The Yankees’ home opener may not be until April 16, but the first baseball game ever played at the new Yankee Stadium took place last night, as did a number of other firsts, which though they may be unofficial, will always be the ones I count because I was there.
Because of the rain yesterday afternoon, neither team took batting practice. I arrived at the park a bit after 5:30 and the Cubs took the field too loosen up soon after. Here are some photographs from before the game (as always, all of my photos can be enlarged with a click).
After the Yankees took the field for the very first time (above), Reggie Jackson threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Joe Girardi and Lou Piniella (below) delivered the lineups to the umpires.
And here’s the very first pitch at the new Yankee Stadium . . .
. . . a strike from Chien-Ming Wang to Aaron Miles.
Wang’s second pitch was a ball and Miles poked his third into left for the first hit at the new stadium. After a Kosuke Fukudome single moved him to third, Miles scored the first run at the new stadium on a sacrifice fly to center by Derek Lee, just beating the throw home from Brett Gardner.
After the next two batters flied out, Derek Jeter became the first Yankee to bat at the new stadium.
Jeter shot Ted Lilly’s 3-1 pitch down the left field line for a double, the first Yankee hit and first extra-base hit at the new stadium.
Jeter moved to third on a Johnny Damon fly to right field (Damon successfully hitting behind the runner) . . .
. . . but was stranded there when Mark Teixeira struck out (giving Lilly the first strikeout at the new stadium) and Hideki Matsui grounded out.
In the second, Geovany Soto led off with the first walk at the new park. Chien-Ming Wang then got the first strikeout by a Yankee pitcher by getting Reed Johnson swinging. A Joey Gathright single and an Aaron Miles double pushed the score to 3-0 as Wang failed to get a single groundout in the first two innings.
Jorge Posada led off the bottom of the second with a single to right and Robinson Cano followed with the first home run at the new park, sending a shot to the front row of the right-field bleachers, which is a longer shot than it used to be given that there are now box seats that wrap in front of the bleachers.
In the next half inning, Cano started the first double play at the new park, making a nice play on a Milton Bradley grounder, then spinning to feed Jeter at second base, who relayed to Teixeira at first.
Jeter led off the bottom of the third with a single. Two batters later, Hideki Matsui came to the plate.
On 1-0, Jeter was running, but Matsui fouled off the pitch.
After running the count full . . .
. . . Godzilla hit a ball off the right-field foul pole to give the Yankees their first lead at their new home park at 4-3.
In the top of the fourth, Reed Johnson sent a ball into the right-field corner for the first triple at the new ballpark. He then scored on a Ryan Theriot grounder to tie the game at 4-4.
Cano and Xavier Nady then started the top of the fourth with singles and Cody Ransom lit into the first pitch he saw and hit it off the left-field foul pole for a game-breaking three-run homer, setting the eventual final score at 7-4.
The game was fairly uneventful from there on out save for Mariano Rivera’s first appearance at the new stadium.
Rivera worked a 1-2-3 sixth inning, striking out Theriot to finish the frame, but by then the Yankee subs were already in the game (note Angel Berroa at second base in the above photo).
It was another easy spring-training win for the Yankees. Chien-Ming Wang recovered from his rocky first two innings allowing just a walk, an infield single, and a run following Johnson’s triple over his last three frames. Seven of his nine outs in those last three innings game on ground balls. The other two came on a strikeout and a pop up. Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez, and Jonathan Albaladejo followed Rivera with a perfect inning each.
As for the ballpark, I was very frustrated in my one attempt to make a between-inning run for food. Figuring it would be easy to find a pretzel in the middle of the fourth inning, I discovered that only two vendors on the entire field level sold soft pretzels. One of them was a beer cart with a monstrous line. The other was on the other side of the stadium and had already run out of pretzels by the time I got there (I settled for a bag of peanuts for my mom and a bag of cracker jacks for Becky and myself). Again, this was in the middle of the fourth inning.
I also found that, despite the wide concourse, it was nearly impossible to navigate the crowd, which was still shoulder-to-shoudler across the entire concourse. That might have had something to do with the fact that it had just started to rain as I left my seat, but it also owed to the long lines at each of the vendors and the fans standing behind the seats watching the game rather than moving in one direction or another. As a result of the lines and the standing-room observers, the walkable part of the concourse was no wider than the old concourses, and it was packed with fans heading in both directions . . . slowly.
