Friday, April 03, 2009

"Grand Stage for Yanks, but at a Cost" NY Times 4/2/9

Grand Stage for Yanks, but at a Cost

Published: April 2, 2009

On the day the Yankees took the field in the gleaming new house that has already stirred debate about the real estate boom and bust, the sun broke through early-day clouds, Derek Jeter gave the new digs a firm thumbs-up and a Steinbrenner (Hal) answered the ceremonial first question about the manager’s job security.

“This is kind of an optimistic time right now; I haven’t even thought of it,” Steinbrenner, who inherited the title general partner from his dad, the Boss, said after a midafternoon workout. But he went on to mouth Big George’s organizational mantra: Anything less than winning the World Series would be considered a failure. That ought to make the seat in Joe Girardi’s state-of-the-art office feel familiarly hot.

Across the street from the hallowed grounds, inside the new ballpark, you couldn’t shake the feeling that the original had given birth to a genetically engineered child. The decorative facade stretches tastefully around the top of the soaring upper deck, as it did in the original stadium. The 31,000-square-foot Great Hall between the exterior wall and the stadium interior is almost spatially disorienting. An especially nice touch is the glimpse of the No. 4 train rumbling by in the small opening between the otherwise majestic decked stands and the bleachers in right in an enclosed outfield overloaded with corporate signage.

The only missing piece of franchise grandiosity was No. 13 at third base. Rest assured, Alex Rodriguez will return and, like the new Yankee Stadium, will be even larger than he was in his previous life.

Nobody was more attached to the old Stadium than Jeter, but he came into the interview room (more of an assembly, actually) after hitting his first batting-practice pitch over the fence, and called the new place a palace.

“It looks like the old Stadium unless you look into the stands — the stands are a lot bigger,” he said.

Is bigger necessarily better? Johnny Damon, whose best years were spent in the intimacy of Fenway Park, said that depends. “In Boston, there isn’t much land to expand, but it’s still Fenway, still a pretty incredible place,” he said. “We were fortunate to get those parks.”

He meant the centralized parkland that the less fortunate neighborhood no longer has, thanks to the cooperation of municipal politicians. But there is no doubt that the roughly 4 million fans who visit Yankee Stadium this season will appreciate the splendor of the throwback outer shell, the roomy concourses, the expanded cushioned seats, the multiple concession options that include calorie counts next to every item on the menu.

Factoring most prices ($10 for a beer in a souvenir cup), that may be the most reliable deterrent in maintaining some level of recessionary cost control. The other obvious choice would be an obstructed $5 seat on a bench in the bleachers, where television screens have been built into a dividing wall that will allow fans to follow the ball as it rolls between Damon in left and Brett Gardner in center.

No question, this is an impressive stadium. But when the broadcaster John Sterling told assorted guests outside the partnering Hard Rock Cafe to go take a look at the playing field because “it will take your breath away,” I thought, well, the old Stadium did a pretty fair job of that, too.

Mets fans walking into Citi Field for the first time should be bowled over by the conversion from dowdy Shea, but Yankees fans haven’t exactly been sitting in the city dump since 1923.

The new Yankee Stadium is not about improved atmosphere; it is about amenities — and there are many. But in the context of New York’s fiscal reality, are they worth what was taken from the neighborhood folk, the taxpayer subsidies and the unholy prices of the premium seats, a fair number of which remain available?

“I think if anybody in any business had known where the economy was going to go, they would have done things differently,” Hal Steinbrenner said. “There’s no doubt that small amounts of our tickets might be overpriced.”

While “no doubt” and “might” weren’t quite the right word match, at least Steinbrenner admitted to something. The unsold seats that stand to create pockets of blue reminders of overreaching are the Yankees’ problem. But the Steinbrenners have what they long wanted, while the players have computer screens at their dressing stalls inside a mall of a clubhouse that has a kitchen with two chefs, among places where reporters won’t roam.

When the Yankees rolled into the South Bronx by bus Wednesday night, the young lefty reliever Phil Coke couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the two stadiums, side-by-side, lit up.

“I’ve never experienced anything like that before,” he said.

Of course, the demolition of the old Stadium is overdue. The neighborhood deserves at least some of its precious parkland back now that the house George M. Steinbrenner built with the help of the willing and the unwilling is officially open for business.

“I would have to think that it’s second to none,” Jeter said.

Or just what the Steinbrenners always demand of their Yankees.



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