Today I went on a Hajj from where I now live, in California, back to my ancestral home in Yankee Stadium. But not the old Yankee Stadium—this was the inaugural Opening Day of the new Yankee Stadium.
My review: it’s instantly the best stadium in baseball! I kid you not. In a world where every new stadium since Camden Yards is built to look retro, the new Yankee Stadium is the most marvelously retro of all.
It not only looks like a ballpark of old, but it looks like the Yankee Stadium of old! It feels like the Yankee Stadium of old. It has the heart of the Yankee Stadium of old!
That’s from inside the ballpark. Sitting in the seats, if you had woken up from a five year sleep and hadn’t been reading the newspapers, you would have thought you were in the old ballpark.
Sure, the place looks like it’s had a big face lift, the way the old Stadium had in 1973—the jumbotron is much bigger and snazzier, there are lots of new advertisements, and the seats are padded and way more comfortable than they used to be.
But the architects have reproduced the exact dimensions of the old field, and built a three-deck stadium with a reproduction of the old façade at the top that’s about the same height as the old three-deck stands.
The illusion is stupendous: it doesn’t take much imagination to think you’re really in the House that Ruth Built.
From the outside, as you approach the new Stadium from the same old subway stop at 161st Street, you’d also swear you were coming to the old Stadium after it had its sides cleaned from decades of soot. The outside is part of the illusion too, and it’s great.
Those of us who revered the old Yankee Stadium, plus Fenway and Wrigley, have always been mortified to think that those shrines might someday be replaced by something modern.
I’m here to tell you that Yankee Stadium is now modern, but it also isn’t. And that is truly wonderful.
In fact, one attendee—99 year-old Harry Heller from Bronxville, NY, had been to Opening Day at the original Yankee Stadium on Apr. 18, 1923!
They interviewed him on the jumbotron, and he was totally coherent and remembered the original Opening Day as any 13 old would have remembered it if he had been there.
He was an awesome connection to the Stadium of old, as was the usual line-up of Yankee greats on the field before the game—Yogi Berra, Don Larsen, Goose Gossage, and so many others.
In the pregame festivities, Bernie Williams even came out and played “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” on acoustic guitar (I wouldn’t pay to go to a Bernie Williams concert, but he is quite a good guitarist for a ballplayer).
It’s only when you are in the concourse of the new Stadium—inside the outside walls but behind the stands—that you realize it’s a completely new place. The concourses are now modern, airy and wide, so that it’s actually possible to walk from one place to another.
There are enormous food courts, with upscale trendy restaurants as well as old standards like Nathan’s for hot dogs and Carvel for soft ice cream. There are shops that sell Yankee sweatshirts and baseball caps, but also new upscale shops that sell things like expensive Yankee collectibles.
Bottom line: the inside has natural light and is functional, exciting, delicious, and gorgeous. The only complaint I had was that the men’s room near the nearest food court had longer lines than it should have.
I suspect that was simply because, on this Opening Day of all Opening Days, the attendees who made the pilgrimage to the Bronx were about 95 percent male. The ladies’ rooms had no lines at all, and I suspect on a regular game day with a normal proportion of males and females, the lines everywhere would have been fine.
George Steinbrenner was there. Sadly, his wife had to move his arm for him when he waved to the fans from the jumbotron. I hope he is aware enough to realize that his vision has been beautifully realized.
George lusted after a new Stadium for decades, a place where he could sell more expensive tickets, fancier food, and more luxury boxes—and make more money to keep stocking the team with the most expensive players. And, that’s what he built.
But, George has always been the most sentimental of team owners, full of passion for the tradition of the team he has been steward of since he bought it in 1973. And so, he built the most sentimental of new ballparks, and it shows.
I wasn’t lucky enough to catch a ball today. That also felt retro—I took my glove to at least 100 games at the old Stadium when I was growing up, but never got a chance to catch one.
I was about 20 feet away from the guy who grabbed the very first ball caught by a fan in the new park—a foul hit wide of third base. In the sixth inning, I was caught by a cameraman and saw myself on the jumbotron in time to wave before he moved on, which was thrill enough on this first Opening Day.
This article is a review of the Stadium itself, not really an editorial about the game. Despite that, I will make a few comments. Unfortunately, the game itself was the least retro thing about the entire day.
Jorge Posada hit the first homer in the new stadium, to huge cheers in the fifth inning, but Yankees were slaughtered 10-2. The result was different on Opening Day in 1923 when the Yanks won behind a Babe Ruth home run.
If Miller Huggins had been managing today the way he had in 1923, I think the Yankees might have won. CC Sabathia had given up only a single run when manager Joe Girardi yanked him with two outs in the sixth inning—not because CC was tiring, but because he was up to 122 on the pitch count.
CC has thrown a lot of innings and led the majors in complete games a number of times in his career—he is tough customer. In the old days, Miller Huggins would have left him in to finish the game.
Instead, long reliever Jose Veras gave up walks, hits, and finally a grand slam to Grady Sizemore of the Indians in a devastating nine-run inning.
I say this not to criticize Girardi, but to note that sometimes modernisms like the pitch count can get in the way.
So, the Yankees will have to wait to win their first game in the new ballpark. I minded, but being at the new park more than made up for it—for today, anyway. Everyone in attendance except the three Indians’ fans wanted the Yanks to win on Opening Day.
They left disappointed, but I am pretty sure they were thrilled by the new Stadium. If you closed your eyes while sitting in your seat, you could imagine you were in the ballpark where the Babe and Gehrig played, where Reggie became Mr. October.
And then, you could open your eyes and still imagine you were there—and that was the greatest thrill of all.