Saturday, November 19, 2005

Notes from an historic preservationist

I remember reading a story on about the new stadium and Derek Jeter was quoted as saying: "I think it's a great day," said Jeter. "There's a lot of history here. There were a lot of good memories here. Now we'll try to take that over across the street."

So, he is endorsing the new stadium. I wonder if Jeter realizes the enormous amount of parkland that the new stadium he will be playing in will take away from the community? In 1996, Jeter founded the Turn 2 Foundation, which promotes athletic programs that encourage the city's youth to lead healthy lives. Yet, the youth of the South Bronx will have their ballfields and vast park space taken away from them, which means that Jeter is supporting a move that hurts the neighborhood kids. I respect Derek Jeter as a player and I admire the mission of his Turn 2 Foundation, but doesn't he see the conflict?

Also, as far as Yankee Stadium, I am amazed that Yankee fans have so easily accepted this new stadium. For 82 years, the Yankees have played at this same site and it remains unique as a home of champions. Neil Sullivan, a Los Angeles Dodgers fan, wrote in his book, Diamond in the Bronx: Yankee Stadium and the Politics of New York, that the World Series visits other ballparks, but its home is Yankee Stadium. I am fully aware of the 1970s renovation, but isn't it interesting to note that it is still considered such a special place in baseball?

For over 100 years, New York has been a baseball town. Before and during the time the Yankees were winning world championships, the New York Giants of the Polo Grounds and the Brooklyn Dodgers of Ebbets Field were successful teams. Should we lose Yankee Stadium, the last of New York's classic stadiums will be gone. Yankee Stadium is much more than just its architecture, it is a cultural monument to baseball. You can't just recreate the moments that make this place the "Cathedral of Baseball" and you can't just transport the Stadium "ghosts" in vans and limos to the new ballpark, despite what Joe Torre jests. I don't believe for one second that Joe Torre and Derek Jeter really support this move, or maybe I'm naive and I put too much faith in them. Ballplayers who truly love the game understand the Stadium's importance and to play there is often the highlight of many players' careers. When rookies come to the Stadium for the first time, they take everything in. They walk the field, they visit Monument Park. They understand what's happened there. Derek Jeter is a future Hall of Famer and he no doubt will join Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle and others as a Yankee legend. When he retires and comes back for Old Timer's Day, he shouldn't return to a phony replica over Macombs Dam Park, he should return to the hallowed ground that made him that legend.

On another note, Yankee management keeps saying that the seats in the new stadium will be closer to the action, but this is terribly misleading. If you look at the renderings for the new stadium the only seats that are closer to the field are in the lower deck (the ones in the first several rows specifically). The upper deck is *much* farther away from the field in the new plan. The great thing about the current stadium is that the cantilever holding up the upper deck allows fans to be really close for a ticket that's reasonably priced. I've been going to Yankee games since I was 10 and the upper deck has some of the best views of the game, you really feel right on top of the action. In the new plan, almost all of the seats are in the lower deck, which means that more fans are actually *farther* away from the action than in the current stadium. Perhaps Yankee management really means that people who can afford expensive tickets will be closer to the action in the new stadium. Also, I can't believe that the Yankees say their park is not functional. This year they had an attendance of over 4 million people, something that's never been done in baseball history. They've been first in attendance for the past 3 years and since 1998 have been in the top 3 in the league in attendance. Boston was able to save Fenway Park, which only has about 35,000, so why can't the Yankees work with their 56,000+ stadium? The Tiger Stadium Fan Club was able to provide a plan that would retrofit the former home of the Detroit Tigers (now vacant). They hired an architect to prove it could be done and they came up with a budget of 26 million dollars. Half of that expense was for luxury suites that the Tigers wanted. They couldn't save Tiger Stadium in the end (Tiger management was bent on having more parking), but their fan club membership grew to 11,000 people from all over the country. Surely, nationwide (even worldwide) support is possible for Yankee Stadium.

I know of people who can't believe the Yankees are leaving their hallowed ground. There must be a way to bring these Yankee fans and the South Bronx community together in this fight to save the stadium and to save parkland.

Amanda Davis
Columbia University, Historic Preservation program


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