As a fan, I ventured to the new Yankee Stadium this past weekend to see if it is a worthy successor to The House That Ruth Built. As a taxpayer, I wanted to see what the Steinbrenners did with all the public subsidies used to help finance the new stadium.
The Yankees have given even their die-hard fans -- and truth be told, I'm one of them -- reasons to cringe for more than a year. The cost of the new ballpark, the extensive use of tax breaks and other subsidies, recent revelations that some of the work was done by companies blacklisted by the city, the monster contracts handed out during the off-season to C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira.
Oh, and A-Rod. The steroids. The hookers. Ugh.
With all this in mind, I exited the subway station at 161st Street, took a look at the new palace and quickly shifted my attention to the abandoned ballpark across the street. It's showing the first scars of demolition work.
"That's just not right," I thought to myself. A wave of nostalgia washed over me. But I wasn't here for a trip down memory lane, so I turned my attention the The House That George Built.
So, what does $1.5 billion buy?
A lot of wow factor.
The most storied franchise in North American sports, along with Les Habitants, has done a wonderful job tapping into its rich history and all the sentiment that comes with it. It starts on the primary entry point into the stadium in something called the Great Hall.
Take a look.
The first-level concourse is ringed by photos from each of the team's World Series championships. Again, a nice touch. All that history. All those memories.
Where the old ballpark was cramped and dingy -- historic as historic can be, but cramped and dingy -- the new stadium is roomy and breezy. You can watch the game while walking both the main and terrace levels.
There are numerous restaurants. A team museum. A giant team store with even bigger prices. And tons of concession stands, and, as a result, short lines.
Perhaps best of all, the trademark frieze adorns the entire roof line, righting the wrong that happened when the original ballpark was overhauled in the '70s.
Yeah, the food and drinks are over-priced -- a beer and hot dog cost me $16. But even more noteworthy -- or, at least unique -- is that the overhead menus at concession stands list not only the price, but calorie count for each item. I'll bet a city law is involved.
My wife was hankering for the steak fries until she saw they were over 1,200 calories. She settled for garlic fries and their 500 calories.That and a Diet Coke cost $11. (And she didn't get the souvenir cup, adding insult to injury.What was the woman thinking???)
Speaking of high prices, the best seats in the house -- box seats along the first and third base lines -- cost an obscene $2,625. The "convenience charge" to buy online is something like $60. Half of these seats were empty on Saturday, which is why attendance during the first home stand fell short of a sellout after the opener. Serves the ownership right.
My seats, in the upper deck, five rows from the top of the stadium, two-thirds of the way down the left field line, cost $30 apiece on one of the online scalping sites. Not bad.
My advice to anyone considering going this season is to get a cheap ticket and spend at least part of the game watching from the lower concourse. It's not hard to do. Also, avoid the bleachers, as a lot of the seats have an obstructed view thanks to a huge, hideous bar and restaurant built in centerfield.
The verdict -- even a Red Sox fan will be impressed. (Yeah, Bruce, I'm talking to you.)
I've been to a fair number of new ballparks -- Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and San Francisco -- and the Yankees have built a state-of-the-art facility that, at the same time, evokes history like nothing I've seen this side of Gettysburg.
Is it the old Yankee Stadium? No, for better and worse. But mostly for the better. It is neat. Really neat.
The stadium will tug on your heartstrings, as well as your wallet.
(I will go back to being my cynical self tomorrow -- promise.)