November 20, 2009
This past April, both the Yankees and Mets opened new ballparks with extravagant price tags. While many critics questioned the cost, each got off to a rocky start.
The new Yankee Stadium cost around $1.5 BILLION to build. Wall Street executives could buy seats with free food, surrounded by a moat, protecting them from ordinary fans. The catch? The tickets cost $1,200. However, with the economy down the tubes, the seats, which were clearly visible on TV, were sparsely occupied. The Yankees were literally giving away tickets to fill the seats and to get rid of the embarrassment of having an brand new ballpark look empty.
Not only were there astronomically priced seats, but for the first two months of the season, the new Yankee Stadium played as if it were a Little League field, as homeruns were being blasted out of the park, seemingly on every pitch. To many, this was classic George Steinbrenner- building a stadium that would encourage more homeruns, and giving his 200 million dollar team every advantage possible.
Citi Field, the new home of the Mets, also opened amid controversy, although it "only" cost $900 million. CitiGroup was contractually obliged to pay the Mets $400 million over the next 20 years for the naming rights of the stadium. When Citigroup was bailed out by the U.S government, many called for the agreement to be nullified. The Mets held their ground, and eventually the issue was dropped.
With two brand new ballparks in New York, everyone was debating which was better, and which stadium was worth the cost. Citi Field and Yankee Stadium are two totally different ballparks, and here's my review of both.
The Mets were in dire need of a new home to replace the aging Shea Stadium. Mets fans, lets face it- Shea Stadium was a dump. It seemed as if there were always puddles in the concourses, regardless of the weather. The sight lines were terrible and the stadium needed to be replaced.
Citi Field was built to resemble Ebbets Field, the former home of the Brooklyn Dodgers and was built in the Shea Stadium parking lot. The stadium's centerpiece was the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. Many believed that the stadium should be named after Robinson, but instead the open-air rotunda behind home plate is the only reminder of the man who broke baseball's color barrier. While the Rotunda is nice, I don't think that it's anything special. To me, it is only a big room with escalators, and pictures of Jackie. It could be placed in any stadium, and for me the "wow factor" just isn't there.
The same lack or originality can be applied to the rest of the ballpark. In the center field concourse, there is a mini baseball field for kids to play on- just like the one in Pittsburgh's PNC Park. You then look up and see the back of the centerfield scoreboard, and you feel like you are standing on Eutaw Street at Camden Yards. The scoreboard in left field has the exact same frame as the scoreboard at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., and even the layout of the information during games is the same! If you go into the Pepsi Porch in right field, there is a miniature standing room only section, flag poles included, exactly like the standing room only section at Camden Yards.
In addition to the copy-and-paste construction style (the designers of Citi Field were also the designers of the ballparks whose features are mirrored in Citi), the designers' attempt to make the playing field unique was terrible. The outfield walls are way too high, (16-18 feet in most places) separating fans from the action. It feels like the players and the field are miles away, and the high walls also make Citi Field a pitchers' ballpark. If only the Mets had good pitching, and didn't need to rely on their offense to win games!
The Mo's Zone in right centerfield has to be the stupidest thing that I have ever seen in a ballpark. Out of nowhere, there is a giant 3-sided notch in the outfield wall pushing the fences back several feet. As a result, the right field power alley is turned into Death Valley- turning a home run in almost every other stadium, into a double or an out. There was absolutely no need for there to be a notch in the wall, other than the designer's lame attempt to put something unique in this cookie-cutter ballpark.
Okay, time to get positive. The Mets did have the smarts to incorporate their famous homerun apple into the new stadium. Not only was a new apple built to be used during games, but the original apple is on display for fans to see! I remember at my first baseball game, I was so excited when the apple popped up after a Mets homerun, and being able to stand next to the apple that fascinated me as a 5 yr-old was a great experience. I also thought that it was very cool that the Mets took the giant New York City skyline that sat atop the scoreboard at Shea Stadium, and put it above the Shake Shack concession stand in centerfield. It was good to see that they were able to incorporate the piece into the new stadium, instead of just auctioning it off the highest bidder. I also liked the bridge in right-center field that overlooks the bullpens. I can't think of any other ballpark that have a bridge INSIDE the stadium and this arch bridge looked great out in right-center.