Prior to that, we took advantage of our having swanky field-level seats (just $50 each for last night’s game, but $400 on game days during the regular season) and ordered dinner via the wait staff. Becky and I both opted for the pulled-pork from Brother Jimmy’s and were glad we did. It was a smokey, cooked-in barbeque flavor rather than a sticky-sweet sauce-slathered mess (not that I’m necessarily opposed to the latter) and was served on a sturdy, but light and tasty bun. Unfortunately, the new stadium is a Pepsi establishment (as is Citi Field). As someone who hordes kosher Coke this time of year, Pepsi is anathema to me. As a good friend once correctly pointed out, it tastes like Band-Aids. Fortunately, Carvel is still in the house. A waffle cone loaded with chocolate soft-serve topped the night off nicely, though Becky never did get to have her “frickle” (a fried pickle that sounded made-to-order for a woman who is not only a pickle fan, but eight-months pregnant).
Beyond the food and my harrowing journey around the field-level concourse, I can’t comment too much on the experience of watching a game at the new park given that my seats were so good, but I did notice that the Yankees have some issues to work out regarding the scoreboards. The technical glitches were not unexpected. They included this off-center seven (later fixed) . . .
. . . the fact that the line score on the big screen vanished later in the game, forcing the team to try to insert a shot of the manual scoreboards . . .
. . . the fact that the radar-gun readings (which were listed along with pitch and strikeout counters in a thin strip at the top of the big screen) . . .
. . . never seemed to work and also disappeared later in the game (as per the previous photo). There were also issues with the posted lineups on the left-field side of the big screen. In the second picture above, note the lack of a number-three hitter in the Yankee lineup. That photo was taken after Ramiro Peña had hit in the three-hole twice. Also note the random players in all caps, the lack of at-bat stats for the last six men in the order, and the fact that Shelley Duncan and Angel Berroa are swapped, (Berroa hit ahead of Duncan in the game).
The away scoreboard, which is to the right-field side of the big screen, shows just four games, as was the case in the old park. It does include batter, pitcher, and runners-on-base info, but last night it listed the batter in the Rays-Phillies game as the pitcher as well (though this, like that stray seven, was fixed during the game).
The biggest problem, however, is that that the score, count, and outs are listed only on various boards in the outfield, leaving fans actually sitting in the outfield without an easy view of the game state.
As seen in the second photo above, the full line score was listed at the bottom of the big screen in dead center (when that function was working). As seen in the third photo above, the count and outs were also listed beneath the lineups on the left-field side of the big screen. Beyond that, the full line score, count, outs, and batter are listed on the manual auxiliary scoreboards built into the outfield walls, and the count, score, outs, and inning appear on the ribbon board that rings the stadium, but only in the two outfield corners near the foul poles (and that function also stopped working later in the game).
Here’s the picture of Matsui just before his home run again as it shows you the three places fans can find the score: the big screen, the manual scoreboard in the outfield wall, and the part of the ribbon board near the foul pole (the same is true in left field).
So if you’re sitting in the bleachers or the wings of the seating bowl, you have to crane your neck all the way around to check the score and count if you’re even lucky enough to have a clear view of one of those three locations from your seat. As a long-time bleacher denizen in the old park, all I had to do to check the count was move my eyes from the batter to the auxiliarly scoreboard on the facing of the upper deck roughly over third base. When they installed the radar gun and pitch-type readings over the Diamondvision screen in center, however, I discovered that my neck would cramp up if I checked them too often. Given that they have a ribbon board that runs around the entire seating bowl. The Yankees need to find a way to move the score and count toward home plate so that fans sitting in the outfield don’t get whiplash trying to figure out how many outs there are.
That and the fact that I could barely hear the people in the seats next to me over the public address system were my biggest complaints from last night. The next game I see at the new park will be from bleachers. I’ll be sure to report on that experience as well.
Incidentally, while the field at the new Yankee Stadium greatly resembles the field from the old park, and while my companions for last night’s game frequently commented on the similarities between the new ballpark and the old one, having now been there twice, I found that the similarities began to fade half-way through my second visit. By the middle-to-late innings of last night’s game, I felt like I was watching the Yankees play on the road in another city at one of the many other similarly-designed HOK creations throughout the major leagues. As per the photo above, the lights cast the cheap replica frieze in shadow and with that signature feature diminished, there’s very little else in the seating bowl or on the playing field that suggests that you’re at “Yankee Stadium” and not Coors, or U.S. Cellular, or any of the other less-distinct modern ballparks that lack retractable roofs. I was very pleased to see that you could follow the elevated 4 train as it passes from the gap in right field . . .
. . . all the way down behind and past the center-field scoreboards, but even that didn’t really say “New York,” “Bronx,” or “Yankees” to me. It seems to me that it will be up to the team to give this new ballpark some character as it has very little of its own.
all photographs © Clifford J. Corcoran, 2009