I was a little nervous about heading to the new Stadium for the first time, especially after checking out Citi Field recently and finding it, while very nice, just unsettlingly different and odd and un-Mets-like. But I’ve got to say that while my bitterness at the new Stadium’s prices and medieval caste system (the good seats actually have a moat around them) and Hard Rock-ness and, really, its very existence remains undiminished… well, I liked it better than I thought I would. Much more on that below.
Of course tonight’s taut, well-paced game helped a lot, as the Yankees beat the Angels 7-4 . The Angels struck first, the Yankees answered, the Angels took the lead again, the Yankees took it back, the Angels tied it up… A.J. Burnett looks like he’s been reading his How to Have an Off Night Without F*#^ing Imploding textbook. It took him a long time to find any kind of groove, but he “grinded it out” (to use Joe Girardi’s favorite vague post-game term), kept the game under control, and made it through seven innings.
The Yankees broke through in the eighth, off of Justin Speier, starting with a single that brought Robinson Cano’s hitting streak up to 17 games. Posada moved him over to third, and newly minted fan favorite Nick Swisher was intentionally walked – an understandable strategy that backfired when Melky Cabrera singled in the go-ahead run. Then Ramiro Pena of all people doubled, and it was 7-4 Yankees. Phil Coke and Mariano Rivera tied up the lose ends.
Many people have noticed that the crowds at the new place were too quiet, and I’ve sensed that from watching on TV too – but it got properly loud tonight, much to my relief. Not Red Sox loud, or playoff loud, but pretty damn loud, and when Jeter got a two-out single in the 4th to give the Yankees a lead, it was the same kind of thick, tangible wave of decibels I remember from so many games across the street. There were still plenty of empty $2500 $1250 seats, and it still hurts to see views like that going to waste, but it didn’t seem to make much of a dent in the cumulative enthusiasm.
(Side note: we’re now entering the stage of Derek Jeter’s career where he passes someone on one all-time franchise list or another basically every time he scratches his balls. Tonight he moved into #9 on the Yankee’s all-time RBI lists, and a few days ago, his 8,103rd at-bat moved him past Micky Mantle for a Yankee record. From now on, I think we can expect milestones of varying degrees of obscurity roughly once a week.)
Getting back to the Stadium: there are certainly flaws, and if you’re reading this you probably don’t need me to tell you what they are; I can’t put it much better than Alex did, when he compared it to being inside a pinball machine. Lots of random noises and flashing lights. The Mohegan Sun restaurant between the bleachers reminds me of the obelisk in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Great Hall is too much, Vegas overkill, and that name sounds like something from Tolkein (one of the scenes you skipped because it was like 12 solid pages of someone singing in Elvish). The whole place is so big, and so heavily branded, that it feels a bit like a theme park – welcome to YankeeWorld™!
As others have noted, the screen in center field is a little overwhelming – talk about larger than life:
The player’s faces loom like those Easter Island heads.
Alex was kind enough to get me a press pass through SNY, so I found myself back in the clubhouse and press box for the first time in quite a while. The old locker room was plenty nice, but the new one hardly seems like anything you could accurately describe as a “locker room”. It’s got to be at least ten times bigger than my entire apartment, and the blue neon-backlit frieze at the top, in combination with the personal computer screen at each locker, gives you the impression that the entire room is about to blast off into space. I felt guilty dragging warning track dirt onto the plush carpet.
From the field, though, the place looks a lot like home: a little lower, a little less steep, a bit more closed-in, but still very Yankee Stadium-ish. Citi Field threw me because it looks nothing whatsoever like Shea; the new Stadium doesn’t provoke that level of disorientation.
Much of the criticism of the new ballpark, including mine, has focused on the Yankees’ pricing. But the truth is, I haven’t been able to afford good seats to a Yankees game for at least a decade. I know the team screwed over a lot of season-ticket holders, including some of my friends, and I am vicariously angry about it; but on a personal level, as someone who almost always sat in the upper deck or bleachers anyway, nothing much has changed. And, for all that the team has contorted itself to cater to the the super-rich, the bulk of the fans at tonight’s game were the same people I’ve been seeing at Yankees games my whole life.
Besides that, the Yankees have done at least one thing right, and I feel like it partially atones for their avarice: there’s now lots of standing room where anyone, regardless of their assigned seat, can watch the game from surprisingly close up. Not everyone is comfortable standing for a long time, and it won’t work if you’re bringing kids, but I don’t mind it – which means there’s no reason I can’t buy a $5 obstructed bleacher seat and then head over to the back of the field level seats, by first or third base, or to the roof of the center field restaurant, and stake out a prime location. If you’ve got comfortable shoes, you can watch the action from much closer than I ever could at the old Stadium. It’s probably my favorite thing about the new place.
I still don’t think they needed to build it. And I still hate the way they went about doing it (and suspect that if I had a better grasp of the complex city budgets and revenue and taxes and everything else involved, I would hate it even more). But it’s here now, and for all its faults, I think I’ll be able to enjoy watching a game there. Yes, it’s too big, a little too proud of itself, pompous and over-the-top in places, an embodiment of the unhinged free market. But let’s face it: a lot of the time – and I say this with love – so are the Yankees.
Some other observations from tonight’s game:
-Up close, I actually mistook Ramiro Pena for a batboy. I mean for like ten minutes. MLB.com lists him as 5’11” and 165 pounds, but there’s no way, and he looks at most 14 years old. (Rookies! I keep getting older… they stay the same age). Anyway, even though the clock is obviously ticking on his playing time, it was a very nice night for him and he looked like he was trying not to explode with happiness after the game.
-The Booing of Mark Teixeira has commenced. Not vicious or anything – not A-Rod ’06 caliber booing – but the beast is stirring.
-Two things I don’t understand about the new Stadium: Tommy Bahama’s and the “Jim Beam Suites”. Who the hell goes all the way to the Stadium just to sit in a bar with no view of the field and watch the game on TV? Why?
-I liked the following exchange after the game:
TV Reporter: Johnny, it’s still early, but one month in, do you feel like this team is establishing an identity for itself?
Johnny Damon: Well, we have Swisher.
-Related: Nick Swisher’s locker is right next to Damon’s (right by the entrance, creating what I like to think of as “Affability Corner”), and on one side of it, he’s created an intricate collage by clipping out photos of all of his teammates, mostly in full suits and ties, and arranging them around a 2009 Yankees poster.