I went on Wednesday night, and I went last night. Up to the Bronx, to see the Yankees. In their new stadium. And, well, it brought up a whole bunch of strange thoughts and feelings. Maybe it’s because going into these two games was full of anticipation. Maybe it’s because the old Yankee Stadium is where I fell for baseball. Maybe it’s because since the last time I saw the Yankees playing at home, I’ve been to fifteen other Major League ballparks; a decent amount of ballparks to compare it to. Maybe it’s because the Yankees were playing the Mariners, a team I’ve seen quite a lot lately, both live in Seattle and on TV in Bellingham. Mostly, though, I think the fact that I’ve be leaving the States in a few days affected my enjoyment. These visits to Yankee Stadium were to be my last baseball hurrah for quite a while. The next games I’ll watch will be streaming live on MLB.com in the early German hours of the morning.
After my interview regarding Flip Flop Fly Ball on a Yankees blog River Avenue Blues, one of their readers emailed me with an offer of a couple of cheap tickets. As the day approached, my pal Derick realised that family commitments would rule him out of going to the game, so we quickly scheduled in a game the night before. So on Wednesday, we braved the traffic and drove from Brooklyn to the Bronx. After the many reports about bad things at the new stadium, it made a little sad that the first thing I saw from the car window was the old stadium.
We parked, walked past the scaffolding surrounding the old stadium, crossed an enormous zebra crossing on 161st Street, and stood in front of this beautiful new, old-style building. It needs a patina of daily life (exhaust fumes, I guess) to make it less new-looking, but it’s impressive. We picked up the tickets, and entered the pompously-named Grand Hall.
Lots of big pictures of Yankee greats. Plenty of space. Very nice. It’s in this Grand Hall that you get the first example of the gouging that the New York Yankees organisation are guilty of. In a tackily-decorated beer fridge, there are tallboys of “Retro Beer.”
Pabst Blue Ribbon is retro? Not in Bellingham it isn’t. And, I imagine, not in many other U.S. towns. PBR is just a cheap, drinkable beer. They seem to have mixed up the price list with a list of oxymorons: Nine dollars for a PBR? This type of behaviour put me off spending money within the stadium. If they’re so blatant about ripping people off, why should I be a part of it? My plan to buy a couple of t-shirts was quickly abandoned. I’m not giving you any more money than I need to to have a good time (ie. a few beers and some peanuts).
Inside the stadium itself, the concourses all have views of the field. On the lower level, where all the super expensive seats are, there’s a ton of food and drink options. Wonderful smells of noodles, sausages, steak sandwiches all around. The unwashed can also peer into the fancy restaurant where the gout sufferers scoff down honey-glazed dodo eggs.
We took a walk around the field level. All seems fine. It’s big. A lot bigger than other ballparks. I got to see first hand the annoying stuff that I’d read about (the obscured views from a couple of bleacher sections, the ridiculous concrete moat separating the rich people in the very, very expensive seats), and then we went upstairs to our seats. Our seats were in the disabled bit, where you get a movable fold-up chair. Neither of us were disabled, but I guess once the game day arrives, people who actually need disabled access will have already bought their tickets, and it seems that they just sold the rest of the seats to able-bodied folk.
It was a shitty place to sit. It wasn’t a particularly windy evening, but it felt quite windy up there. We had to careful put peanut shells back into the bag to stop them blowing into the hair of people directly below us. And sitting near the employees, having to listening to one of them snort phlegm instead of blowing his nose all game was a bit distracting. One of those things where, the moment you start noticing it, you can’t stop. And, really, when you spend $1.5 billion on a stadium, there is absolutely no excuse for obscured views like the one we had.
And, sitting there in right field, watching the Mariners play at Yankee Stadium, the comparison of the view one has in right field at the Mariners’ ballpark was startling. I like sitting there at Safeco Field because of the good view of Ichiro. But this was my view of Ichiro on Wednesday night.
The seats, the phlegm, the view, the insanely distracting enormo-screen in center field, all combined to make it a disappointing experience. I found it difficult to get into the game. Last Friday, at the Mets’ new ballpark, I really enjoyed watching the Yankees; but on Wednesday… even seeing a long A-Rod home run wasn’t enough to jolt me into whole-heartedly getting into it.
