Many of us long for the ballparks of our youth. We’d love one more chance to walk through the corridors and glance upon the field where our childhood heroes played.
One enterprising Yankee fan is pursuing that desire in a unique way. Rick Kaplan, by day a mild-mannered CAD Systems Administrator, is in the midst of building a 3-D interactive recreation of the old Yankee Stadium, circa 1973.
I got the chance to interview Kaplan regarding his Yankee fandom, the reasons behind this audacious project and the challenges inherent in bringing the old Stadium “back to life”.
BB: How old were you on your first visit to the Stadium?
RK: Having grown up in the Bronx (Mosholu Pkwy), the Yankees were my home team. We used to get Yankee tickets through the PAL (Police Athletic League). I guess I went to my first Yankee game around 1965.
BB: Did you have any favorite players or memories of the Stadium?
RK: Most of the Yankee games I went to, we would be in the upper deck and I vividly remember how thrilling it was to walk out on the catwalks to get to our seats. You would be suspended above the mezzanine level – looking down on the crowd – and then emerge through the portal into the upper deck stands, which were impossibly steep. It was both thrilling and scary at the same time (I don’t think liability would permit such a design today).
I also remember being in the bleachers a few times (left field) and how far away from the field it seemed.
My favorite player as a kid was Horace Clarke.
I remember before the 1967 whitewash, the exterior concrete skin was badly cracked. It looked a bit tired. I really like the post-‘67 look, with the white paint on the outer walls and façade and the blue seats. That’s the time period my model represents.
BB: Did either of your parents get to the pre-renovated Stadium?
RK: Before my brothers and I started taking the subway on our own, my Mom would take us to Yankee Stadium. My dad, a Giant fan (and then a Met fan after the Giants left) would take us to Shea to see the Mets. I found out later that he and Uncle Fred never set foot in Yankee Stadium all the time they lived in New York (My uncle Fred still lives in Queens). I think they considered it enemy territory.
BB: Where did the inspiration come from for this project?
RK: I’ve always been interested in architecture and stadiums in particular. I worked as an usher at Giants Stadium (1978-79). The pre-renovated Yankee Stadium was such an interesting place. I wanted to recreate the feeling of being there again.
BB: What is the ultimate goal for this project?
RK: One idea is to have an interactive 3D website where people can experience the stadium. Maybe even have virtual events there. I’m in the process of researching the technical issues involved. Another thing I want to do is create several walk-through animations. Maybe something with a soundtrack of memorable events that took place there. I’ve even been approached by home run experts who want to plot the trajectories of famous home runs. The fact that it’s a virtual model – not constrained by physical limitations – makes the possibilities endless.
BB: I notice you’re a “doodler” and have a lot of your drawings on-line. Did you grow up also doing things like building model airplanes and the like?
RK: Oh yes. My brothers and I had entire armies and navies of model tanks, planes and ships. There was a sibling “balance of power” in models.
BB: What part of the pre-renovated Stadium’s architecture intrigues you the most, from both a fan’s perspective and a renderer’s perspective?
RK: From a fan’s perspective, the shear size of the place was impressive. The façade (frieze) added a touch of majesty to the place that you didn’t find in other stadiums. The other thing was the shape of the field/stand boundary. It was asymmetrical. The short right field porch, the sloping center field wall that dropped back as you went further toward left and then came back in again. It wasn’t a cookie cutter design.
From the perspective of a modeler – The utilitarian nature of stadium is something that fascinates me. There were few frills – unlike modern stadiums – yet it served as a great sports venue for over 80 years. It’s the Bronx equivalent of the Coliseum in Rome.
BB: For the technogeeks out there, please describe the hardware and software you are using for this project?
RK: For the 3D modeling, I’m using AutoCAD Map 5, a somewhat older, GIS version of AutoCAD. This is a very stable application for creating very large 3D models. I’m also an AutoCAD programmer and have written several applications that help to make 3D modeling in AutoCAD faster and easier.
For rendering and animation, I’m using 3D Studio Max 2009 (64bit). I also use Adobe Photoshop to build materials and texture maps.
BB: How many gigabytes of storage space do the renderings take up?
