Bronx, N.Y., April 3, 2009 — Well, after witnessing the Yanks practice in their new Palace Thursday, baseball was unleashed on the Yankee fan public Friday night. Some fans are beside themselves waiting to partake in the multitude of ways to enjoy the new Stadium; others’ hearts quicken at the thought of the havoc the reconstructed 2009 Yankees will wreak upon all comers in their quest for Championship no. 27. Whatever the call that drove the sellout throng to the Bronx though, much was learned in the 7-4 exhibition win against the NL Central Chicago Cubs.
Some of what we saw was good, leading off with the final score. Some gave us pause. But in between the good and the bad, let’s have a fan quiz! Question: How many foul balls were struck in the Friday night game?
Not sure, huh? Well, there is certainly no question about this new edifice anyway. If, as most agree, the old place was the Baseball Cathedral, this one is The Palace. There is a mind-numbing amount of beautiful and thought-provoking features to see and experience in this new space, most of it available to all fans regardless of the price they paid for their tickets. Irrespective of the many glory days fans crowded into the old Stadium over the 86 seasons that translated into 26 Championships, there was hardly a bleaker place to be found than during a lengthy rain delay. It’s a little flaky maybe, but I can’t wait to see how much better that experience will be in the new structure.
Which is something we might have experienced, as they did in Flushing where the Mets were hosting the Red Sox in their new space’s coming-out party. But the rains in the Bronx stopped pregame, then returned several times during the game, but never to the extent that it came close to where the grounds crew would have stopped the festivities and covered the field. I’ll have (not much longer, I’m sure) to wait for that experience on the north side of 161st Street.
So what of the night? Chien-Ming Wang, who spent much of 2008 on the shelf after a midseason foot injury, pitched well, though not great. He allowed four runs on just seven hits through five innings, coming away with the Win after throwing 69 pitches, 45 of them for strikes. Only two of the balls were well struck, a two-run double in the second and a triple that led to the last run in the fourth, with both lined to right field. The four relievers who followed, beginning with Mariano Rivera throwing an uncustomary one-two-three sixth, retired 12 straight Cubbies, alleviating any fears that wasted offensive opportunities would cost the Yanks a “W” in their first home game in the new digs.
The “O” was both impressive and fortunate, though dysfunctional as well. All seven runs scored on home runs, and how weird was it that in their first game in “The Palace,” Yankee batters would clang home runs off both the right and left field foul poles? The Yanks would collect 13 hits, so it was a little disconcerting then that the only ones that plated runs were the long blast by Robbie Cano (for two in the second), a shot by Hideki Matsui (for two more against the right field pole in the third), and one by Cody Ransom (for the fifth, sixth and seventh tallies once his hard, first-pitch liner thumped high off the pole in left in the fourth).
Cano and shortstop (and new leadoff hitter) Derek Jeter led the way with two hits apiece before being replaced in the sixth. The Captain added a walk, which was good because he had a tough day in the field, although on a feel-good night just one of the two throws that pulled new first baseman Mark Teixeira off the first-base bag was ruled an error. A questionable moment on the basepaths came when Jeter barely made it back to first on what looked to be a hit and run with Matsui hitting with a 3-1 count in the third. It seemed a strange count for Joe Girardi to call a hit and run, and had Giovanni Soto made a better peg to first, the next-pitch Matsui home run to right that gave the Yanks their first lead would not have come to pass.
Teixeira had an off night as well, stranding Jeter on third with one out after a leadoff first-inning double with his first of two strike outs, the first of two times the Yanks failed to plate a runner from third with less than two outs. Mark was caught asleep (OK, I’m assuming it was Mark) in the field when Aaron Miles doubled for two runs in the second inning. Cano was in short right for the cutoff, and Jeter sprinted to a position near home down the first-base side that reminded fans of “the play” against Oakland from the 2001 playoffs. That left just two players possibly responsible to follow Miles once he passed first who could cover second. Johnny Damon could have sprinted in from left or Tex could have shadowed Miles once he sprinted around first. As it was, once Joey Gathright beat the throw home with the second run, what could have been a 9-4-2-5-3 putout at second became an embarrassing moment as Miles merely retraced his steps to second once Jorge Posada’s throw to third had him dead to rights.
