- First visit: Saturday September 9th 1995
- Most recent visit: Saturday September 16 2017
Our first visit to Yankee Stadium took place on September 9th 1995, as the Yankees hosted the Boston Red Sox for a matinee contest. This visit was to the “second” Yankee Stadium, as the original configuration was renovated significantly in 1974 and 1975 (during which time the Yankees played at Shea Stadium, the home of the New York Mets). While still in the same physical location as the original “House That Ruth Built”, the renovations modernized the ballpark. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to visit the “old” Yankee Stadium.
Much like Shea Stadium in Queens, Yankee Stadium, located in the Bronx, is not easy to access coming from central NJ. Driving to the stadium was not deemed an option, as parking was limited and expensive, and exiting the region after the game was a nightmare. Instead, we chose to drive into Manhattan, park at the Javits Center parking lot, and hop on the C subway train to the ballpark (which took about 30 minutes). Without much to see in the immediate vicinity of the park, we entered the ballpark from the gate behind home plate.
Crossing from the darkness of the tunnel to the light of Yankee Stadium, it was instantly clear that we had entered a baseball cathedral. Seemingly immense in size, many of the landmarks I had seen on TV came within view. By this time, the outfield walls had been brought in considerably, especially in centerfield. Monument Park (an outdoor museum containing plaques and busts of Yankee greats), which was once in the playing field at the stadium, was adjacent to the visiting bullpen beyond the left centerfield wall. Bleachers in left center and right field bracketed the batter’s eye in centerfield. Dubbed the “bleacher creatures”, fans in the right field bleachers at Yankee Stadium had a reputation for occasional vulgar behavior (which rattled opposing right fielders), as well as tossing D batteries at visiting players.
Perhaps the best known landmark in this hallowed ballpark was the white façade stretching atop the bleachers. Made originally of copper (which would occasionally turn green as the copper became exposed to the air), it was scrapped during the renovation in the mid 1970s, replaced by a concrete version which was in place when we visited. Even though we were not Yankees fans by any means, we could help not being overwhelmed by the air of history within this place. It is mind boggling how many Hall of Famers called Yankee Stadium home, and how many championships were won in this park.
During 1995, the Yankees were emerging from a decade long slumber during which time they did not appear in the playoffs. As the team improved with rising young stars interspersed with veterans, the attendance at Yankee Stadium rebounded. Because of this, we were often relegated to upper deck seats, particularly when the Red Sox (and later the crosstown Mets) were in town. We were surprised by how steep the seating area was in the upper deck, and there were times when I felt uncomfortable walking up and down the seemingly harrowing concrete stairs. Though it did not happen to us, I could see other battling vertigo when trying to navigate the upper deck at Yankee Stadium.
Luckily for us, we were able to catch a game during the final season of the Yankees captain, Don Mattingly. By this time, a degenerative spinal condition had eroded his once considerable skills, and during this visit to Yankee Stadium, Mattingly played first base and batted seventh. On this day, the Yankees defeated the Red Sox 9-1, with rookie lefthander Andy Pettitte securing the victory with 8 2/3 inning of one run ball. Some of the pieces in place that day would comprise the penultimate dynasty of the 1990s.
Visits to Yankee Stadium for the next decade or so were infrequent, usually scheduled when the Yankees hosted the Mets. We DID try to get tickets to the Subway Series in 2000, but not surprisingly tickets were scarce, and at that time, prohibitively expensive from resale vendors. After that time, the Yankees were perpetual contenders, as the Mets slid downhill for a few years. That downturn for the Mets made it somewhat easier to secure tickets at the stadium, though generally in the upper deck. One of my most vivid memories of Yankee Stadium occurred in 2002, when the Mets Roger Cedeno completed a straight steal of home plate (an exceedingly rare baseball event).
Fortunately for us, our upper deck seats (just to the left of home plate) gave us a fantastic view of the action. Taking a large lead off third base, Cedeno made a mad dash for the plate. Not sure of what I was seeing, I asked my brother what he was doing; it was, after all, the first straight steal of home I had seen in person. Though the Mets fortunes against the Yankees were generally disappointing, they did allow us to see Hall of Famers in pinstripes through 2008, including Derek Jeter and Wade Boggs, as well as players on the outside looking in, such as Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriquez. No matter what you may think of the last two players, Yankee Stadium was a great place to see these premiere athletes compete.
