Recap - Orioles 5, Yankees 2
So, here I am. The final stadium on my list. The end of my journey.
I started this journey last year on Opening Day in Citi Field New York so, it's only fitting that I close it out on the final game of the season in the other NY venue, the ‘House that Jeter built’, Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees are without question the most heralded, successful and well known (both loved and hated) sports franchise in North America as well as many other parts of the world. They boast 27 World Championships and so many iconic players – Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle and , yes, Jeter. There have been many memorable moments in both regular and post season games for this franchise that I would develop carpal tunnel syndrome trying to type all of them.
I am a fan of both the Yankees and Mets and I have been so since childhood. I never understood why folks in the New York metro area feel they need to root for one and hate the other. The two teams are not in same league and didn’t play each other in a meaningful regular season game until inter-league play began in 1997. I must admit, the 2000 Subway Series was a bit stressful for me.
For 2nd straight year - MLB has scheduled all 15 games on the docket for the season's last day to start at the exact same time, 1:05 EST. Baseball has always ended its season on Sunday except in 2011 when it ended on a Tuesday night and happened to be the most exciting finish ever to a regular season. I’d actually prefer if they went back to that rather than have the final day of the season compete with the NFL.
My trip to the park today didn't involve any air travel or Greyhound. It was pretty quick and simple. The drive from my house to the stadium is about an hour but no one who can avoid it would ever want to drive into the South Bronx. Luckily, there are alternatives to driving and for me today it was the train into Penn Station New York and from there, the 4 line subway right to the stadium.
The new Yankee Stadium opened in 2009 , the same year as their NY counterpart the Mets opened their new stadium – Citi Field. It’s one of only a handful of MLB venues that haven’t handed their name over to corporate branding.
The old stadium with all of its amazing history and lore was falling into disrepair. Seats were torn and taped, the concourse was shabby, concessions stands and bathrooms needed work. There was a lot of debate over where the new stadium should be built. There was plenty of support for building it on the West Side of Manhattan but ultimately it was built right across from the old one in the Bronx. While the South Bronx may have been a somewhat decent neighborhood back in 1923 when the old stadium first went up, it has long since devolved into a full-fledged ghetto, so it amazes me why the home ballpark of the most successful sports franchise of all time would be built here. A lot of people argued that it would be a 'sacrilege' to move from the Bronx where all the history and decades of success occurred - and if so, the team would be haunted by the 'ghost of The Babe'. Maybe there’s some credence to that since the first year they played in this new park, they won the World Series after an 8 year drought.
The stadium itself though is quite remarkable. It is more akin to a temple than a ballpark with the ‘Great Hall’ (featuring banners of all the great players who ever donned the Yankee pinstripes) and Monument Park (which is opened for visitors up to an hour before game time). There is also a really nice Hall of Fame and memorabilia exhibit which is free to visit. There is a massive display of retired numbers in the outfield. The Yankees have retired 22 numbers in total - far more than any other team in the league. In fact, no Yankee player will ever wear a single digit number again.
The food offerings at the new stadium are a considerable leap ahead of the boiled hot dogs and chicken fingers the old stadium had. In addition to some very nice sit down dining options (Hard Rock Café, NYY Steak, etc.) there are lots of great concession choices for burgers (Bareburger, Johnny Rockets, Lobel’s)
, steak sandwiches, BBQ, and sushi. Craft brews are a bit lacking here although you can find some if you hunt a bit. Budweiser is the stadium's official beer. There is also a ‘Retro Beer’ stand where you can buy cans of PBR and Schlitz for 12 bucks each. In high school, I used to be able to buy a case of those for $8!
If you are heading to Yankee Stadium, make sure you have a packed wallet. Ticket and concession prices are the highest in the league (someone has to pay for those lofty contracts). There is a clear delineation between the high roller corporate account fans sitting in the Legends seats at a few hundred bucks a pop and the 'commoners' sitting in the upper deck. A fun and inexpensive way to see a game here is to buy a bleacher ticket. The right field bleachers are occupied by the ‘bleacher creatures’ who have a long-standing tradition of doing a player by player ‘roll call’ – shouting out each players name in the top of the first – position by position until they turn and acknowledge the fans – which they always do.
Another long standing fun tradition at Yankee Stadium is the grounds crew coming out between innings to rake the infield and in the process, dancing in choreograph to “YMCA" usually with plenty of fan participation
The game itself had no meaning for the Yankees as they had been eliminated from post season contention about a week earlier. Not many times in recent years has this been the case and it is never taken well by the fans or local press since there is an expectation to win every year. But the game did have meaning for their opponents, the Baltimore Orioles, who needed to win today to earn the 2nd AL Wild Card spot and punch their playoff ticket. The game had additional significance as it was the final game in the career of the mercurial Yankee first baseman Mark Teixeira who had a very solid career and at times was a disappointment for the Yankees and at other times was a legitimate star. 'Tex' finished 2nd in the 2009 MVP voting (to Joe Mauer) and was a key cog in their championship season that year.
Baltimore had the game in hand from start to finish, jumping out to a 3-1 lead and eventually winning 5-2 highlighted by a pair of Matt Weiters home runs (one from each side of the plate). Tex did make a sweet defensive play in the top of the 2nd. He was eventually removed from the game in the 7th to a standing ovation from the fans.
One of the worst things about coming here is that there’s absolutely no reason to stay in the area afterwards. To the contrary, you want to get to your car as quickly as you can and pray that no one stole your battery. If it is a day game and you still have some daylight left, a trip to Stan’s Sports World is in order. Located right across from the stadium on River Ave, Stan’s has been peddling a vast and exceptional array of sports memorabilia for close to 40 years.
Overall – The experience was quite different for me than usual since I’ve already been here several times and this trip didn’t include any travel or extracurricular fun – but for any baseball fan building a list of 'must see' stadiums –going to this place is a no-brainer and needs to be very high on your list. This is after all, Yankee Stadium. The very name evokes images of great baseball moments and legendary players.
So, this is the end of my baseball journey – however, I decided a few weeks back that I’m not ready to end my fun, so I decided to start another journey of all the NFL stadiums (I started a few weeks back with Baltimore & DC).
I'm also really excited about the post season. The Mets earned the first wild card spot and will be hosting the Giants. If they come up short, I’ll be rooting for the Cubs this year. I think 108 years has been long enough for them.
Fans - C - Typical surly NY fans - but far less of them given it was the last game of the season with nothing to play for
Features - A - Monument Park, The Great Hall, The retired numbers, the museum exhibit - but most of all - just feeling the history of the franchise in the air
Location - D - Would get an F if not for the history of the team playing in this area. Only plus is that it's easily accessible by subway
Food - C - Decent options but nothing exceptional. Very high prices!
Game - B+ - Tex's last game. Orioles clinch a wild card on the season's last game
Overall Experience - B - It is hard to not have a good experience at Yankee Stadium given the mystique and lore of this franchise. There are plenty of parks that offer more in terms of fan experience, but only one park that is the home of the New York Yankees