QUICK FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Today I’m making my first trip to the new Yankee Stadium. I opted to give Opening Day a pass: I’m not much for crowds to begin with, so heaping an extra helping of humans on top of the throngs that are normally here just seemed like a bad idea. Part of this reluctance springs from my partial blindness — it’s very difficult to navigate through crowds when you can’t see half of them coming. Intriguingly, when you can’t see people coming, they act like they can’t see you coming. Not for the first time, Douglas Adams was right. I also figured that nothing worked the first day at Disneyland, so I’d give the Pinstriped Magic Kingdom a day to shake the bugs out.
I’m skipping around the page as I write these words, so it will be hard for me to construct a strict chronology, but just so you get a sense of the action, at this moment in time the Indians are batting in the top of the fourth and Joba Chamberlain, in imitation of CC Sabathia on Thursday, is trying to burn through his entire allotment of pitches in less than five innings. He’s already over 70, thanks to four walks and four strikeouts. That means that among my first-time experiences in the new ballpark will be an early appearance by the Yankees’ middle relievers. My cup runneth under.
The superficial impression given by Yankee Stadium II: The Sequel is that you’re in the old ballpark, albeit a version that has been cleaned up, reshaped a bit so that it’s more capacious, more comfortable. As wide as the new concourses are, it’s still not easy to thread the crowds (as per the above, if it were easy, I would know), but the flow of traffic is still far superior to the cramped cattle chutes of the old ballpark, and thanks to the openness of the design, the air is actually breathable. In the old ballpark, if you were exiting the stands after a long, hot afternoon at the ballpark and happened to get behind some socially untrained fellow who had been stewing out there with you, albeit without the aid of deodorant (roughly 10 percent of the crowd at any game, it seems), your hair might fall out before you were able to escape. That should be less of a problem now.
I pause here to note that Melky Cabrera just crushed a ball to right field, the Yankees’ third shot of the game in that direction. The ball seems to really take off when hit in the air that way, but I can’t tell if that’s an artifact of the new park or because the Yankees are legitimately crushing them.
The similarity of YS II to the old ballpark — meet the new stadium, same as the old stadium — still seems like a missed opportunity. The original Yankee Stadium helped bring ballparks and sporting events into the modern era. YS II could have reinvented the stadium for the 21st century in the same way. The new building is nice enough, but it’s not groundbreaking and new in the way it could have been, and given what it cost, probably should have been.
I pause again to register a complaint. There have been eight walks and more than 200 pitches in this game, and it’s only the fifth inning. This is like watching Tommy Byrne face Steve Dalkowski. At this writing, the Yankees are trailing by two, and you can blame either Joba, Sabathia, or Joe Girardi. Chamberlain had no control today, and after he labored through the fourth inning, it seemed pretty clear that little would be gained by letting him come out for the fifth. I know that would be a quick hook, but Joba had already thrown a day’s worth of pitches, and in a compact amount of time. While the worries about Joba’s health, and pitch counts in general, are often overblown, there’s something to the idea that a pitcher throwing 100 pitches in five innings may be more of a strain than his throwing 100 pitches in seven innings. Unfortunately, Girardi was not inclined to make a move until he was forced to, and maybe, given the work of the bullpen lately, his reluctance is understandable.
The field does its best impression of the old park, but the stands seem to press in a bit more. Perhaps it’s the giant television in center field, Arthur C. Clarke’s monolith beaming stats, fan videos, and commercials into our apelike brains. Derek Jeter’s face flashes on the screen, two stories tall, and the urge is to scrape before the neon god. Though the upper deck is visibly withdrawn compared to its old, aggressive tilt, almost perpendicular to the field, the bowl seems cozy. That’s only when you look straight out to center or into the power alleys. The lower seats are further away from the action (and not nearly filled).
Robinson Cano just launched the Yankees’ fourth blast to right field. The ball soared out like Werner Von Braun had stuffed some solid rocket fuel into it. Again: Power, or park effect? In the time it took me to ask that question, we have seen a Melky groundout (helpless as always against a left-handed pitcher) and a rare Cody Ransom single. Every day, a new bit of history.
One thing I do enjoy like about the new location is that it actually sits next to human habitation, not just the elevated train tracks and various bars and souvenir shops. Unlike the old building, you can walk completely around the new park without running into a security checkpoint, and as you get around to the building’s rear you see trees and apartment buildings (which have clearly traded down from their old park setting). The stadium seems less an island now, and more a part of the neighborhood. There is also light when you arrive at the ballpark, something you didn’t get crossing under the tracks in front of the battleship gray of the old park.
Vinnie Chulk just chulked the ball down the right field line, allowing the Yankees to tie the game. The crowd roared, but as you have heard, YS II does seem to be a quieter park than its late uncle. Perhaps that’s because the lower dish is only partially filled, perhaps it’s the distant upper deck. The sound system is geared up to overcome a much higher level of crowd noise than seems to exist here.
In a development that I imagine will be of scant interest to most of you, thanks to the reduced territory behind home plate, the press box is even closer to the action than it used to be, and we have better dining facilities as well. Note to self: Do not sample press box pretzels until they’ve had at least five innings to warm up. I will share one special thrill with you, though, one of the reasons that I am blessed to have this job. When I entered the press box for the first time, I asked one of the Yankees media relations staffers to point me to the chair reserved for YES. He pointed to an older gentleman in a baseball cap. “He’s in your seat,” he said, “just ask him to move.” I approached the seat, and saw the man clearly for the first time: it was the great Roger Angell. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to ask Roger Angell to move anywhere. I took the seat next to him. We chatted throughout the game, comparing lists of top Cary Grant films (more about that last in my next entry).
One other note: It’s good that they got the retired numbers out where they can be viewed, but (1) they’re tiny and (2) they’re on a somewhat grubby tile wall, as if they grew in someone’s shower with the mildew. Guys, you’ve got to treat the history of this franchise with at least as much respect as you treat your advertisers, if not more.
As we go to the top of the eighth, the game is tied, 5-5, Cabrera having just popped out with two runners on. We can forgive this given that he had already homered in the game, but did he have to leave Ransom to lead off the next inning? Consumed with feelings of dread, I will sign off for now.