New York Yankees 3 Toronto Blue Jays 2 (18th Sept 2014)
Despite the so-so evening out at the Mets the previous day, I was looking forward to a game at Yankee Stadium. Even for a non-Baseball fan as myself, the club does have something of an aura about them. I recall going on the full two-hour circle line cruise around Manhattan on a previous trip (don’t bother with the full two hour one – the last hour is pretty dull) and when it passed Yankee Stadium, so many tourists went over to that side of the boat that it began to list a little alarmingly.
The Yankee Stadium that I saw back in 2000 wouldn’t be the Yankee Stadium I’d be seeing this evening though. This one, built in 2009, would actually be the club’s 4th-6th ground, depending on how pedantic you are with your counting.
The club actually formed in Baltimore in 1901, but moved to a site in Northern Manhattan a couple of years later. They moved again ten years later to the Polo Grounds, a substantial stadium just across the river from where they now play. The Polo Grounds were a double-decker oval, not a million miles away from looking like the old Subbuteo grandstand curving round three sides and the corners, with just a gap at one end.
It was a busy place, hosting two baseball teams as well as the New York Giants NFL team, plus the NY Jets and the Mets in later years, but of this 55,000 capacity venue, nothing remains but a staircase.
While others stayed much longer, the Yankees moved out after only 10 years, for their own stadium across the river. The new stadium held 58,000 with the Yankees the most popular team in the country, with Base Ruth being the star draw. The stadium was the first triple-decker, and expanded to 82,000 just a few years later.
By the 70s though it was showing its age, and was effectively rebuilt on the same site for a more modern stadium with a 56000 capacity. Spin on another 30 years or so and what was fashionable in the 70s was fast becoming outdated. Rather than rebuild the same stadium again, they knocked this Yankee Stadium down, and built a new one just across the street. The site of the old stadium has been preserved as a baseball field, matching the location of the original.
I had wanted to have a bit of time to wander round Yankee Stadium, but a bit of underestimation of how long it would take to cross a few avenues to the subway station meant I got there with only a bit more than half an hour to spare. The approach though, under the tracks of elevated railway, feels timeless.
It’s easy to knock modern rebuilds, but there’s no doubt they wanted the place here to be something of a palace. No brick, and certainly no tin sheeting here, they went for a limestone facade in homage to the old stadium. The same design leads to a light and airy concourse, with large hanging photos of former players lining the route. Such opulence could hardly carry on round the whole stadium, not even for the 2nd most expensive one in the world, as this is (Wembley limps in at only 4th), but it’s still quality throughout.
Other little touches, such as lining the narrow roof with a replica of the fascia that lined the old stadium roof, gives it the feel of a stadium that while not in any way feeling old, still has both feet planted in tradition.
I enjoyed being here more than most of the other venues I’d seen baseball in (perhaps Wrigley Field shaded it), but I still wasn’t having much luck seeing an exciting game. Halfway through the fifth inning, and the score was still 0-0. Two well-traveled fanatics behind me were starting to swap stories of low-scoring long games they’d known. One was a tale of a game where it was 0-0 until about the 12th inning, where fans were hoping anyone would score, so they could go home. Another was about a game in Texas that had lasted over 5 hours and gone to about 15 innings. Neither seemed appealing, and to be honest I think I’d be bored watching football for five hours too.
Runs or not, one of the two then promptly enlivened the evening by accidentally inhaling part of his hotdog sausage. Just as the people around were thinking about remembering how to do the Heimlich manoeuvre, his panicky jumping about was enough to dislodge it, and allow pulses all round to drop back to sedate levels.
Into the 8th inning and the game seemed to be petering out, with the Yankees 2-0 up. The biggest excitement other than that appeared to be the crowd dancing along to “YMCA”, along with the ground grew raking the dirt after the 6th inning. Toronto then hit a home run with another man on base to tie the score, and we entered the ninth and (hopefully) final inning with the game in the balance.
Toronto (the away team always bats first for each inning) didn’t score in the 9th, so it was a case of seeing what the Yankees could do. Knowing they couldn’t lose on this inning they took every risk they could. Stealing bases paid off, as a low hit couldn’t be fielded, and the Yankees were able to run in for the winning run before the ball could be returned. 35000 fans went home happy, and although I still struggle to enjoy baseball, I was one of them.