"A Stadium Is in, and a Park Is Out" NY Times ($elect) 8/17/6
A Stadium Is in, and a Park Is Out
By GEORGE VECSEY
Published: August 17, 2006
ON Tuesday morning, a Bronx man went for a jog on the red track, just to the north of Yankee Stadium — “but we were stopped by security,” noted the runner, Representative José E. Serrano, a Democrat from the Bronx.
Serrano was not surprised that Macombs Dam Park was shut down forever, since he and virtually all the power structure of New York have been cheerleading for the construction of a new Yankee Stadium in its place. He just happened to miss his last ceremonial run on the track that has served his family for decades.
With the exception of the so-called dignitaries wielding shovels at the official groundbreaking for the new stadium, Macombs Dam Park lay empty yesterday. Nobody was playing ball on the diamond and nobody was running on the synthetic track. Police and metal stanchions blocked off the land from the public. The next people to run on this particular plot of ground will be named Jeter and Rodriguez, presumably in 2009.
•Instead, residents jogged on the sidewalk of River Avenue, past the ubiquitous baseball bars and souvenir shops. The neighbors were getting their exercise any way they could, until the Yankees and the city fill in the leftover bits of real estate with playgrounds for the locals.
“This may be fine for the super-limo and Hummer crowd,” said Michael Levy Trotter, who was protesting at the corner of 161st Street and River Avenue under the elevated train behind center field at Yankee Stadium. “But I use a MetroCard, and the parks have always been sacred to people like me.”
Trotter, who said he “works in education,” is the vice president of Save Our Parks, a group that has been litigiously unable to stop the construction of the new Yankee Stadium on existing parkland. The polite little protest yesterday was drowned out by the rumble of the elevated train. At the groundbreaking, there was no sound of discord, only the vague acknowledgment that not everybody loves this kind of progress.
Nobody was quite sure what a slow-moving George Steinbrenner meant in his brief speech when he said the Yankees were building this new pleasure palace for “you people.” Was the Boss referring to the upwardly mobile Yankee fans from New Jersey and Westchester who can afford the baseball tickets of today? Was he addressing the youths of the Bronx who were paraded into the ceremony as charming props, and who may be given a few thousand tickets here and there? Who, exactly, are “you people”? But George does not elaborate much these days.
On the other hand, Serrano, a baseball fan and a runner, was not exactly throwing himself in front of the shovels, nor were any other elected officials in attendance. The building of a new Yankee Stadium, with the Yankees chipping in at least $800 million, was labeled “win-win-win” by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg — “unless you just don’t like anything,” added the mayor, who was turned down last year on a foolish bid to build an impractical sports complex for the 2012 Summer Games.
There may indeed be good reasons to build a new baseball stadium in the Bronx, particularly because the political process over recent decades has shamed the Yankees into paying for a chunk of it themselves — a development that seems to be catching on around the United States. Make rich people pay to upgrade their businesses? How revolutionary.
It is also true that the current Yankee Stadium, opened in 1923 and rebuilt in 1974-75, is an outmoded dump. It does not work on any level, except to inspire awe. The physical plant does not handle contemporary XL hips — or egos. On chilly October nights (playing in October is the whole point of Yankee-ness), with fans lurching down narrow corridors, wearing layers of clothing and fueled on alcohol and Yankee triumphalism, the joint is an absolute horror show.
With all due respect to museum pieces like Wrigley Field and Fenway Park (and I cannot wait to go back to quaint, refurbished Fenway this weekend), the Yankees need a new stadium. So do the Mets, who are also getting one, Shea Stadium being worse than a dump — a nondescript dump. But these enterprises take money and energy and land and priorities. And sometimes the people wind up jogging on the sidewalk instead of on a track.
All the politicians yesterday harped on the promise of jobs (building hospitals and schools and even parks presumably creates jobs). But baseball does stage 81 home games a season, far more than any other sport. There is much to be said for any town that can hang out a sign, from April through September, that says Ballgame Tonight.
And it could have been worse. At one stage, years ago, Steinbrenner was dithering about moving the team to a state to the west or perhaps to the West Side of Manhattan.
“The Jersey or the West Side Bombers just doesn’t sound right,” Serrano said yesterday in his speech. “The Bronx Bombers — that’s the sweetest sound you’ll ever here.”
•So the Yankees are staying in the Bronx. Good for them. They are even paying for some of it. The city is providing the infrastructure, which, as Bloomberg correctly noted yesterday, is what cities do. The state is even promising a railroad station to alleviate traffic — but we have heard that song before. The builders are promising all kinds of cute and nostalgic touches in the new stadium, behind walls, like a fortress.
Until all this Yankee progress gets done, the folks who live near old or future Yankee Stadium can go play in the street, and try not to get hit by the visiting limos and Hummers.