Citi Field is a wonderful ballpark. It's clean, new, and an immense upgrade from Shea Stadium. However, compared to other newly built ballparks, it just isn't unique. It looks and feels like almost every other new stadium, and there was nothing that I thought was spectacular about the place. CitiField is nice, but the designers should have focused on building CitiField, instead of focusing on how to incorporate features from every other ballpark built in the last 15 years.
It's impossible to review the new Yankee Stadium without thinking about the old one. The original Yankee Stadium was remarkable. It was the first 3-tiered stadium in the country, and even after 86 years, it had a magical feel. If there was a game that the Yankees simply had to win, many fans and players felt like Yankee Stadium would come alive and help the players win the game. Yankee Stadium has seen too many great moments to list, and if you could only see one baseball game in your entire life, many would go see the Yankees battle their arch-rival, the Red Sox, at baseball's cathedral in the Bronx--Yankee Stadium.
Yes the place was old, and the concourses were anemic, but Yankee Stadium had personality. The extremely steep upper deck meant that everybody was on top of one another, so the building seemed louder than it really was. 2/3 of the seats were in the upper deck, where the real die-hard and passionate fans were able to see the legends and historic moments that played out on the field. After witnessing the epic 15 innings All-Star game in 2008, my Dad and I were walking out, and he said to me "The stadium doesn't want to go," and I believed him. The stadium always felt alive, and there was never any doubt in my mind that the Yankees would win the final game ever played there. It would just be unfair for such an amazing place not to go out on top. The Yankees boasted about how the stadium will fell just like the Old Yankee Stadium. If the stadium is going to look and fell just like the old stadium across the street, then why do you need a new one? With the building of the New Yankee Stadium, all the history and mystique was thrown out the window in the name of profit.
When I first saw the new home of the Yankees, I was in awe. Everything was so clean and perfect. It was so different from the old stadium, and I loved it. However, as I began to go to more games, I realized what this stadium is all about- the separation of the haves and the have-nots. The Yankees have made it so painstakingly clear that if you are not a millionaire Wall Street executive, then you are not allowed to have fun in our stadium. The absurdly expensive $1200 seats near the paying field are surrounded by a retaining wall for crying out loud! In fact, as reported by ESPN, the Yankees sales staff actually promotes these expensive seats by telling potential buyers that they won't have to mix with the riff-raff. Since 98 percent of Yankee fans probably can't afford these seats- it's nice to know what the team really thinks of the real fans!
Also, if you don't have a ticket for field level, then the Yankee Stadium Seat Police, a security team whose efficiency would make any communist dictator proud, will kick you out to the concourses to mix with the ordinary people- even during Batting Practice! If a little 8 year old and his family are in town on vacation and they want to see their favorite team up close, they can't. No other team in the Major Leagues follows such an extreme policy.
Even the Great Hall, the main entrance to the Stadium with banners of past player's and a huge video screen loses its luster over time. Once you get past the shock of its sheer size, you begin to think the Hall belongs in a shopping mall, not a baseball stadium. The Yankees Museum ("a museum within a museum") isn't even that special. All that's in it, are baseballs signed by past and present Yankees. The only thing that is special about the stadium is the giant scoreboard ion center field- one of the largest HD scoreboard in the world.
Apartheid Stadium (am I allowed to call it that) didn't need to be built. Fenway Park and Wrigley Field are older ballparks, but nobody thinks of tearing them down. Fans should have learned to deal with all of the Stadium's problems because it was THE Yankee Stadium! More historic moments have happened there than in the White House, and to tear it down is almost criminal. One Yankee fan said to me that "the fans deserve a better stadium." But, how many real fans are actually enjoying the new stadium. All of the million dollar luxuries aren't for the common fan. Most people will never sit in a luxury suite, or watch a game in one of the restaurants there. Other than wider concourses and bigger bathrooms, what does the average fan really have to enjoy that they couldn't enjoy at the old Stadium?
The new Yankee Stadium has nothing to do with the real fans. Yankee Stadium is all about making the highest profit possible, even if that means alienating the fans that have helped turn the Yankees into the power-hungry , ego-maniacs that they are today.
Yankee Stadium and CitiField are both very nice for the average fan. If you go to one or two games a year, you will love both ballparks. But to the dedicated fans who have seen many of the other stadiums around the league, the most expensive stadiums in the league ones don't have the same charm as the ones that are home to some of the worst teams in the MLB.
Puck Collector is a contributing columnist to myGameBalls.com.