October 28, 2009
NEW YORK — It still stands across the street. Looking like a boarded-up carnival or a resort town whose next summer will never come, old Yankee Stadium finds itself in the unfamiliar position of being an afterthought while there's October baseball still being played in the Bronx. No more getting ready to receive thousands of bundled-up New Yorkers with World Series dreams. No more awaiting the magical transformation of cold concrete into a hot cauldron on a chilly but sparkling fall night on the southwest corner of 161st and River.
Even for this visitor from the Midwest, it's a sad thing to see. Scaffolding and black netting mask the walls. Construction fences line the perimeter. A peek inside reveals that all the blue seats have been stripped away, packaged for sale with other pinstriped artifacts and bound for the basement bars of Yankee fans around the world. Some ballpark advertising still hangs, reaching no audience except for the curiously morbid.
It's going to look this way for awhile, too. Because of the surrounding neighborhood, the fast tooth-pull options of a wrecking ball or dynamite have been eliminated. It instead will be taken apart piece by piece, like a traveling concert stage or dinosaur bone exhibit. No button pushing here.
When looking at the old place, it's hard to refrain from yelling out "Hey wait! This is still a perfectly good ballpark! Stop!" It's hard to resist the urge to hatch a plan to tear down that exoskeleton of destruction, truck in enough folding chairs to seat a small city and hold Game 1 there tonight. How many folks not named Steinbrenner would complain? How many of tonight's ticket holders would actually prefer it that way?
You talk to some of the Yankees players and they say it is not that weird to be driving by the old place en route to another stadium where they will get ready for a World Series game. Guys like Jorge Posada(notes) respond in the unaffected way you would expect from an athlete who didn't grow up taking the train to the park and sneaking his way down to better seats. Heck, he talks in a way that suggests he never experienced the height of his profession four times there. The Yankees behave as we might if our employers ever switched offices. Just another place to earn a paycheck that apparently comes attached with a "no sentimentality" clause.
But perhaps they also have somewhat of a point. Despite some faults and prohibitively expensive prices, the new Yankee Stadium is a shiny gem. It is comfortable, it is easy to get around and it doesn't smell like 100 kinds of awful. After 81 regular season and five postseason games, it even has a few memorable moments to its name. Phil Cuzzi's blown call, A-Rod's game-saving blast off Joe Nathan(notes) and Mark Teixeira's(notes) walkoff in ALDS Game 2. The 40th pennant clincher on Sunday against the Angels. Posada says that muscle memory now steers his car there. It has become home for him.
Some of you might agree and say that moving quickly from old to new is the American way and why should it be any different here? Still, it's hard not to look at the old place and see it as another character — albeit a tragic one — during this World Series. It used to be that you could tune the television to a postseason game and instantly be able to tell if they were playing in New York, just because of the crowd noise that was coming out of the speakers.
Now that energy has moved across the street and perhaps it will even approach the levels of the old haunt. But there's no doubt it's still going to feel different and it only takes a quick look at America's lonely version of The Globe Theatre to confirm that.
Only such a sight could lead one to make an illogical, implausible and impossible plea: Can we please play a World Series game there? Just once, for old time's sake?