The new Yankee Stadium is fine.
Which gives one pause. Or gives me pause, anyway.
Since getting to New York last week, I've asked a number of Yankees fans about the new ballpark, and their collective opinion might be summed up like this:
I've had a bit stronger reaction, perhaps because I'm not predisposed toward the franchise. Yankee Stadium is perfectly serviceable, but upon my first visit this week I was actually disappointed. Disappointed with its lack of character. Disappointed with its lack of charisma. Disappointed with its lack of gravitas.
My favorite ballparks are the ancients in Boston and Chicago. I adore Dodger Stadium, too. Among the new ballparks I've visited -- and I've still plenty to visit -- I'm most fond of those in Denver, San Francisco, and Baltimore. It's lovely in Seattle once the weather turns in July. Most of the other recent ballparks leave me somewhat cold ... which of course is an improvement on the multi-purpose ashtrays of the 1970s and '80s, which left me disgusted.
Yankee Stadium should have joined those ballparks in Denver and San Francisco and Baltimore. I don't know how, exactly. The Bronx doesn't have Denver's mountainous backdrop, or San Francisco's bay, or Baltimore's massive brick warehouse. But I suspect that given a mandate by the Yankees' owners, a few creative people could have come up with something. Something that would have made the new Yankee Stadium stick in one's mind, long after a three-hour visit on an overcast Wednesday evening.
It's not that the stadium isn't distinctive. Not exactly. Visiting, you do realize you're in the home of the New York Yankees. There are those giant blue letters, both atop the main entrance and the big display board beyond left-center field. There are the blue seats, and the matte-black hitter's background, just like in the old yard. And of course there's still the frieze (which technically isn't a frieze, but whatever).
But while all of those things do echo the club's previous home next door, they have the odd effect of diminishing the new place. For one thing, few (if any) of those things were actually pleasing. Ballpark seats should be green, as should hitter's backgrounds. That "frieze" is merely tacked-on ornamentation. They're still playing Kate Smith singing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch. For heaven's sake, the grounds crews still performs its little "YMCA" routine.
So they kept all of those things ... and yet they're all smaller now. There aren't as many seats, the hitter's background isn't as large, the "frieze" is less noticeable, and even Kate Smith's voice somehow seems tinnier, less imposing and dramatic. Why bother, then?
We might also echo the complaints about other recently built ballparks. Those incredibly expensive seats behind home plate, often half-filled and permanently surrounded by a concrete moat. Between-innings "entertainment" on the big board.
Which reminds of something else that's disappointing ... The New York Yankees are supposed to epitomize class. But with the arguable exception of Derek Jeter's appearances still announced by the (now) disembodied voice of Bob Sheppard, there is almost nothing classy about Yankee Stadium. The Yankees could have afforded to eschew advertisements on the outfield walls, but they didn't. They could have jettisoned "YMCA", but they didn't. They could have built something in the grand tradition of the Empire State Building or the Chrysler Building or the Brooklyn Bridge or any of a dozen other New York City landmarks, but they didn't. Yankee Stadium's like a school in summer.
The big blue letters say Yankee Stadium, but otherwise you could be almost anywhere. There's something special about Yankee Stadium because the New York Yankees do play there and, as the franchise wins more championships, this new building will naturally accrue atmosphere and mystique, weighty with emotion and history.
Now, though? The New York Yankees and the local citizenry spent more than a billion dollars on a wasted opportunity.
What could the Yankees have done to make Yankee Stadium more memorable and distinctive? Please share your ideas in the comments, and we'll run some of the best ideas in a later post.