four times this season, despite a seating capacity of about 50,000 – roughly 8,000 fewer seats than the old place.

Despite the exorbitant prices, father and son managed to have a great time. The Yankees rallied for 9 runs in the sixth as Derek Jeter tripled and Robbie Cano homered to beat the visiting Detroit Tigers handily. The experience cost an arm and a leg, but the bonding experience was once again priceless.

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