Thursday, July 10, 2008

Home sweet home

Each late at-bat brought another serving of drama yesterday to the paying customers in the Bronx, the sellout crowd at the Stadium rising to its feet for every two-strike Mo delivery and each opportunity the maddening Yanks offense had to finish off a sweep of the first-place Rays.

When Bobby Abreu finally delivered the knockout blow with a double up the gap to chase home Derek Jeter in the 10th inning, Yankee Stadium erupted as players swarmed Abreu at second base. Taking it all in from the short porch in right, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization of how much I'm going to miss this place.

Such is the power of Yankee Stadium. Its flaws are obvious to even a casual fan -- a warm beer runs you almost $10, the food selection is poor, the seats are uncomfortable, the concourse takes you completely away from the action, while traffic and parking has many a time brought my old man to the brink of a complete mental breakdown. It's not the greatest of fan experiences, especially when compared to the dozen or so new ballparks that have opened in the past 10 years. Despite that, most Yankees fans I know are either uncomfortable or unabashedly upset that the team is moving ... even if it's with the promise that the new facility will be a complete fan experience upgrade.

It seems that many Yankees fans view the Stadium as perfect despite -- or possibly because of -- its imperfections. It's a very New York thing.

Five years ago, when faced with a similar fan experience -- "I love this place despite the fact that it sucks" -- the Red Sox chose to go a different route than the Yankees by beginning a multi-year, multi-million dollar facelift of Fenway. The results were at first subtle but ultimately dramatic: Yawkey Way has turned into hot destination spot pre- and postgame, while added seats and improved amenities have made a game at Fenway one of baseball's hottest tickets. When I was at school in Boston at the turn of the decade, me and my buddies could walk up to the ticket booth and snag tickets for any game not involving the Yankees. But like my intramural flag football career, those days are long gone. Baseball at Fenway is now a social event.

Could the Yankees have went the Red Sox route as some fans had called for and simply re-tooled the Stadium? Well, it's easy to forget that in the mid-70s the team already gave the Stadium a complete facelift to mixed results. Personally, the fact that 90 percent of the original 1923 model was destroyed during the disco reincarnation makes the move to a new Stadium way easier to digest. This isn't the same place Ruth played. It's not even the same place Horace Clarke played. Like polyester shirts, platform boots and Abba, the refurbished Stadium is a bit ... um ... cheesy.

But it will always be home, and I suspect me and my buddies will be sharing stories about the old ballpark in the Bronx years from now, pining for the days when beers weren't $18, Hard Rock Cafes weren't around every corner and you could get a ticket without forking over your kid's college fund.

I implore you to do what I did yesterday if you have the chance. Go to a game on your own and just take it all in. Because as the handy Met Life countdown board makes so painfully obvious, it won't be long before all you have left of this classic American landmark are memories. Perfectly imperfect as they may be.

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