Our next Pinch Hitter is Matthew O’Connor, who was born in western Massachusetts in 1972 but taught to be a Yankee fan by his Brooklyn-born father. “If Dad had to survive being a Yankee fan in Brooklyn in the 50’s,” Matthew wrote, “then it was only fair that I walk the New England gauntlet in the wake of Bucky Dent.”
For this post, it’s important to note the Matthew was a Yankees season ticket holder from 1996 through 2000 until he was married and moved to London (he had to work the work the day after Aaron Boone’s game winning Game 7 home run, which happened at roughly 6:02 a.m. over there). Matthew moved back to Manhattan in 2007, and says he tries not to tear his eyes out when he years about a piece of old New York dying in the name of greed progress (see: Island, Coney).
It’s with that love for history, memories and the Yankees that Matthew wrote about the new Yankee Stadium.
The second incarnation of Yankee Stadium (1976-2008) provided some indelible memories for fans – Chambliss being bum rushed by what looked like the cast of The Warriors after ending the ’76 ALCS, Reggie’s third homer landing halfway up “the black,” the time that guy threw a full beer in the air from the upper deck as Tino’s grand slam in the ’99 Series left the yard (I may have seen replays of that homer too many times). The old Stadium always popped on TV during the big moments.
But you had to experience it in person. That ballpark, in October, could be counted on for its hostility factor – daunting for the opposition but thrilling if you were a fan. Upper deck seats seemed to hang right over the field making a bad situation worse for the other team. It was the kind of ballpark where you would hurry back to your seat after a bathroom break because you didn’t want to miss the action, but also because there was literally nothing else to do. The place was short on comforts and amenities, but who cared? You schlepped up to The Bronx to watch a ballgame and shout yourself hoarse.
As the 90’s gave way to the aughts, you could sense the change in the stands. Going to a Yankee game had become THE thing to do when visiting New York. You would notice more tourists and out of town business colleagues of finance executives. Attendance increased sharply, from 2.2 million at the beginning of their title run in 1996 to well over 4 million by the close of business at Yankee Stadium II. By this time, control of the team had been transferred over to George Steinbrenner’s sons Hal and Hank (less Hank, for reasons I love to speculate about), COO Lonn Trost and the delightful Randy Levine as President. The brass recognized a huge opportunity to cash in on this portion of paying customers at the new stadium being built across the street.
Enter the Yankee Stadium III, replete with all flavors of distraction for the non-fan. From dated pop culture artifacts for the average tourist (“Get your Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts he-ere!”) to the pre-French Revolution excess of the Legends Suite. At first glance, the new place screamed, “If you aren’t interested in watching a baseball game, you’ve come to the right place!”
But what of the core fan base, the one that came for the main event?
The New York Yankees are a business, we all get that. Here are a few humble suggestions that can be easily accomplished without affecting the bottom line.
1. Ease up on the muscle — No need to call out the dogs on people eating sandwiches at conveniently located standing room stools two hours before game time. Encourage your security staff to use discretion before the breaking of balls for insignificant infractions. Yes, this happened to me — the steak sandwich from Lobel’s demands immediate consumption and cannot be asked to travel. The policy banning non box seat ticket holders from standing behind the dugout before games is especially heartless. Let the kids ask for their autographs.
2. Let the good people relax before game time — The impact of losing organist Eddie Layton has been huge. Even in his later years, it was clear Yankee brass were phasing out his tinkling of the plastic ivory for more bombastic ambient noise. This phenomenon isn’t restricted to Yankee Stadium – the YES network crew will often remark that Kaufman Stadium in Kansas City has the most overwhelming sound system in baseball. But time was, you could get to your seat early and soak up the sights of the ballpark with Mr. Layton as your soundtrack. Maybe you could even carry on a conversation with a friend. But does anyone, seriously ANYONE, prefer the new pre-game entertainment of a roving reporter shown on that ginormous screen loudly educating fans of all the various locations in the Stadium they can hemorrhage their hard-earned dollars?
3. Empty seats behind home plate are embarrassing, especially in October — Ticket prices for some field level seats have reached such levels of absurdity that it now only appeals to a previously undefined baseball fan – the person so wealthy he or she can afford to drop $1,250 or so on a single seat, but also wealthy enough to blow it off when something better comes up. If the spoiled little emperors don’t show up by the third inning, grab a group of fans from the cheap(er) seats above and let them watch the game from here. I know, I know – we’ve all read the studies proving that unmoisturized skin of the non-wealthy will degrade teak armrests (seriously, this is a trumpeted feature). But let’s let the eggheads sort that one out.
Wish They Didn’t
If I had my druthers (and I don’t), these features would’ve hit the drawing room floor during the design process.
Mohegan Sun Sports Bar — Looks like a wonderful simulation of the experience of watching a baseball game at a sportsbook in Connecticut. Proud parent of hundreds of visually obstructed bleacher creatures and Monument Cave.
Steinbrenner monument — By all means, you guys own the stadium so feel free to erect a tribute to your father. To have the size of it dwarf the monuments for Ruth, Mantle and Gehrig redefines the word grandiose.
Legends Boxes — Mr. Levine, tear down this moat!
Upper deck — Cheers for making it harder to hit one in the upper deck. Jeers for moving upper deck fans further away from the action and most likely reducing the noise factor.
Many Happy Returns?
My lifelong love of baseball and the Yankees ensures that I will continue to be a paying customer for the foreseeable future. The powers-that-be will continue to assault us with what this curmudgeon finds distasteful, and I’ll keep coming back for more. But if they change even one molecule of that Lobel’s steak sandwich, I might be forced to turn into one of these guys.
Associated Press photo up top, other two pictures submitted by Matthew