Still, the Yankees won, and we saw John Turturro queueing for beer up in the upper tier with the normal folks. But the whole experience knocked me off-kilter a bit. The sunset was nice, though.
Back up to the Bronx on the subway on Thursday evening. I got my tickets off the guy, and had another good look around. My expectations were obviously not strictly expectations any more after being there the previous night. But I did feel a tiny bit better about it. I had a far better seat, even though it was higher up, but it wasn’t so isolated, and there was plenty of noise all around.
One thing that does need saying about the upper level, though, is, for all the talk of better concessions at this new stadium, upstairs, it pretty much the same as usual. Hot dogs, peanuts, beer. Well, I say beer. But more or less all of the concession areas are serving Bud Light. I guess technically Bud Light is beer, but it sure doesn’t taste like it. And on the side of the stadium I was sat on, the upper tier only had one small booth selling “premium” beer. That means eleven dollars for a Beck’s or Stella. The queue at this particular booth was pretty big all night.
There was a thiry-odd minute rain delay where not a drop of rain fell. The big screen honed in on Jack Nicholson sitting in the front row.
He seems like a good sport. I guess it’d be easy to be super famous and want to be left alone at a sports event, but every time the camera focussed on him, he smile
d, waved, flexed his muscles and even made a scary face when the wag operating the screen’s output added a speech bubble to the image with “Here’s Johnny!” in it. The camera also focussed on the two young women he was sat with. I dunno about you, but, when someone of Jack Nicholson’s age is sat with young women, I find myself spending way too much time wondering if they are family or his dates for the evening. (While we’re talking about famous people, later on, the camera zoomed in on Steve Earle, which I enjoyed.)
Aaaaanyway, it was a better view, a better experience on Thursday. I had a better view of Ichiro, too. Yay.
Sadly, a bunch of the fans sat around me felt it necessary to boo when Ichiro came to the plate. I realise it’s not the done thing at a sports event to openly praise one of the opposing team’s players, but I’d been clapping when he came up to the plate. He’s pretty much my favourite player, and just because he doesn’t play for my team, it doesn’t mean I’m not gonna clap. But a bunch of dudes around me booed, which was annoying. I could understand it if he played for the Red Sox or Mets, but, c’mon, Seattle isn’t a particularly hateable opponent. Later in the game, when Ichiro hit a two-run double, putting the Mariners 6-2 ahead, I found my reaction wasn’t that of a Yankee fan seeing his team go further behind; it was that of someone who was glad that the dicks behind me would shut up.
The Yankees scored a couple more runs, but didn’t give too much indication that they’d get back in the game, so the crowd started to amuse itself. People kept trying to get a Mexican wave going. I bet you can guess how I feel about Mexican waves.
I did see a good bit of verbal fighting, though. A couple of rows behind me, this woman had been quite gobby all night, and a dude in front of her called her on it. They then had a stand-up argument. He seem bemused by her (probably drunk-on-Bud-Light) ramblings and swearing. Eventually, a security guy came along, and took the guy away despite being told my strangers in our section that it was she not he that was being an idiot. He came back, and all seemed calm. A few minutes later, after going to get more beer, the woman started up another argument and ended up throwing a full $10 souvenir cup of Bud Light over the guy. She was escorted off. As she disappeared down the stairs, the cheering that from the section was replied to with a defiant and beautifully-timed middle finger. Moments later, he was inexplicable escorted away, too. He returned to great cheers from the whole section.
Game over, Mariners win. And, I’m sad to say, I’ll be glad to be getting back to watching the Yankees streaming on MLB.com, so I don’t have the negative feelings about the stadium cloud my view of the team. I didn’t feel like I was there to watch a game; I felt like the New York Yankees wanted me there simply to spend money. I’m not naive enough to think that every sports team doesn’t feel like that, but at other ballparks it doesn’t feel so blatant. At this new Yankee Stadium, I got the feeling that I was supposed to feel privileged to be in their presence. Going to a baseball game isn’t a privilege. Obviously, it’s not a right, either, but ultimately, it’s just a sport, even if you are the New York Yankees.