A tale of two new Stadiums
A look at the new Yankee Stadium and Citi Field from a fan's perspective
Both parks are big and bright, gaudy, blinking monuments to sensory overload
The best part of both new stadiums? The huge HD scoreboards, and the food
George Steinbrenner, the most famous owner of the free agency era, was at the new Yankee Stadium on Opening Day. When he was introduced, his daughter Jenny, sitting next to him, gently raised his right arm so that he could wave to the crowd. His roar may be gone, but the old lion was able to see his palace open. I watched Steinbrenner choking back emotion on the scoreboard TV from the concourse behind home plate. Next to me, a Yankee fan in a Paul O'Neill jersey had a homemade sign hanging from a string around his neck. It read: "The House that LOOT Built."
The Mets and Yankees have opened their new baseball megalopolises during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and yet have priced them so that they're inacessible to the average fan, a slap in the face to the taxpayers who helped foot the bill for the parks' construction as well as the emergency bailouts. The storylines all year will be about the drop in attendance -- in New York and around the country. Given the outrageousness of ticket prices (the average price at Yankee Stadium is $72.97, compared with the MLB average of $26.64), many fans will prefer to stay home and watch baseball in high definition. In the meantime, the lounges and bars and upscale restaurants at both the new Yankee Stadium and the Mets' Citi Field will remain half-empty at best.
Both parks are big and bright, garish, blinking monuments to sensory overload. If the new Yankee Stadium is still the Palladium, then Citi Field is the State Fair on steroids. The sheer volume of advertisements in both places is breathtaking, the scoreboard TVs enormous, the exclusivity pronounced.
The telling difference between the two new parks is that the new Yankee Stadium still attempts to evoke the spirit of its predecessor, a sensation that is alternatively reassuring and disorienting. Citi Field, however, is a complete departure from Shea. There are no more blue and orange seats, barely a trace of the Mets' previous home, which is now a parking lot. (There is one reminder: the red apple that pops out of a hat in centerfield when a Met hits a home run. The new apple is so comically large that it resembles the giant produce in Sleeper.)
The divergence in the two clubs' approaches was inevitable. "Shea was old when it was new and the old Yankee Stadium never got old," said Fox analyst Tim McCarver last week. "You could have gone on and on and on with the old Yankee Stadium. You could not have done that with Shea."
Many Mets fans will tell you they are happy to have a new, updated park, even if some miss Shea, but I spoke to a lot of Yankee fans over the winter who are so repulsed by the idea of the new Stadium and its prices that they hate it even before they've even seen it. There's no reason for a new Stadium, they say, upset on principle. And yet, there is no arguing that both facilities had become functionally outdated, even if, at least in the case of Yankee Stadium, the building remained aesthetically pleasing. It's the execution of the new buildings, encompassing pricing as well as design, that has the power to engage and disgust.
I've heard the new Yankee Stadium compared to the gaudy, hyperthyroid feel of video games like Grand Theft Auto. The analogy is apt, with perhaps the closest real-world equivalent being a baseball game held on the Las Vegas strip. The same goes for Citi Field; both parks most resemble being inside a gigantic pinball machine. Busy and distracted, they feel as uncomfortable and indulgent as brand new pair of kicks fresh out of the box.
New Yankee Stadium pushes nomadic experience
The first thing you see when you step off the subway at 161st street and River Avenue in the Bronx is Yankee Stadium -- the old Yankee Stadium. It is still there, the immense, impersonal gray structure that had long seemed indomitable. It is fated to be taken apart, piece by piece over the next year and a half.
Look across the street, a block north, and you see the new coliseum, the words "Yankee Stadium" in towering Roman letters high above on the facade. The old grey is now a light brownish color. It almost sparkles in the sunlight, like an old city apartment building after a scrubbing. A Hard Rock Cafe sits on the corner of the stadium, a Yankee Team Store next to it.
There are three newly designed crosswalks where police herd waves of predominantly suburban masses across the busy roadway of 161st Street (most of the parking is to the south). Only a few look back at the old building. Some have their pictures taken with it in the background. On the uptown 4 train, you can look inside the old place between the gap of the right field stands and the bleachers. The seats are still there but there is no grass on the field. The floor is a carpet of dirt. The hum of conversation in the subway car comes to a halt as people look inside the ghost town. They make quiet remarks like "whoa," "weird" and "empty."
The Yankees use their history to great advantage. As you walk through the turnstiles, you enter a large, open hall with enormous posters of Yankee greats hanging from high above. The sound of radio announcer John Sterling narrating a Yankeeography echoes through the air. Stadium employees ask if they can help you. The openness is pleasant and inviting, a change from the non-existent approach to customer service of the old building.
The first view of the field, that dramatic moment that reminds us of being kids, has been altered. At the old place, you climbed through a maze of concrete ramps and then up a narrow walkway before you see grass. Now, once you approach the wide concourses on the field or the upper deck level, the first thing you notice is the space. There is nothing confined about it -- your eye is immediately greeted by light and openness. In the process, some of the suspense and mystery of that initial panorama is lost.
The new Yankee Stadium is simultaneously bigger and smaller than before. There is more space but fewer seats (Opening Day attendance was 48,271; last year, it was 55,112). The outfield dimensions are similar but there is less room in foul territory behind home plate. Monument Park is now in a smaller, interior space beyond the centerfield fence, just under the Mohegan Sun sports bar, a box of tinted glass in the batter's eye (the inside of the bar suggests a soundproof fish bowl that was dropped in the middle of the bleachers).
Charm was not a word that readily applied to the old Yankee Stadium but if it had any it was because of the forced intimacy that it imposed on the crowd. That doesn't exist anymore. The seats are more spaced-out; rows in each section are shorter and more compact, accentuating a stacked look. The upper deck is not as steep or as tall as it used to be, so the claustrophobic feeling of being huddled on top of each other and on top of the action is gone. They are also pushed back, receding approximately 30 feet further from the action. The upper deck is also split in two, divided by a concourse, which conveys more openness and light -- and is possibly the cause of the wind patterns that have vaulted the ball over the fences in during the Yankees' first home stand.
One of the results of the new configuration is that the stadium is not nearly as loud. When the old place got to rocking, it was an awesome experience, inspiring and terrifying at the same time -- it really did feel like it was going to collapse in on itself. But the M.O. of the new Stadium (this holds true at Citi Field, as well) is pointed in the opposite direction, oriented toward an isolated, nomadic -- rather than communal -- experience. Why stay in your seat when you can walk the concourses, have a drink at the Hard Rock and check out the Stadium Store? There's even a window where you can stop and watch a high-end, Zagat-rated butcher at work. If you like what you see, you can order a $15 steak sandwich (the food at the stadium is diverse and expensive if not always memorable).
At any given time, thousands of fans are out of their seats strolling around the park, distracted. The wide concourses are tougher to navigate, especially with a large amount of folks walking and texting at the same time. Sound is evenly piped throughout the stadium, omnipresent and even. There is no room to think.