The “new” Yankee Stadium – September 16, 2017
Ground was broken for the “new” Yankee Stadium just across the street from the second incarnation of the “old” Yankee Stadium in 2006. Completed in time for the beginning of the 2009 season, the latest version of Yankee Stadium looked and felt like its predecessor. Much of the design was inspired by the original stadium, with Monument Park making the trip to the new park. After demolition of the old ballpark, the space was turned into parkland named Heritage Field.
Rather than transport the façade from the old stadium, new facade was crafted from steel instead of concrete for the new ballpark. The high definition video board in centerfield was the third largest in the world when it debuted, providing nearly twice the area of the video board in the old stadium. With fan comfort in mind, the stadium was laid out like a bowl, which made the seating more accessible, eliminating the nearly vertigo inducing steepness of the upper deck of its predecessor. Approximately 1300 pictures from various sources are scattered throughout the stadium. Dubbed “The Glory of the Yankees Photo Collection”, Yankee players and moments from the teams fabled past were featured in the photos.
All of the amenities of the new stadium were well done, creating an atmosphere similar to the old ballpark, updated for the 21st century. However, there was one huge step backward (in my opinion) with the new ballpark. In an obvious attempt to generate scoring, the outfield dimensions are smaller than the “old” stadium, giving the park the feel of a “bandbox” (a term denoting a ballpark that favored home runs). While the left and right field lines in the older versions of Yankee Stadium were (relatively) short, the remainder of the park was large enough to deter “cheap” home runs. Having the bleachers extending into left center and right center does enhance the fan experience (placing them closer to the action), but it also seems to invite more home runs. While this is typical of many “newer” MLB parks, in my opinion these changes were implemented chiefly to facilitate home runs.
During our pre game tour of the new Yankee Stadium, it was clear that the organization delivered a significant upgrade to the old stadium, with this version feeling much cozier (with the capacity right around 50,000). Gone was the history of the old stadium, but the newer facilities afforded a better overall fan experience, including myriad places to eat scattered across the stadium. With the Yankees on their way to yet another playoff berth, there was large crowd in attendance to see the late Saturday afternoon contest against the Baltimore Orioles.
On this clear and seasonably warm afternoon, the hometown Yankees sent left hander Jordan Montgomery to the hill to face the young Orioles lineup. Montgomery, a prized pitching prospect, was finishing a very effective rookie season. Baltimore sent veteran right hander Jeremy Hellickson to the mound to face the potent Yankee offense, which featured right fielder Aaron Judge. Judge was putting the finishing touches on a record setting rookie campaign, which would earn him AL Rookie of the Year honors. Shadows were a factor early in the game, due primarily to the 410 PM start (presumably to accommodate the Fox broadcast).
Once the shadows crept beyond home plate and the pitcher’s mound, New York used the long ball to score seven runs through the first five innings. Meanwhile, Yankee starter Jordan Montgomery consistently mowed down the Baltimore lineup. Montgomery left after six innings’ work, surrendering no runs on just four hits, while striking out six. His counterpart, Orioles starter Jeremey Hellickison, lasted a scant three innings, allowing six runs during his time of the mound. A trio of Baltimore relievers allowed three runs in mop up work, as the Yankees took a commanding 9-0 lead.
Despite the scoring, the pace of the game was comparatively quick, which left us little time to enjoy the atmosphere of the new ballpark. As late afternoon blended into early evening, Yankee Stadium took on a different hue. The ballpark appeared to soften under the lights, revealing that the once swelling crowd had diminished to a smattering of remaining faithful, with the game well in hand for the Bombers.
Entering the ninth inning, Yankee pitching held the young but improving Baltimore lineup in check. However, the Orioles did not go quietly, scoring three runs on a lead off home run by CF Austin Hays, followed by a series of walks, punctuated by a balk that allowed a run. Left hander Chasen Shreve, who had been enjoying a successful 2017 season as a bullpen stalwart, lost his command, giving up four walks before exiting the game. Those that remained for the top of the ninth became frustrated, audibly moaning and screaming after each walk. Finally, Yankee fans were treated a merciful end to the top of the ninth, as New York claimed a 9-3 victory. As quickly the first part of the game passed, the last three innings were that slow, with the ninth inning requiring nearly 30 minutes to complete.
In total, the game time was in excess of three and one-half hours, leaving just a few thousand fans to file out of Yankee Stadium into the streets around it. As we exited, I reflected on the new stadium. Overall, we were impressed by the stadium, (minus the smaller dimensions than its predecessor), as the organization successfully recreated the feel of Yankee Stadium, while updating it to make the ballpark more modern. Being in just about the same location as the old ballpark, it remains difficult to access from central NJ, so even though we enjoyed the atmosphere, I am not sure how often we will visit in the future.