The Yankees held their first workout at the new Yankee Stadium yesterday afternoon. It was the first time the entire team gathered at the new ballpark, the first time the field was used for baseball activities, and the first time that fans were allowed into the stands. The new Yankee Stadium is open for business. Below are a few photos and impressions of the new ballpark (all photos can be clicked to enlarge).
But before we enter the new Yankee Stadium, here’s a quick look at the state of the old Stadium.
The above is the bleacher entrance of the old Stadium, which had been my front door for baseball for the last six years as a partial-season ticket holder in the right-field bleachers. As you can see, the signs have been removed and it looks as though some fans have taken chunks of concrete out of the wall (below).
When I turned the corner, I discovered that the wooden construction walls that had surrounded the new ballpark for the last two years had moved across the street, enveloping the Yankees’ old home.
Later, I was able to get a look behind that wall by looking out the back of the upper deck of the new stadium.
As you can see at the bottom center of the above photo, the demolition has already begun as the garage doors leading to the old left-field bullpen area have been torn out and the back wall joining the left field bleacher area to the rest of the Stadium has been reduced to rubble. A closer look (below) reveals that the sod has been removed from the field and the padding has been torn off the wall in right field.
Across the street, the scene was very, very different.
Note the marquee listing the Opening Day game against the Indians in the upper left above.
The first question my cousin, who joined me for the day, and I had was, without the smokestack bat, where are people going to agree to meet. I suggested the big NY on the ground outside Gate 4 (behind the light post on the left above), but the lines may not allow it. Attendance today was sparse as it was limited to the season ticket holders who received tickets with their packages (or the friends who took their tickets, as I did), and large groups of local elementary school kids (good on the Yankees for that one). The sidewalks outside the new ballpark are wide, but they’ll be packed on gamedays.
I entered through Gate 6 toward the back of the Great Hall out near right field.
As you can see above, the new stadium has new turnstiles. When I first started going to games, the ushers tore your ticket. In the last few years, they simply scanned the bar code with a hand-held device. Now, you scan your ticket yourself by waiving it under the box at the top of the turnstile. The ushers are there only to make sure you’re doing it right and that no one tries to slip through. They’re also there to check what you’re bringing into the ballpark. Despite spending more than $1 billion on a state-of-the-art new stadium, the Yankees didn’t figure out a way to let fans bring in backpacks, briefcases or laptops, despite the fact that this was never a problem at Shea. That’s inexcusable.
Gate 6 puts you right into the Great Hall, which is the largest interior area of the new stadium. The windows on the left are completely open. The banners depict Yankee greats in black and white facing toward home plate (Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Elston Howard, Phil Rizzuto, and Bill Dickey), and in color on the other side (including, beyond those who have had their numbers retired, Paul O’Neill, Goose Gossage, and, to my great delight, Dave Winfield). At the far end of the hall are stairs leading up to the second level and the Tommy Bahama martini bar (shrug). To the left of the stairs is a color image of Reggie Jackson taking a swing with the orange “REG-GIE” sign from the old scoreboard photoshopped into the background.
Beyond those stairs on the main level, in the corridor leading in from Gate 4, is a medallion identical to the two on the facade of the new stadium.
As you can see, this was instantly adopted as a “photo-op” station, with a crowd gathered around, each taking turns posing and snapping photos with the giant medallion. Note the empty display case to the left. There were several of these empty pedistals encased in protective glass sitting somewhat haphazardly to the left of the medallion. I have no idea what they’re intended for. Facing the medallion is a photograph of Lou Gehrig during the ceremonies on July 4, 1939 (not pictured).
Heading back through the Great Hall in the other direction (toward the outfield), you pass a couple of banks of freight-size elevators.
The old Stadium had a grand total of three elevators in the entire building.
At the back of the Great Hall is the large video screen atop the team store and Hard Rock Cafe.
That team store is the smaller of two on the first-base side of the stadium. The larger is on your right as you walk toward the medallion and is in a row with a Steiner Sports memorabilia store, a Peter Max gallery, and one of the swanky, expensive, exclusive restaurants that I didn’t even bother to try to identify. The Hard Rock Cafe is the level above the team store and below the video screen in the above photo. I have no idea how you get in and don’t particularly care. At 9am yesterday morning, Bernie Williams, Ace Frehley, Daryl “DMC” McDaniels, two guys from Anthrax, and the drummer from Paul Schafer’s Late Show band opened the restaurant, though the gates didn’t open for fans until 11am.
To the left of the team store shown above are pedestrian ramps leading to the upper levels. Go up two levels and you get to the museum . . .
. . . which was closed, but is supposed to be open tonight.
The museum is near the turnaround of the ramp which overlooks the Great Hall.
