Being a fifty plus year fan of the New York Yankees and a traditionalist when it comes to our National Pastime, I was prepared to not like the Yankees’ new home. I hated to see the original “House that Ruth Built” closed and also hated how the YES cameras kept showing shots of Baseball’s Cathedral being demolished in eerie stages during the 2009 season.
At first, I paid most of my attention to all the things I didn’t like about the “House that George Built.” The astronomical ticket cost for the first eight rows of seats surrounding the infield reminded me of the Roman Coliseum’s seating policy. When it became evident that the large chunks of these “Legends Seats” that remained unsold could not be hidden from the camera’s view during televised Yankee games, they became an embarrassment to the team’s ownership, serving as a constant reminder of the highest ticket prices in all of baseball.
I was also not a fan of the underground parking garage that permitted Yankee players and visiting team busses to enter the Stadium completely hidden from fan view. Some of my favorite memories as both a child and a parent took place while I was leaning against those blue NYPD police barricades that used to form a walking path between the old Stadium’s player parking lot and the street entrance to the Yankee clubhouse. Now, no future Yankee fans or their Dad’s would get to create those same memories.
I admit it was nice to see Jorge Posada hit the first home run in the place, but it was obvious that the new Stadium’s designers had created a homer haven when balls kept leaving that yard at a record pace. Sports journalists around the country were calling baseball’s newest venue a joke.
Before too long, however, I stopped paying attention to the things I didn’t like and started focusing on the performance of that 2009 Yankee team. They kept winning ballgames, both in their new home and on the road and before you knew it, they made it to the World Series.
My wife and I chose the second game of that Series to make our inaugural visit to the new Yankee Stadium. I have to admit that everything about the place (except the prices) impressed me. The improved surrounding neighborhood, the Great Hall, the openness of the walk and concession areas, spacious bathrooms that didn’t smell of urine, the Yankee Museum, the positioning of the seats and the great sound system that started blaring Frank Sinatra’s “New York” the instant Matt Stairs struck out swinging at Mariano’s final pitch of the game, turning the tide of that Fall Classic in the Yankees’ favor.
As my wife and I walked back to the parking lot that night I had fallen in love with the place. I also admit that if the Yanks had lost that game that night to fall behind 2-0 in that Series against Philadelphia, my feelings about the place may not have changed.
On April 18, 1923, the most famous stadium in baseball history first opened its gates. To die hard Yankee fans like myself, the original Yankee Stadium was a shrine. Two years ago at this same time, the YES Network cameras kept shooting scenes of that shrine during televised Yankee games being played in the new site, showing the once regal “House that Ruth built” in an eerie state of partial demolition. It was upsetting to see it like that.
I’m a bit embarrassed because I’m not exactly sure of the date I attended my first game at Yankee Stadium. It may have been 1961 but it was probably more likely in 1962. I can guarantee you that we left Amsterdam at 4:00 AM that morning and drove down to the Bronx in my Uncle Jim’s 1951 two-door Lincoln coupe. As we drove down the Deegan past the George Washington Bridge I will never forget the exact moment the brown stone facade of the Stadium first became visible.
I know that we were one of the first cars to park in the outdoor lot that used to sit directly across from the old Stadium. I’m sure we went to Jerome’s, a cafeteria-style restaurant that was located kitty corner to the Stadium and that I was able to take perhaps two total sips from the fullest, hottest, and strongest cup of coffee I had ever had in my then short lifetime.
I remember getting in line in one of those old ticket kiosks that used to encircle the Stadium and being startled by the sudden sound of the kiosk’s window opening as tickets for that days game went on sale. I remember wondering how the tallest and fattest ticket agent that I’ve still ever seen managed to get inside the telephone booth sized structure without me seeing him do so. I will never forget my Uncle, who to this day has never been able to make a decision on his own, kept asking the impatient agent question after question about the best places to sit to see the field, be out of the sun, buy a hot dog and get to the bathroom. I remember my Uncle finally buying three field box seats, halfway between first base and the right field foul pole giving the guy a twenty-dollar bill and actually getting change.
I remember how disappointed I was when my Uncle told me we still had a few hours to wait before the Stadium gates actually opened for that day’s double-header with the Senators. I don’t remember if we headed back to Jerome’s to wait or took the subway to downtown Manhattan because we ended up doing one or the other whenever my creature of habit Uncle took us to a game. But what I do still remember, as if it was yesterday morning instead of over 45 years ago, was after finally getting inside running up the ramp to the field-level box seat section behind home plate and for the very first time seeing that beautifully manicured green grass field and that huge Centerfield scoreboard with the Ballantine Beer logo.
The Yanks swept the double header that day. My Uncle bought me a yearbook and I used the money my parents had given me for a souvenir to purchase a package of five by eight glossy photographs of each player on the Yankee team. I remember reading every page of that Yearbook, including the ads, during the long ride home. And as we made our way back upstate and afternoon turned to nighttime, I remember squinting my eyes in the darkness of the backseat of my Uncle Jim’s big Lincoln to stare at my black and white photos of Mantle, Maris, Ford, Skowren, Richardson, Berra, Howard and the rest of the Bronx Bombers. It was one of the happiest days of my life.
Fortunately. I’ve had the chance to relive the magic of that moment quite a few times when both of my sons, my wife and my two daughters each made their first visits to Yankee Stadium. My last of what has been over 100 trips to one of my favorite places in the world took place in June of 2008, when my two sons treated me to a Yankee game as a Fathers Day gift. As usual, I had a blast.
I’ve been to the new place across the street and it certainly is magnificent. But for me, Yankee Stadium will always be the place where Ruth changed the sport forever; where Gehrig considered himself the luckiest man on Earth; where the great DiMaggio roamed center field; where Mantle and Maris chased destiny; where great Yankees like Murcer and Mattingly kept alive the Pinstripe pride during long absences from postseason play; where young kids like Jeter evolved into Hall of Famers and where the Yankees won their first 26 World Series.