Otherwise the Yankee defense was all right. Robbie Cano made some nice plays at second, and Xavier Nady’s peg to the plate on a sac fly that scored Miles with the game’s first run just missed. Todd Linden also made a nice play in right, corraling Reed Johnson’s deep ninth-inning liner before crashing into the fence, and Brett Gardner ran down Johnson’s fly to deep center in the sixth. Joey Gathright returned the favor on a Posada rocket to left center in the fifth.
Many of the 2008 amenities returned to this Stadium, with a flourish. The subway race graphics were amazing, and they had a lot of fun with the Concentration board where fans had to guess the player whose picture appeared twice in a nine-box, tic-tac-toe-like grid. Not only was it Mo Rivera, the shot showed the laughing Yankee closer in the ninth spot looking up at his straight-on image in position number five. Then it devolved into a scene reminiscent of the opening to the old Brady Bunch TV show (I must be channeling my sister here?) where different smiling faces of several players were popping up all over the grid, smiling at both the crowd and one another.
“YMCA” wasn’t played until after the bottom of the sixth, but any fans starved for the music of the Village People were treated to “Macho, Macho Man” in the fifth. Bernie Williams lent his musical talents to the festivities pregame, and old friend Ronan Tynan chipped in with his moving “God Bless America” (no, they did not retire it) at the seventh-inning stretch. “Take Me Out…” followed, of course, but “Cotton-Eye Joe” apparently did not survive the trip.
So the new Yankee Stadium, which it is no doubt hoped will be dropping the “new” as time goes by, opened to a win, on the field and off. Much was made during the offseason of how difficult it was for longtime fans of the Yanks to acquire similar seating in the new place, and I hope to be able to bring that aspect to you this year and in the seasons to come. In the four-level palace, my seating will be “Upper,” as it always has. The Upper Deck in this stadium comprises all the sections numbered 300 and 400 (as the field and main levels are 100 and 200, respectively). The highest among these, obviously, are the 400′s, the “grandstand.”
In the coming months, I’ll be enjoying myriad games from the 400′s, which begin in fair territoty in the right field corner with 401, working their way all around to a similar spot overlooking the left field home run fence from section 434. On Sundays, I’ll have the glorious behind-home-plate sightline from section 420B that apes what I saw in the old Stadium from Box 603, only now I’ll be higher. Many games during the week will find me in left field in section 429, but I also have seats coming up in sections 405, 412, 414, 426, 428, and 434, to name a few. I will continue to be a fan, enjoying games from the “grandstand.” I’ll be “grandfanning,” if you will.
The amazing thing about all these seats (with small exceptions in 405 and 434) is that no matter how far they are from the action, the entire field can be spied with not a nook or cranny missing. Unfortunately, views from the seats in fair territory in the outfield (e.g., 405, 434) will leave you wondering if that long fly below you cleared the fence or not, with the fan reaction giving you your answer. But otherwise, the whole field is “your oyster,” so to speak, something that could not be claimed from any Upper Deck seat in the old place except those directly behind home plate.
That being said, however, I have heard a lot of claims that the view of the field from every seat in the new place is superior to what you would have seen in the House that George Herman Ruth Built, that you will feel closer to the action than you ever did before. Most of these claims, it must be said, have come from Yankee officials and broadcasters whom I dare say spent very little time (if any) in the Upper Deck (“the Tier”) in the old Cathedral.
Earlier, our pop quiz asked the question, “How many foul balls were hit in new Yankee Stadium Friday night?” The answer is 43, with more than half of these being fly balls. Didn’t guess it? How about double or nothing on a followup? “How many of those foul balls landed in the Upper Deck?” Before you answer, let me restate the absolute truth: New Yankee Stadium is a Baseball Palace, and you will enjoy watching games there. But before you drink the Kool-Aid that has it as gospel that the new Upper Deck seats are closer to the action than the old ones ever were, mull over the answer to Pop Quiz, Question Two.
The answer is zero. No fly-ball fouls reached any part of the Upper Deck.