NEW YORK – Let's start with the popcorn. It is unfair to call it a tub of popcorn, as they do at the new Yankee Stadium. Perhaps a trough of popcorn, or a tank of popcorn, and, at 2,473 calories, definitely a gutbuster of popcorn. All around the newest theater of excess are such indulgences, culinary and otherwise, this particular caloric dirty bomb available for $12.
That's the thing about the new Yankee Stadium: Not only is it the biggest, the newest, the most expensive and the self-described best – the homage to everything that was America – it gets away with it, charm intact, for one simple reason.
The New York Yankees are unapologetic in their embrace of that culture. They are the canyon of popcorn and the 1,410-calorie plate of nachos and the 1,360-calorie bag of peanuts and the 1,341-calorie cup of cheese fries, and their fans are still begging for a heart attack.
Which made the official christening of the $1.5 billion stadium Thursday afternoon an event laden with grins and excitement (and arterial plaque buildup), even as the Cleveland Indians stomped the Yankees, 10-2. More than halfway through April, the Yankees finally had their home opener, and any of the 48,271 present can attest that the team's new dwelling lived up to its billing, good and bad.
It's unclear whether Yankee Stadium wants to be a ballpark with killer amenities or a mall with a baseball field in the middle. The inside of the stadium is freakishly loyal to its predecessor, like twins who look identical but are actually fraternal. The differences are ornamental, and because of its classic look, the initial thought is: Really, $1.5 billion? And you didn't reinvent the baseball stadium like Camden Yards in 1993? The toilet seats are definitely gold-plated, right?
One trip around the concourse, and suddenly the cost makes more sense. It is a sea of goods, the free market through a Yankee kaleidoscope, a study in old-fashioned gluttony. It is a cheesesteak line 50 people deep, and a beer garden serving 14 sudsy favorites, and pink foam fingers next to pink hats with flowers alongside pink hats with glitter-covered NY logos.
Next to the hat wall, where more than 100 styles are available, stood Kelley Rutkowski, a 23-year-old from New Jersey. She already had wrecked her diet for the day with the nachos and was inclined to do similar damage with her credit card, because her seat happened to be in the shade, and she was chilly. She found a hooded sweatshirt adorned with rhinestones. She looked at the price tag: $125. Rutkowski quickly summoned David Sidibe, a young salesman.
"Those are diamonds, right?" she said.
Sidibe's eyes apologized.
"I literally can't afford to keep warm at this game," Rutkowski said. "Can I just tell you, David, this is a sin. I'm freaking freezing, and there's no way I'm spending $125 on a freaking sweatshirt, because that's how this country got into this mess."
Never have $125 hoodies been mentioned alongside credit-default swaps and subprime mortgages. Indeed, a day of firsts, from that to Johnny Damon slicing the first hit into center field and Jorge Posada mashing the first home run into the new Monument Park in center.
"I knew that when I came here," Rutkowski said, "I was going to spend a bunch of money I don't have."
Rutkowski didn't give in to the hoodie's 74 rhinestones, principle preventing her from brandishing her MasterCard. Others did, and the Yankees reaped untold millions in merchandise and concession sales. Forget the competitive advantage given them by location and television rights; the Yankees' revenues from the vendors and the tickets that range up to $2,625 for the front row will do plenty to cover a $200 million payroll.
All because people buy into what the Yankees sell. It's a lifestyle based around winning, and how doing so demands the biggest, newest and best. Depending on the perspective, either the Yankees are profiteers and the fans suckers, or both are willing participants in a time-honored waltz: pure commercialism.
Otherwise, the Yankees would still be at the old stadium, American sports' truest cauldron of history. It remains standing next door and over the next few years will be picked apart by the atom and sold. And if the Yankees could split those atoms and peddle each for double, surely they would.
Now, instead of the filth and funk of an 85-year-old stadium, the Yankees offer pears. Three kinds. And three varieties of apples, too. And tangerines and oranges and bananas, all for sale at the farmer's market, which is near the Legends Suite Club, with its folded napkins, polished silverware and vases housing flowers. And, for Ruth and Mickey and Joe D's sake, the Lobel's stand that sells hunks of uncooked meat. In a stadium. Four ribeyes for $120.
It's one thing to push an island of popcorn. But beef? Raw beef? Deep down, beneath the Yankees' money-making behemoth, could there exist the slightest sliver of guilt for something as disturbing as seeing dry-aged beef on display in a ballpark?
Nope. Not an iota. And it's edifying, in a way, that the Yankees stayed true to themselves and their believers, responsibility be damned. It's the American way, after all.
"This is going to stand the test of time," Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon said. "The economy will one day get right. So in time, people will look at this and say it's definitely worth it."
They'll look at the Great Hall, ultimately the stadium showpiece, a meeting place festooned with vertical banners of Yankees greats. It's a long corridor walled with impossibly large pieces of limestone and granite, the sort that recall an opulent style abandoned long ago. Few are willing to spend the necessary money for such quality.
Why do the Yankees? It's who they are. Another stop in the gift shop spells it out explicitly. A different hooded sweatshirt, one without rhinestones, is available for $70. On the front it reads YANKEES UNIVERSE, a friendly reminder for those who may have forgotten.