As you can see to the left, the Great Hall is open to the city. By far my favorite thing about the new stadium is that the entire thing is wide open, allowing the wind to blow through the corridors, right through to the field. Observe:
That’s the Great Hall on the left, the second-level corridor on the right, and the blue you can see thorugh the cracks are the stands. Heading back down the ramp, we see this:
Looking through the gap there, the blue bits on the bottom are the seats and the overexposed area in the middle is the field bathed in sunlight. The old Stadium was a concrete bunker in comparision to the new park. This is a design feature common to HOK-designed ballparks, and it is perhaps their greatest innovation.
As a result off all of this ventalation, you never really feel like you’re indoors unless you enter one of the stores or restaurants. Also, the place smells fantastic. No only is there a greater diversity of food, but the smells waft throughout the park, mixed with the fresh outside air (as fresh as it gets in the Bronx, that is).
Similarly, whereas the bathrooms and concessions for the bleachers used to be in a tunnel under the stands, the corridor behind the new bleachers looks like this:
Note the courthouse hidden on the right. You can’t see it from the field or the stands, but you can see it from here.
Like I say, that open-air feel is the best thing about the new stadium. The worst part you likely already know about, but here’s the hard evidence:
The above was actually taken from a bleacher seat. Fans sitting in these $5 seats are expected to follow the action to the left of center field on one of the three monitors on the right (which I only assume rotate out from the wall). The monitors are not only horribly insufficient, but almost impossible to watch during day games when the sun shines directly on them. Also, if you’re in those seats, here’s your view of the ginormous high-definition video screen in center field:
That black triangle in the center of the photo is the big video screen.
On the other side of the Mohegan Sun sports bar things are worse:
It’s not important to see first base is it?
For what it’s worth, the view from on top of the restaurant, where there is a good bit of standing room, is pretty nice:
That’s the press box off-center in the middle of the seating decks.
Before I get to more shots of the field from the stands, here are a couple more shots from the concourses. First a hastily assembled panoramic shot from the main-level concourse:
Then a look at the concessions stands on that level which face the field:
Note the photos of the Yankees’ championship teams above the vendors. The Yankees have done a good job of working their history into the aesthetics of the ballpark.
For the curious, I had a Carl’s cheesesteak and Nathan’s fries from a stand just to the left of these (despite the fact that every menu in the place has the calories posted next to the price), then took the food back to my bleacher seat. The bleachers are indeed attached to the rest of the ballpark. You can actually walk all the way around the entire stadium.
Or you can if you can get by security, which was surprisingly stringent even for yesterday’s workout, which was open to season-ticket holders only. I had a bleacher ticket, which put the field-level stands (though not the field level concourses) off-limits. That included the field-level stands all the way out in the outfield, though I found it easy enough to slip by.
On one occasion, I walked past a security guard at the top of the field level only to have her track me down, and ask me what I was doing.
“I’m just looking around,” I replied.
Having identified me as someone holding a bleacher ticket, she told me, “you’re not allowed to look around.” She was actually pleasant about it, but those words are still ringing in my ears.
After exiting her section, I found another entry point a few sections further over and spent some time hanging out in the rattle-your-jewelry seats (the $375 ones, not the $2,625 ones). When I’d had my fill, I headed out and was actually stopped on my way out of the section by a very aggressive member of security. He asked to see my ticket. I pointed out that I was leaving the section, but he again demanded to see my ticket.
“Here, I have a bleacher ticket, but I’m leaving the section.”
“You were never supposed to be in here,” he said. Then, tearing off a corner of my ticket, angrily added, “this is a warning. Don’t ever come back.”
That last line resonated as well.
After getting past the warning guy, who was stationed in front of the food court out near third base, I walked around the corner, down a short ramp, past the entrance to the executive offices, and headed back toward home plate on my way back to the right field bleachers (not realizing that I wasn’t in the old Stadium and could have just gone around the outfield).
Facing the entrance to the executive offices is a short staircase and a long ramp, both of which lead back up to the food court. Two security guards were stationed in front of the stairs and when I approached they asked to see my ticket. Confused, I said, “I have a bleacher ticket and that’s where I’m headed.”
“The bleachers are the 200 level,” I was told. “You have to use the ramp. The stairs are for the 100-level people.”
“But the ramp and the stairs lead to the same place,” I replied.
The security guard seemed to realize the absurdity of what she was telling me, but asserted that these were the rules.
“But I can take the ramp and then walk over to the top of these stairs,” I said. “I could even take the ramp, then come down these stairs.”
“I’m sorry, the stairs are for the 100-level people only,” she replied.
So I took the ramp, then walked over to the top of the stairs and leisurely looked out the window until I was able to catch the guard’s eye and give her a wave. She ignored me, but I was satisfied I had made my point and continued on my way.
The security was even tight in the bleachers. If you don’t have a bleacher ticket, you won’t be allowed into the bleacher section, at least not if you enter at a certain spot. For all of the rules about where certain ticket holders could or couldn’t go, it was easy enough to find entrance points that were unguarded or guards who were distracted enough to let you slip by.
