It stopped raining by the middle of the afternoon on Friday. I walked through Central Park to reach the subway at Columbus Circle. It was damp and warm and the early spring evening light was almost pale white. I paused to take in the massive Time Warner towers and thought how much the landscape has changed over the years. The future is now. Then I went into the hole in the ground and when I emerged in the Bronx, the first thing I saw was the old Yankee Stadium, which of course is still standing.
The new Yankee Stadium is across the street and last night it opened for business in the form of an exhibition against the Cubs. The Hard Rock Café is built into the corner of the place, right on River Avenue, but across the street, is just one bar, a 99 cents Odd Lot, a non-descript Dentist Office, and a few souvenir store fronts. The new place looks grand from the outside but as I walked west, away from River avenue, I couldn’t help but look to my left at the old Stadium. At one point, there is a clear view into the right field upper deck.
The sun was still high enough in the sky though it was past six. It splashed across the empty upper deck seats. A few fans turned and noticed. But not too many. Most everyone was too absorbed with what was right in front of them—the new new thing. The old Stadium will be taken apart slowly over a sixteen month period of time. Standing in front of the new place looking across the street, the old Stadium still looks imposing, formidable, and it will feel odd watching it go piece by piece. A Death Star in reverse. It seems as if it will feel very empty when it is gone–even with the knowledge that it is to be replaced by public parks.
I went into the new place. There is a lot more space between the entrance and the field. It is open and appealing. There are a lot of stores and a lot of places to buy food—and a good variety of food as well. Banners and photographs of the great Yankee players are littered throughout, vivid and brilliant. I especially liked the shots above the food court—a photo of Babe Ruth with a string of fish, Joe DiMaggio sipping a cup of tea, Reggie Jackson eating a Reggie bar in front of a poster of the Reggie Bar.
Immediately, I was distracted. I stopped thinking about the field, about that magic first glimpse. And when I did see it, I had to tear my eyes away from the stores and food stands to notice. I walked around the entire park, though I did not make it upstairs to the reconfigured upper deck. It is built for comfort and commerce. Only the concrete bleacher section feels less than accommodating. The restaurant in the middle of field juts out like a Thurston Howell III blue blood sticking out his chin.
The overall impression I got was that this place is a mall featuring a baseball field. I spoke with some people who think it feels bigger than the old park, but it seemed smaller to me, because of the restaurant, but chiefly because of the mammoth HD TV that is the centerpiece of the scoreboard section high above center field. The TV is so captivating, so impossibly clear, that it virtually overshadows the field and serves to shorten the space between home plate and center field. I had a hard time turning away.
But it is not only the TV, which cuts to live action as a Yankee player circles the bases after hitting a home run (what to watch, the player running around the bases or the TV?). It is all the other billboards, one brighter than the other—Delta, Pepsi, Bank of America, Dunkin Donuts (I wonder how it will play during the afternoon). And there are several scoreboards. The entire area is so busy, so insistent, it was difficult for me to focus on the field of play. And I didn’t exactly know where to look. My eyes were overwhelmed and I felt lost.
There is a beam of light that forms a band around the stadium on the upper deck façade. This is the place where fans traditionally draped homemade signs. Now it has been replaced by a thin, lifesaver ring of advertisements that change but never disappear, never relent. Another place to draw your eye.
The new Yankee Stadium does not look elegant or stately once you are in the stands. It is remarkable though. It looks like the inside of a pinball machine. Or a slot machine. It is Vegas, sparkling state of the art technology, spectacular in a way that WOULD MAKE TOM WOLFE SMILE. It is Times Square redux—a Disney production, but not imperial in the manner of the Time Warner buildings. It’s more like baseball’s answer to the Francis Ford Coppola epic, One from the Heart. I missed the sense of awe, the sheer volume of the old building. This park is wider, fatter in the hips, but it isn’t nearly as steep.
There are flat screen TVs…EVERYWHERE. At least in the cherce seating areas. (I got to thinking about Alex Rodriguez, the neurotic narcissist. Either this will be a house of horrors for him because he can’t get away from his own image, or it will be the perfect temple for his prowess.) If you are sitting in the loge section out in right field, you can look up at a TV. These are seats where a fan could never call balls and strikes. But now, everyone will be able to see if an umpire truly blew a call and I think this will impact the tenor of the games, the nature of how fans react. For the several hundred fans with obstructed views out in the bleachers, flatscreen TVs have been mounted on the bleacher walls. If you want to go to the snack bar or to the bathroom, you can still follow the action on an overhead TV. You can’t get away from the game; there isn’t much of a chance of missing anything.
The sounds are different as well. Instead of the p.a. blasting out from speakers positioned above center field, there are speakers discreetly place throughout the entire park. So the sounds are consistent, omnipresent. There aren’t hot spots and quiet areas; there isn’t the same echo effect, because the acoustics have been scratched in favor of a level, steady stream of sound.
The seats are bigger and wider, and the corridors and bathrooms are too. But the designers were so consumed with providing comfort and amenities, that there is little room for mystery, suspense and, most importantly, for thinking. It is a place of constant distraction. I left unable to blink, my eyes bulging out of my head like I was Marty Feldman.
It will take some getting used to. Part of the charm of the old place was that it crammed a lot of people together, with little attention to aesthetics or frills, and the main point was clear: you were there to watch a game. The history was there—and the place could feel both impersonal and impressive. Now, as in all of the newer parks, baseball is only the featured event. But it is not everything. The Show is still the Thing, however, and this dazzling monument to spectacle and technology is all of a piece. It is the show.
There was a game played on Friday night. Reggie Jackson threw out the first pitch and it bounced before it reached the plate. Sure it was a lousy exhibition so who cared, but the game washed over me. I couldn’t get myself to pay attention. I was too busy watching the show.
Another game today. I wonder how bright it will seem during the day?