Monday, September 7, 2009

Out With the New, In With the Old

No where is the difference between the Mets and the Yankees more apparent than in their new ballparks.

Tom Seaver once said he didn't understand why the Mets didn't play up their own interesting past.Citi Field's generic, Mets-free approach, is typical of the current ownership, as is the homage to the history of, not the current denizens of Queens, who have been the National League franchise from the Big Apple for almost 50 years, but of the team that left the city high and dry, the Dodgers. Not stadium related, but equally ridiculous, is the Mets donning a throwback uniform of the team they were playing, the Giants, a few weeks back. What the Wilpons don't grasp is that Met fans love their history. The poor schmoes who dig the Mets want to see pictures celebrating Ed Kranepool and Jim Beauchamp, game used bats pried from the sweaty palms of Rod Gaspar, films of Mackey Sasser throwing wild pitches back to the mound. Don't go to Citi for that - it's not there.
You will not find such lapses in reason at the new Yankee Stadium. Its facades are back and beautiful. The gold letters on entrance ways are stunning. There's no need for statues outside the park. The stadium itself is integral to the annals of the game.
We picked up our tickets at Gate 2, site of the Yankee offices. Before the doors opened at 10 AM, J. and I waited outside. As we cooled our heels, up came Yankee broadcaster Michael Kay, wheeling his game day luggage behind him. J. loves Kay, and asked for an autograph. J. knows how to be polite and said. "You're my favorite announcer," to which Kay replied, "Why are you wearing a Cubs hat then?" J. laughed. Once inside, we quickly noticed a statue of George Steinbrenner, peering at any who dared enter the elevators, making sure that any such person deserved the privilege.

Once our tickets arrived, we made it into the park itself. We had a plan - hit Monument Park right away, then head to the Yankees Museum. Our timing was perfect. Monument Park is fine for what it is, a tribute to the most successful team in pro sports. The plaques have always left a lot to be desired. The Yankees should use the same sculptor the Hall of Fame employs. The likenesses are pretty poor. Yankee fans are a picture taking crowd and it's awfully hard to make your way through them with any speed. We did, and when we got out the line filing in was ungodly, and it was only 10:30!
At the Museum we met up with Curator Brian Richards, who I knew from Cooperstown. He's got a challenge ahead of him, as it's clear that the Yankees have kept nothing over the years. All the artifacts, and there are some great ones like the Babe's bat from his first homer at the old ball yard, are on loan from collectors. The cases celebrating new Hall of Fame Inductees and ex-Yanks Joe Gordon and Rickey Henderson, have Brian's mark all over them. They tell the story of the two men very well with a bit of text, great mementos and a lot of humanity through the use of quotes. The central piece of the Museum is a wall of single signed baseballs from living Yankees. On one side of the case are facsimile autographs of past stars, on the flip side the balls themselves.
One after another, people came up to Brian, asking "Is there any order to the baseballs." Repeatedly, and patiently, Brain explained that there was no order, that balls keep coming in and it would be difficult to realphabetize, or reorganize the chronology if they were kept that way right now. He pointed to the computer screen on the wall which did guide people to their favorite Yankee by location (21C, or something like that). As someone who has shelved albums, CDs, and books, I can sympathize. Nothing is worse than reorganizing everything when the supply shifts.
Because Monday was a day/night doubleheader, we ended up in a difficult spot. We had ordered tickets for the 1:05 game, but, once I was safely in the ballpark, I noticed the tickets were for the 7:05 contest. There's a huge subgroup of Yankee employees holding baseball signs which have the message "How Can I Help You?" I have to say, every one of those people were of enormous assistance and we got straightened out with time to spare.
Oh yeah, the game. The Yanks beat the Rays with a bottom of the 8th rally. Sabathia and Garza squared off in a wonderful pitching contest, Brett Gardner made a sprawling catch behind Nick Swisher's interference, Evan Longoria hit a home run. From our seats in Section 226, we had excellent site lines. The video screen is colossal and impressive. The replays seemed almost more real than the action itself. We didn't eat much, a couple of Nathan's hot dogs and some cheese fries, so I can't comment that much on the variety.
Even leaving the Stadium seemed easier than in the old days. We parked in an indoor lot on River Ave. The parking garages I recall from the first Yankee Stadium were a nightmare to get out of. Not so now. At the monstrous intersection of Jerome Ave., River Ave., 16-something St. (and about five more streets it seemed), was a storefront one could only find in New York - "Everything 99 cents or more." A great laugh to end a perfect day.

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