That said, good luck trying to slip into those Legends Suite seats right behind home plate. While there are entrance points from the $375 field boxes to the suite seats, they are few and far between, and the rest of the section is literally walled off:
Note the security guard guarding the entrance in the upper right above.
Beneath the Field box seats are entrances to the swanky exclusive clubs for the folks in the Legends Suites.
No seat is worth $2,625 (which is why the Yankees are still struggling to sell them), but those are spectacular seats. The backstop is much closer to home plate in the new stadium, and the retaining wall behind home is much lower. You’re practially riding piggy-back on the home plate ump from those seats.
Note how much smaller the NY on the grass is due to the reduced real estate behind home.
In contrast, here’s a view from the last row of the stadium:
And here’s a close-up of the new frieze, which looks to be made out of the same sort of cheap white aluminum that is used to make metal picket fences.
I’m especially disappointed by the lack of detail in the new frieze. Note from the two photos above how the arches are smooth and the holes above them are rectangular, while the face of the frieze lacks much detail. Now here’s a look at the old concrete frieze from the remodelled stadium:
Notice how much more detail there was on the old frieze, how the arches have those cross-bars on them, how the holes above them are small circles, and how much sturdier the whole thing looks. This seems a particularly odd corner to cut given how important the frieze is to the team’s iconography.
Back to the new park, one detail they did get right is that they’ve angled all of the seats toward home plate. Here’s a shot of a seat in the upper deck in right field:
Note also the cupholders, which are on every seat save for the bleachers. Hopefully this means there will be fewer spilled beers soaking the belongings stashed beneath your seat.
Here’s a hastily assembled panorama from the upper deck:
And a bird’s-eye view of the new Monument Park:
The line for Monument Park was instantly absurd, so I didn’t even try to get in, but here’s a closer look from the right-field bleachers:
The bleacher benches themselves are deeper front-to-back, they’re spaced significantly further apart, and the pitch of the bleacher section is steeper, giving better sight lines over the heads of the people in front of you. In general the sight lines throughout the park (save for the center field bleachers) look to be excellent. I was even pleased by the view from the upper deck, though it’s striking just how far back it’s set. Compare this:
Back in the bleachers, the folks in the front rows can look right into the bullpens with the visiting bullpen in left field:
And the home bullpen in right field:
The seats and cameras in the foreground of the above are on top of the center-field restaurant.
Here’s a closer look at the home bullpen:
Also, in an odd, but not unpleasant detail, the concrete wall between the bleachers and the bullpen is filled with plants. Here’s a view from the front row of the right-field bleachers behind the bullpen:
Or more artfully:
Unfortunately, I left my camera on in my pocket for a while, killing the battery, so I was unable to get any photos of the team taking batting practice. Derek Jeter was the first Yankee to take a swing in the new ballpark. After bunting the first BP pitch, as is the custom, he deposited the second in the visiting bullpen. Not a bad way to christen the place.
I suspect that the open concourses will create something of a jet stream that helps the ball carry more than it did in the old Stadium. The Yankees seemed to have little trouble peppering the outfield stands with home runs, several of which came very close to my seat in the right-field bleachers. Johnny Damon should make good use out of the 200-level seats in right field, and Mark Teixeira seemed to hit every ball he swung at from the left side deep into the stands. Nick Swisher also went deep a number of times.
I didn’t get any photos of batting practice, but I did get a few shots of the very first baseball activity to take place in the new ballpark as Joba Chamberlain threw to a bullpen catcher from the mound with the coaching staff looking on.
Overall, I was actually pretty impressed by the new place. I especially liked the open, ventilated feel of the ballpark, and was impressed by just how much parts of it looked and even felt like the old Stadium. For example, look at this shot of the right-field corner:
That said, being in the new Yankee Stadium is a surreal experience for someone as familiar with the old place as I am for exactly that reason. It’s similar, yet very, very different. Many of those differences are legitimate improvements, but some are not, and as one fan in the bleachers said as he passed me, “it’s not home yet.” Or, as my wife and I are fond of saying when something beloved is replaced, “that’s not Abraham, Mr. D.” They might call it Yankee Stadium, but it’s not Yankee Stadium. Yankee Stadium is across the street being torn down.
Still, this day was going to come eventually. My biggest concern remains the accessibility of the new park to fans of modest means. I was fortunate enough to get in yesterday because a friend with a full-season package gave me his tickets, and even then I had to sneak past security to get close to the field even when it was hours before the team was scheduled to take the field. Tonight I have some choice Field Box seats to see the Yankees play the Cubs, a residual benefit of my since-canceled Sunday plan from the old ballpark, but if it rains I may never get to sit in those seats, and even if it doesn’t, I may never get to sit in them again, while many other die-hard fans won’t even have the opportunity I have tonight. The new Yankee Stadium seems like a great place to see a ballgame, but it could stand to be a bit more fan-friendly.
all photographs © Clifford J. Corcoran, 2009