RK: So far, the renderings themselves are quite small, since they’re designed to show the progress of the model on the web. The AutoCAD model is around 140mb right now and the 3DS Max file is about 270mb. I have to use the 64bit version of 3D Studio because the model has outgrown the 32bit version.
BB: When did you start this project, and approximately how many hours have you put into it to date?
RK: I’ve wanted to do this project for many years, but didn’t have the drawings to get started till a little over a year ago. I guess I really started in June of 2007. I tend to do more work in the winter months. I haven’t set any kind of deadline. I would say I’ve put in around ten hours a week on average for about 17 months now.
BB: What percentage would you say you’ve completed of the project?
RK: When you look at the model from the outside, it looks fairly complete, but because I want to put in as much internal detail as possible – concession stands, offices, the clubhouse, ramps and restrooms – I would say it’s about 60% done at this point.
BB: What is your estimated completion date for the project?
RK: There’s no deadline, but it’s probably going to take at least another year.
BB: Do your family and friends understand this project … and support you (nonetheless)?
RK: It’s hard to say how much my family and friends understand the project. They are indeed quite supportive nonetheless.
BB: Have you seen the project in your sleep?
RK: No, I really haven’t. I’ve done an enormous amount of research, reading books, looking at hundreds and hundreds of photographs and films… but I can’t say that I’ve dreamt about it. I think about it a lot when I’m awake though.
BB: What attributes of the old Stadium have been the most difficult to research and/or to recreate?
RK: One of the biggest challenges in building this model is that there are so few architectural drawings available. I’ve had to rely on photographs for many parts of the model. This involves getting shots from different angles and deriving dimensions from known reference points. Complicating this process is the fact that stadium is somewhat of a moving target. There have been so many renovations, additions and deletions over the course of 50 years that it can be very hard to pin down what the stadium looked like at any given time.
BB: I notice you received a lot of help (and feedback) from the “Baseball Fever” website forums. Could you briefly describe some of the most helpful offers?
RK: Baseball-Fever has been an invaluable resource for me in research and feedback on the model. There are lots of knowledgeable people on the “Ballparks Stadiums and Green Diamonds” thread as well as the “Yankee Stadium Pre-Renovation” and “1973-76 renovation” threads to name a just a few. One of the many people who’ve helped me is Dennis Concepcion (BrooklynDodger14), who may well be the most knowledgeable person alive when it comes to the old Yankee Stadium. He worked at both the old and renovated stadiums as a concessionaire. He has done lots of research over the years and is responsible for the advertisements texture maps on the bleacher wall as well as the gate signage and message board on the model.
Baseball-Fever also functions as an audience. I get great feedback and encouragement from the people who participate in the site. It makes it almost feel like I’m doing performance art. It’s a great motivator.
BB: Besides that forum, can you briefly list what other source materials have you consulted?
RK: I’ve read several books. Among them “Yankee Stadium 75 Years of Drama, Glamour and Glory” (Ray Robinson and Christopher Jennison) and “Remembering Yankee Stadium” (Harvey Frommer). I’ve used photographic sources like Getty Images and Corbus.com. Old Yankee and New York football Giants yearbooks, recent publications from the New York Times, New York Post and Sports Illustrated on the demise of the current stadium, as well as others. I’ve researched movie footage of the stadium; “Bang the Drum Slowly” and “The FBI Story”. I’ve also acquired several drawings on eBay and other places.
BB: Has anyone from the Yankees organization read about your work and offered assistance?
RK: No they haven’t.
BB: When this project is finished, to whom would you like to make it available for use/perusal?
RK: If the interactive website idea is technically feasible I’d like to make it available to everybody that way. Anybody could walk around inside the stadium and experience it virtually.
BB: Anything you’d like to say to the readers out there who are just finding out about this absolute labor of love?
RK: If you were lucky enough to have experienced the old Yankee Stadium, I hope the model will bring back memories. If you came too late, I hope it can give you a sense of what it was like to have been there.
Even from just the work he’s done to this point, I’d say Mr. Kaplan’s hopes will be fulfilled. I urge you to explore his website, and tell me you don’t come away with a visceral reaction to the authenticity and realism shown.