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April 5, 2009: New Digs

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NEW DIGS

Today I set foot for the first time in the New Yankee Stadium.

The first thing I did, though was park in one of the old parking lots. Good old Lot 8, which used to be right next to the stadium, making it a quick run for the exit at the end after the final out. Now it’s on the far side of the old building from the new one, and at $19 to park today, not such a great idea any more, but until I try one of the new lots, I’ll take my chances.

Parking there meant I had to walk past the old stadium, which strangely enough had its lights on and flags flying inside, making it look a bit like the old place was set up for the ghosts to have their own game. The phone booths are empty, the spaces where the old signs in the entryways were now blacked out like missing teeth.

Meanwhile, the gleaming edifice of the new place beckons you to hurry past the old hulk to reach the brightness and music and life.

The first thing you come to on crossing 161st Street in what is the largest crosswalk I’ve ever seen, is the Babe Ruth Plaza, and a grand multi-story atrium entryway, at one end of which is the largest Diamondvision I’d ever seen–at least until I looked across the field and saw the even bigger one in center field.

I found it a bit bewildering at first to try to find my way around, partly because the crowd was just so thick. Through the tinted glass I could see the New Era souvenir store was packed with people like FAO Schwarz in late December. I walked up some ramps, rode some escalators, and found the Yankees museum, but the line to get into the museum was a half hour wait, and I didn’t want to stand around when there was more to be seen. The chilly weather also encouraged me to keep moving–did all these Chicago Cubs fans bring the wind with them? Gusts reached 50 miles per hour and the temperature was only 47 degrees at game time.

I finally climbed up to my seat in the “grandstand” (the equivalent of what we used to call Tier Reserved, the upper half of the upper deck) and was pleased to find the Seat Relocation Plan worked for me. I have essentially the identical position and view (and price…) as my season ticket seats in the old stadium. The sightline is slightly improved into the left field corner, in fact.

The scoreboard department hasn’t changed their pregame programming. When I had walked in, the Hammond Organ had been playing “New York, New York” and as I took my seat the song “Heart of a Champion” was on. The improvement in the sound system was immediately apparent as before today I had never been able to make out a single one of the lyrics beyond the chorus.

Even the bald eagle Challenger wanted to check the place out, making several laps back and forth before finally settling on his trainer’s arm on the mound at the end of the National Anthem.

What is it with this city and plane disasters? The standing ovation for Captain Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot who safely landed that jet on the Hudson recently and saved the lives of all his passengers and crew, was spontaneous, loud, and enthusiastic when he threw out the first pitch. That was the one moment all day where I got really emotional, 9-11 flashbacks and all.

Well, and there were also tears of joy when I realized that upon getting some hot chocolate THERE ARE CUP HOLDERS IN THE UPPER DECK!! Yes, thank you!

The stadium staff are still clearly working out the bugs, as the snafus today varied from the small (the concession stand by my seats had only foot long hot dogs, but only 6 inch buns) to the large (the whole sound system blew out in the 6th inning, just before the YMCA… and the rest of the game was played in silence, meaning the YMCA dance was not performed, and me and one Cubs fan in the row behind me sang Take Me Out to the Ballgame all by ourselves).

Does the Stadium really play as small as all the home runs we saw over the weekend seem to suggest? Only time will tell, but the interesting thing is that inside the stadium bowl it actually has a much more closed-in and intimate feeling than the previous stadium. My impression is that the place is going to really rock when the Yankees win. The Bronx Zoo will go nuts with plenty of energy in a space like that. Meanwhile outside the bowl, everything is more spacious and open. The concourses are open–which was a bit of a detriment in the biting wind–and the women’s rooms are huge compared to the old ones. Gone is the Pepto Bismol pink paint in the women’s rooms, too, replaced by shiny chrome & steel.

So, yeah, it was different, and yet it was everything it has been hyped to be. It’s a lot like moving into a newer, bigger house.

But there was a roll call, the fans are clearly getting into the swing of things, and so were the Yankees, who won easily 10-1, with great pitching from Pettitte and Burnett, and home runs from Derek Jeter, Shelley Duncan, and two by Mark Teixeira, in addition to the three yesterday by Cody Ransom, Hideki Matsui, and Robinson Cano. There were only sporadic breakouts of “Let’s Go Yankees” and “Hip Hip Jorge” but that is normal for an exhibition game. I don’t know about the “ghosts,” but the spirit of Yankee Stadium is in the lifeblood of the fans, and that will be what really makes the new place feel like home.

P. S. Tomorrow, photos!

(Did you enjoy reading this blog entry? Please consider buying me a hot dog.)

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