On one of my last days in New York, as if the gods read Sportsfreak, all of those topics seemed to come together during a tour of Yankee Stadium. I don’t follow baseball, but I wasn’t missing the chance to soak up some history and visit the ‘Cathedral of Baseball’.
The current stadium is the fourth home of the Yankees, just across the road from the site of its predecessor, known as the Original Yankee Stadium. The team won the World Series in 2009, the first year they were in residence. Good stat chat on its own, elevated by the fact they also won the competition in 1923, their first year in the previous stadium. (I wish the Warriors changed home grounds every year…)
This is more than a stadium. It’s a hall of fame and museum all in one place, with a Hard Rock Café included. (You can enter the restaurant without leaving the stadium.)
In just over an hour, I learned about the history of the team, and given their longevity and success, learning about the history of the game was a given. I arrived knowing that sport is a huge part of American culture, and left feeling dwarfed by the size of an American franchise operation.
The stadium itself speaks to the occasion of an American ball game, and grand nature of the game day experience. It is huge. Tall, wide and, on this day, basking in sunshine. Every possible space was filled with advertising.
The soap dispensers in the bathrooms are branded with the Yankees’ famous logo, as are the rubbish bins. There was a game taking place that evening, and preparations were well underway at 11am. We took in the greenest of well-manicured grass, the freshest of paint for the on-field logos. Due to preparations, we were not permitted to enter the changing rooms, and the security-to-patron ratio was literally 1:1, and not to be messed with.
The story of the Yankees is captured by oversized banners decorating the concourses, and high in the stands sits a museum which is open until the eighth innings of every game. Inside, there are tributes to multiple dynasty teams, replicas of all MLB trophies and championship rings the team has won. Showing an eye for detail and/or a penchant for the glamourous, each 2009 World Series ring contained 118 diamonds – one for each win during the victorious season.
In a nice touch, the locker of Thurmun Munsun – a favourite of the owner, who passed away in plane crash in 1979 – was left untouched in the previous stadium until the move across the road in 2009, when it was transferred into the museum. This sits next to a replica of a modern locker for contrast.
But the ultimate piece in the room is proof of how seriously Americans take their sports history and memorabilia. The Ball Wall is a perspex case, shaped in the trajectory of Don Larsen’s final pitch to Yogi Berra in the fifth game of the 1956 World Series – the only perfect game in World Series history. Bronze statues of Larsen and Berra bookend the case. How does someone even dream that concept up?. America – anything is possible. Inside the case are 870 signed balls by current and former players, with a computer allowing you to search and locate your players of interest.
Outside, at ground level, sits Monument Park. Essentially a Hall of Fame which gets substantial television coverage during home games. It includes the 22 retired jersey numbers of the Yankees, and even non-baseball fans would recognise the names Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio. The space pays tribute to players, famous announcers and well-known visitors, including Nelson Mandela and Pope John Paul II. There’s a memorial to 9/11 victims. And, in something I struggled to envisage happening in New Zealand, the back wall is dedicated to well-loved owner George Steinbrenner. I await the Terry Serepisos wall at the Cake Tin.
On game days, fans can enter Monument Park up to 45 minutes before the first pitch. One player featured here is Lou Gehrig, who played 2130 consecutive games across 13 seasons, a record that stood for 56 years. And we thought Laura Langman and Brendon McCullum had good streaks!
Add to this the Babe Ruth Plaza before you even enter the stadium, with monuments and placards outlining his stats and achievements, and you are left with no doubt that this is a team, and a game, steeped in history. And they want to tell you about it.
Americans take their sport very seriously. Season tickets for the Yankees, according to our guide, range from $2000-$25,000. It’s good to know that for this, punters are rewarded with padded seats and cup holders. The guide proudly told us that the capacity is 49,000 to take into account these wider and more comfortable seats. (Personally, I put saw a direct correlation to the number of hot dog outlets we passed.) We were shown the ‘leaners’, where for as little as $20, the casual fan can purchase a ticket to stand and watch the final three innings (a customary Bud Light included with your ticket), as the organisation wants to milk every possible dollar out of game day as they can by catering to fans of all incomes and availability.
Further evidence in their commitment to the little details – atop of the stadium fly 81 flags, including one for each team in the MLB. The flags are raised the day before the Yankees begin a home stretch, and the order is changed, when necessary, to reflect the current standings in each division.
As for what the stadium does when it’s not ball season, it plays home to the New York City Football Club, who are aligned with Manchester City. It also holds concerts, NHL’s Stadium Series and on occasion, college football.
Yankee Stadium was an excellent way to round up everything I’d experienced in the States and Canada. So often, be it marvelling at the speed of entry into a sold-out arena, the array of merchandise and food on offer, the sheer capacity of an arena, deafening national anthems or soaking up tales of storied players and moments, I thought “how could we do this at home?” But Yankee Stadium, in true New York fashion, stomped all over those thoughts. Sports, on field and off, are an ever-growing machine there – properly resourced with a population to sustain complete saturation. We stand no chance – everything is bigger in America, and New York, in all facets, prides itself on being the obnoxiously overt jewel in the crown.
The experience did make me realise I’m in the wrong vocation, however. My dream is now to take keen and interested tourists around our famed sports grounds, wowing them with stat chat and history. I guess I just need a team to come to the party with championship wins, undefeated streaks (actual records, not pretend….) and a stadium worthy of showing off.
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