Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Yankee Stadium

As all baseball fans know, this year marks the final season of venerable Yankee Stadium. I was fortunate enough to get in on one of the tours of The House That Ruth Built last weekend to see the place one final time before it gives way to the new stadium that is rising across 161st Street. From the outside, the new Yankee Stadium looks as if its the older structure with its return to the classic facade with the stadium named etched in gold. Although it's always sad to lose the history of the old ballparks, that is one definite improvement over the current Yankee Stadium.

Being a Red Sox fan setting foot into Yankee Stadium always feels strange, a place of great import but a place that's not too welcoming to people of your belief. Kind of like setting foot on the floor of the Republican Convention toting an Obama '08 sign. This being the final season of the Stadium (and all you need to say is "the Stadium" and people know you're not talking about Shea or Qualcomm), tickets to remaining games are scarce, and you won't have an easy time getting tickets to the tours either. Advance tickets for remaining Yankee Stadium tours are sold out, but the Yankees put 40 tickets on sa
le at 9 a.m. on days of tours at the advance ticket window. But you'll probably need to get there early. On the day we went, people were lining up before 6:45 a.m., and people who arrived after 8:30 a.m. were shut out. 

The access that is granted on the tour is pretty good, but it was a big group of about 60 people, which meant we didn't have a lot of time to wander in Monument Park, which was the part of the stadium I was most interested in seeing. The tour took us up to the press box, which has a fantastic panorama of the field and into the Yankee dugout. (I didn't try to high step and jump over the fence like Derek Jeter, which was probably a good decision.) We also got to walk along the warning track along the outfield wall. It was neat to see all the circular dents in the wall, which appeared to be painted, from outfield shots.   

Monument Park is an impressive place to visit, even if you're not a Yankee fan because the Yankee greats are a cavalcade of some of the best who ever played the game. I hadn't realized that the only true monuments in Monument Park honor just five greats: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Miller Huggins. There are plaques that honor other members of the Yankee organization, and a long row of numerals on pinstriped circles in Monument Park looks like the winning numbers for some new pinstriped game from the New York State Lottery, but they contain the team's 16 retired numbers. Not bad when you can have Ruth's retired number sandwiched between the display for Gehrig and DiMaggio. 

After the tour, we ducked into the Yankee Tavern, which is supposedly as old as Yankee Stadium. The walls are filled with memorabilia and photographs of Yankees, although it felt like Jeter was staring at you no matter where you moved. I liked the replica of Yankee Stadium's signature facade that hung from the ceiling of the bar and the fact the menu included a ballpark pretzel.

There was an interesting billboard just outside of Yankee Stadium that I was surprised to see. It featured David Wright of the Mets and David Ortiz from the Sox pushing Vitamin Water. How do the stars from the Yankees' two biggest rivals get their faces plastered in the shadows of the stadium? Couldn't imagine seeing A-Rod and Jeter on any billboards around Fenway.

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