Note: This is not a review of either Yankee Stadium or Citi Field. It is a set of observations made with others. Full reviews will be out shortly.
Jackie Robinson Rotunda
I had the privilege of having guides (of sorts) accompany me to games at the Mets’ Citi Field and Yankee Stadium during the current trip. For the Mets day game on Thursday, reader/commenter/blogger and Brooklyn native llpec endured my chronic lateness to join me. llpec has the unique perspective of having been to Ebbets Field, then transferring his allegiance to the Mets. On Friday and Saturday, I was accompanied by my old friend Erik, a Yankee fan since the Boogie Down era whose favorite player will always be the late Thurman Munson. Both have spent numerous games at the old Yankee Stadium and at Shea Stadium, so they were able to give me insights that can only be earned from multiple trips to these venues.
For llpec, Citi Field would be great if it wasn’t such a reflection of Fred Wilpon. He joked that anyone who complains about Lew Wolff should be a Mets fan sometime – then they’d understand what a bad owner was truly like. Given llpec’s anti-Wilpon railings I was almost ready to disregard some of his observations. But you know what? He was dead on.
When Citi opened in 2009, much was made of the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, the grand entrance to the stadium behind home plate. It is huge and beautiful. The problem was that Robinson was never a Met. Wilpon chose to honor his old love of the Brooklyn Dodgers and their trailblazing legend. The idea behind the Mets’ original colors was to salute the two West Coast bound teams, the Dodgers and Giants. Yet there were no tributes to the Giants to be found. And there still aren’t. The Mets Hall of Fame, a lovely room off to the side of the rotunda, didn’t open until 2010, a year after the ballpark opened. The creation of the HoF was part of a mea culpa on Wilpon’s part.
Yet there are still touches that are troublesome. Corners are cut in many places. Toilets don’t have seat covers. Elevators are small and not numerous. llpec’s visually impaired, with virtually no peripheral vision. Citi’s accessibility is poor for a modern ballpark. Most access is through stairs, either at the rotunda or in dimly lit spaces on the concourses. Escalators are present, but they require additional movement along the concourses to reach them. The single ramp in the left field corner is so far away from the normal circulation patterns that I had to point it out to llpec. At Shea, ramps were a prominent circulation method, along with escalators.
About those escalators – in the last year at Shea, a fan died from a late game escalator fall. Since then the Mets have shut down and barricaded the escalators after the seventh inning, instead of running them in reverse in the down direction. Previously they only shut down the escalators while providing access to them in stationary mode. The deadly fall may have occurred when the fan tried to slide down the rail. His widow claimed that the escalator jerked to a stop, causing the fall. There have been instances in the past involving stupid (often drunken) behavior around escalators. Still, just about every team runs them in reverse at the end of each game. Not the Mets. Wait, there was one escalator I saw running in reverse at the end of the game – the one serving the plush Sterling suite level.
Even though the stadium’s final tab ran $900 million, it sure feels a lot cheaper than that, at least in the regular fan spaces.
On the other side of the ledger is $1.6 billion Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. It’s an homage to the Yankees greatness and incredible wealth. Naturally, the only thing bigger than the tributes to the various Yankee players and teams is the tribute to late owner George Steinbrenner III. If Citi Field reflects Fred Wilpon’s cheapness, Yankee Stadium reflects Steinbrenner’s brash opulence. The oft-criticized Great Hall inside Gate 6, which is full of static and electronic signage everywhere, struck me as quite functional once I ignored all the bright lights. Access to the upper levels is easy, and the place holds many of the peripheral concessions and merchandise stands that would normally clog up the main concourses.
The big video screen inside Gate 6 looks bigger than either of the Oakland Coliseum’s DiamondVision screens. The elevators are huge and plentiful. Ramps are easy to get to, though when Erik and I were leaving via the right field ramp something smelled like a toilet (and there was no restroom nearby).
It doesn’t take much for opulence to give way to tackiness. Team stores are glassed-in, mall-like spaces. Drink rails on the lower concourse are all “reserved”. There are the ever-popular obstructed view bleacher sections in center field, blocked by a batter’s eye restaurant. The limestone facade and the back-by-request frieze hanging from the roof seem like anachronisms compared to the rather stark, modern underpinnings. There’s plenty of coated steel and mesh to offset any old touches.
We sat in the upper deck near the third base line for the Friday night game, then the left field bleachers for the Saturday afternoon game. Our upper deck seats weren’t nearly as close to the action as the old cantilevered upper deck. At the same time, it wasn’t as vertigo-inducing as the previous upper deck. The new bleachers are set back further from the field than the old ones, as the Yankees have chosen to follow the trend of expensive field level outfield seats first. Because of the Stadium’s generally hitter-friendly dimensions, the bleachers don’t seem as far from the action as I initially expected. Plus the bleacher creatures are no longer trapped there since they have access to the rest of the general concourses. The bleacher concourse is not perfect, as it requires stairs to connect to the regular field level (100) concourse. The corridor behind the outfield lower level seats is narrow and enclosed, perhaps the one place that’s most reminiscent of the old Yankee Stadium. It also lacks concessions and restrooms, requiring fans to walk to the main grandstand or up to the bleacher level to get either. The corridor provides access to Monument Park, though that only occurs only before games or during tours.
Erik and I also took a tour of Yankee Stadium. The tour is less a showcase of the stadium than it is a tour of Yankees history. Our first stop was the Yankees Museum on the main (second) level, followed by a trip to Monument Park, then some time in the visitors’ dugout. The tour felt severely rushed, as we were constantly being told not to linger for picture taking except at the designated areas. The team considers the Museum and Monument Park as separate museums within the larger museum that is Yankee Stadium. When you’ve won 27 titles, I suppose you’re entitled.