25 May 09: A Memorable Memorial Weekend

If the Phillies-Yankees show that wrapped up yesterday in the Boogie Down Bronx isn't all American entertainment, then I don't know what is. Two of the best teams in baseball did battle at the brand new Yankee Stadium, with lots of homeruns, big money performances from big money players, a few young stars in the making, and two more blown saves from Brad Lidge. (I wanted to work in a "struggling Wang" and "Fleet Week seamen" joke but just couldn't make it work. Also I am 11 years old.)

Man oh man, that's baseball right there. I've never been a fan of interleague play, but with thousands of Phillies fans making the trip to the much hyped Shrine de Steinbrenner for a solid Friday win that ended the Yanks' nine game winning streak, a gut wrenching Saturday loss with A-Rod heroics, and a beautiful Sunday afternoon rubber match, I suppose it's all right with me. With a pair of aces in Cole Hamels and CC Sabathia slated to take the hill, in a game matching the defending champs versus the all time champs, there was no way in hell I was going to pass this up. So with a Suburban Station Dunkin Donuts coffee to go, Conor and I caught the R7 to New Jersey Transit (with comfy new doubledecker seats) to the B train.

Coming above ground from the subway, my readymade impression of the $1.5 billion stadium was one of gluttony, exclusivity, and arrogance. From the Gate 6 main entrance, it reeked of gold-plated gaudiness, a 21st century neoclassical interpretation of the House That Ruth Built. I left that all on the outside the moment I scanned my ticket.

Entering the Great Hall, you're greeted with the enormous banners you'd expect a team with 26 titles to fly -- Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Yogi, The Mick, Reg-gie, Donnie Baseball. Huge, huge ceilings, plenty of breathing room and drafts of fresh air make it about as grand an entrance as there is. The Hard Rock Café on the far end made me laugh, though -- they still open these things?

The best thing about the new Yankee Stadium is absolutely the concourses. You couldn't walk 360° at the cramped old ballpark, but here, the movement is free on three different levels, the lower two of which go the entire way around the stadium, so you can get up and take a lap when the bottom of the order's up. Behind home plate, where Citizens Bank Park is usually jammed up with standing room only tickets, there was even room to pull up a rail and watch the game from behind the backstop.

There are some elements of unnecessary exclusivity, like the members-only Mohegan Sun (yes, like the casino) club in the centerfield batter's eye, and you need a level-specific ticket to get into the different levels' bars, like the Jim Beam Lounge from which I was denied. My ticket, in section 133 in lower level leftfield, gained me access to Tommy Bahama's. Thanks but no thanks. Besides, it was 85°, and the sun was already making the padded navy blue leather seats so hot that an alcoholic beverage was probably a step in the wrong direction. (My arms are redder than the king prawn the stadium's executive chef cooked on the HD jumbotron just before the game.)

On the whole, I really have to say that the new Yankee Stadium is pretty great. I expected my eyes to hurt from rolling, but I was constantly turning my head to something else. (A hot sunny day with hot sunny NYC women didn't exactly damage the stadium's image, either.)

Despite the questionable choice of dark leather for a summer sport, the padded seats were unlike anything I've seen at a ballpark. Jump up quickly to go "YEAH!" at Carlos Ruiz throwing out a runner for a strike-him-out-throw-him-out double play? Sit back down quickly to POOF . . . AHHH.

I absolutely love that they kept the Hammond organ. ("Nah, nah, nah, nah. Nah, nah, nah, nah.") You can still see the 6 train passing through in rightfield. The fans just below it still start off each game chanting the players' names until they respond. ("Der-ek Je-ter, clap, clap, clapclapclap!") (Jeter waves.)

The most obvious drawback is the most obvious to find: the prices. Ticket prices are famously outrageous, and the food and drink keep pace. A twelve ounce Miller Lite is $10, and the "premium import" beer, Beck's, is $11. A hot dog is $6. A bottle of Poland Spring water is $5. And of course, the surf and turf at NYY Steak is $54.75, washed down with a $26 glass of Silver Oak cabernet.

That it's so easy to make out Yankee Stadium as a circa-2006 Wall Street lair of luxury (in the same South Bronx neighborhood it's always been in) is unfortunate, because it really is a magnificent ballpark. Its blasé arched limestone exterior is as easily overlooked as Citizens Bank Park's fake brick paneling is, and the concourses, scoreboards, assorted amenities and indeed playing field (Little League as the dimensions are, they're verbatim with the old stadium's traditional dimensions) make it immediately one of the best in the country. And this is without even mentioning the historic Monument Park, if you're willing to wait 45 minutes to get into it.

Oh yeah, and on top of all of that, there was a baseball game with our WFCs.

It's a shame that Brad Lidge is playing as awful as he is, but there it is, right now he's awful. His four blown saves are four more than last year's perfection, and before the second month of the season is even over, he's allowed more runs than all of last year. Cole Hamels' third win, a win for JA Happ in his first start, and John Mayberry Jr's homerun in his second Major League at bat were all nullified by Lidge's ongoing struggles.

Fortunately, his teammates picked him up in the extra innings that decided the series, most notably Carlos Ruiz. Sunday was certifiably Chooch Day -- he threw out two runners trying to steal second, he made a textbook block of the plate on Jayson Werth's throw to put out Johnny Damon, and he went 3-for-4 including the game winning double in the 11th. Chooch Day! (Click that animated gif for a six-panel dissection of that play at the plate.)

Shane Victorino had three hits off his old pal CC Sabathia. Raul Ibañez upped his league leading RBI total to 43. Cole Hamels allowed only two runs over six innings, and he struck out Alex Rodriguez three times. Mark Teixeira hit a broken bat homerun that speaks volumes about either his strength (he has the same agent as A-Rod, Manny and Barry Bonds, remember) or about the reputation the stadium has garnered early on as a wind-driven bandbox. And Clay Condrey continued his excellence out of the bullpen to nail down the final two innings and earn his fourth win.

All in all, a fantastic way to spend a Sunday. Well worth the flagrant corruption that is the 'official partnership' between MLB and StubHub cost of admission. And you know, I think I only saw two fights all day. Yankees fans, not surprisingly, are much less obnoxious and more civilized than the cretins rooting for the other team across town.

After the game, Conor and I caught the D train heading back downtown with my good friend here, Phillies president and CEO David Montgomery. I didn't see him until after I told some d-bag in a Yankees jersey across the car to F off. (As the train bing-bonged, the doors kept doing that thing where they wouldn't close and this guy kept yelling at me that I was on the door. I was not, in fact, on the door, nor was my camera bag which he kept calling "your fuckin' backpack".) I apologized to Monty for my foul language and he laughed, "I think I've probably heard that before." I said thanks for putting together last year's championship team and said let's do it again this year.

I also asked him what he thought about keeping Big John around, and he wouldn't satisfy me with an answer, instead staying the diplomatic president he is, "we'll have to see." Thanks Monty, but I think we oughta keep that big righthander in South Philly for a while.

A mini-essay of photos from the Sunday afternoon, 11 inning, heavyweight bout between the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees is


There are 45 photos, about 12M total in size, so just give it a minute to load.

–B Love