Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Ballparks

I've finally had a chance to visit the new baseball stadiums which have debuted here in New York this year, and I feel much the way I thought I might.

Disclaimer: I am not a fan of the New York Yankees. But this isn't about the team so much as the Stadium. I'll try to be objective.

At first I was unimpressed with both stadiums; compared to AT&T park in San Francisco or Fenway, baseball's oldest, both stadiums feel antiseptic and show a lot of bare concrete. But Citi Field has grown on me -- in an era of smaller and smaller parks, the Mets have bucked the trend and built a gigantic, old-school baseball stadium. It's got the modern amenities, and even the upper-deck seats in which I sat had a decent view. It's also got some old-timey brick and a few quirks, mainly the scooped out right area in right field (Mo's Zone) where a ball can rattle around or take a strange hop.

But then Shea Stadium had set the bar fairly low. Its historical highlight, after all, was probably a Beatles concert, or that game where they Red Sox almost broke their world series slump. (Ok, I understand that the 1969 had some rather magical moments, and that 1986 team also had its moments.) Nobody was sorry to see that stadium go, and it's undoubtedly a nice upgrade for Mets fans.

I had been incredulous about the Yankee stadium redux when I first heard that it was planned. Ok, the 1970s rehab project had changed it drastically from the park it was when it was built in 1923 and soon thereafter made famous by the Ruth's heroics. But it was, fundamentally, the same park. The Yanks still played on the same diamond at least. Sure it had its deficiencies: it was 1970s-feeling and concretey. The concourses were also pretty dark and drab. I can understand why an update might be desirable. But to jettison the history that came along? That seems strange, especially for a team with the storied history of the Yankees.

And then I saw the park.

I had decent seats for this one: field level, 21st row left field. A nice view, and the seats were wide and comfortable, with soft cushions. But...the new stadium is distinctly similar to the old one. Big and full of concrete. Once you get past the facade, which is reminiscent of the 1923 park and definitely an upgrade over the previous one, the park is not going to win any beauty prizes. The concourses are nice and open, the concessions are very nice (and expensive even by the standards set by other major leage baseball stadiums) but...aside from the facade, there is not even a touch of the old-timeyness which has been the rage ever since Baltimore's Camden Yards was built in 1992. Not a bit of brick is evident; perhaps it would clash too much with the flatscreen HDTV monitors?

George Steinbrenner's goal was to give Yankees fans the best stadium in baseball, to match their team. And in this "inaugural" year, the team has certainly played well; they have the best record in baseball. But the stadium falls flat, at least for me. I had imagined a place that would blend the hominess of a Camden Yards or AT&T Park with the majestic size of Yankee Stadium, a place that really had it all; it's not that. Of course, I might have a different opinion if I had visited the sumptuous VIP seating, boxes, or dining rooms; maybe they saved the best for the true elites.

Nevertheless, I'm guessing that this time, the field in Flushing is going to be the one to age gracefully; and for now, the diamond where Ruth played grows weeds across the street from the new Cathedral.
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