NEW YORK – Parallel universes still, the New York Yankees and everyone else.
The Yankees worked out Thursday afternoon at their new billion-dollar palace, which may be the last vestige of baseball's Gilded Age. As if the rest of the country didn't hate the Yankees enough, the home dugout has Bank of America logos plastered all over the wall. Your bailout dollars at work, providing backrests for Alex Rodriguez and the $180 million man, Mark Teixeira.
The clubhouse offers all the comforts of home, assuming you grew up in the Taj Mahal. It's bigger than a ballroom, with built-in computer screens at every wood-paneled locker, while choicer amenities remained out of sight of the rank-and-file gawkers with press badges around their necks: aqua pools and state-of-the-art weight room, full-service kitchen, lounging area and a poker room with dealers imported from Vegas (just kidding about that last part).
The whole place, built of Indiana Limestone and Deer Island granite and 11,800 tons of structural steel, is opulent and massive. It's 63 percent larger (about 500,000 square feet) than the abandoned edifice across the street, the showpiece being The Great Hall, a banner-filled concourse roughly the size of an airplane runway.
There's a 59-by-101-foot video scoreboard in center field, flanked by two smaller screens, as well as 1,100 monitors scattered throughout the stadium, the Yankees evidently are paying attention to research showing that the average American spends eight hours a day in front of some type of screen.
They trucked history across the street as well, bringing the famous frieze to decorate the top of the Stadium bowl, and installed Monument Park beyond the center-field wall. They even made sure to angle the field toward the sun the same way it was when the Babe played.
The old ballpark, of course, was The House That Ruth Built. The new place is already being called The House That George Built, the legacy of a man who plans to be at the April 16 home opener, according to son Hal Steinbrenner, upon whose shoulders the royal cloak has now been placed. George Steinbrenner, like the old ballpark in which he made the Yankees count again, is a shell of himself, declining health robbing him of the chance to puff out his chest at what will be his lasting legacy.
It's stunning and spectacular, simultaneously familiar and dizzying, a blend of past, present, and future, all done on a scale that seemed defensible when the team first broke ground on the project almost 3½ years ago, even if the old stadium still attracted 50,000 people a night.
Now, it all seems … too much, like the front-row seats going for $2,625 a pop, the kind of grandiose perk once gobbled up by the Wall Street masters of the universe before their world dissolved into mountains of toxic debt. The new stadium is emblematic of a culture that understood scale to mean the bigger the better, the more expensive the more valuable, the more exclusive the more desirable. The lights are being turned off on that party, about the time we learned to spell AIG.
Hal Steinbrenner said the Yankees have sold 35,000 full-season equivalent season tickets, though he admitted that "small amounts" of tickets had been overpriced. You be the judge: According to the annual survey by Team Marketing Report, released Thursday, the average price of a Yankee ticket is $72.97, a 76.3 percent increase over last year's price of $41.40.
On the same day the new Yankee Stadium opened for business, Major League Baseball announced the "Commissioner's Fan Initiative,'' MLB's effort to make the game more affordable in the midst of a recession.
"Throughout its long and distinguished history, baseball has always served as a diversion for its fans in difficult times," commissioner Bud Selig said in the statement. "As the country faces new challenges, Major League Baseball is stepping up its efforts to make the game more affordable and to demonstrate to its fans how important they are to us."
Attached to the press release was a list of discounts and other promotions offered by the 30 clubs. Short of coming to your house and offering you a ride to the game, teams are adopting a Veeck-ian approach to inducing you to spend time and money at the old ballyard.
The Blue Jays are offering "Babies at the Ballpark." New parents get 25 percent off their tickets, plus juice, diapers, changing areas and stroller parking.
The Giants are offering a Cy Young 4-pack, a promotion built around ace Tim Lincecum, the NL's Cy Young Award winner in 2008. For $55, fans get a four-pack of tickets that includes opening night and the "Lincecum Bobblehead" game.
The Cardinals are using their manager's name to sell the "La Russa Plan" – 12 games for the price of 10.
The Pirates are offering a $399 season ticket, which averages to less than five bucks a game.
The Brewers are selling the Harley-Davidson Double Play – a ticket to the ballgame, a ticket to the Harley-Davidson Museum.
The Astros are selling outfield deck seats for a dollar a kid, $7 for adults. Their pitch: A family of four can go to a ballgame for $16.
The Twins are promoting "Wine, Women and Baseball,'' which packages a pregame wine tasting, appetizers and dessert and "pamper yourself" stations with a game ticket for women in the mood.
The fan-starved Marlins abandon all pretense of subtlety and are staging the "Marlins Mortgage Payout," in which the club will write a check for up to $2,500 for a lucky fan to use toward his mortgage or rent. Against the Yankees and Mets, the payoff is increased to $15,000.
My personal favorite, though, is the brainchild of the Nationals, and exploits the misery of another struggling industry to help salve its own. It's called "Washington Post Wednesday.'' Bring in the masthead from the previous day's newspaper, and get five bucks off the price of your ticket.
Then there are the Yankees, who need only to open their doors – or, in this case, oversized portals – to draw a crowd. Build it and they will come, indeed. And if they leave all the poorer for the experience, that's the price of doing business. And besides, just think of the memories.
- George Steinbrenner
- Major League Baseball
- Hal Steinbrenner