“Play ball!” Two words that millions of baseball fans across the country eagerly anticipate every spring. The phrase signals the end of winter, while also marking a time of unbridled hope and optimism for teams and their fans. In New York City, nowhere does that phrase ring with more meaning than at the iconic Yankee Stadium, which has been a part of the cityscape since 1923. Home to many of the most legendary moments in baseball, the Bronx stadium was refurbished in the 1970s, and then in 2009, the team moved to a new, $1.5 billion state-of-the-art ballpark across the street.
It’s fitting that the New York Yankees, one of the most successful sports franchises ever — the team has 27 World Series championships under its belt and was valued at $2.3 billion by Forbes in 2013 — has an impressive home. Despite that new ballpark smell, Yankee Stadium has already seen its own share of historic moments, and with the final season for Yankee hero Derek Jeter on tap for 2014, it’s high time to delve into some of the secrets behind this 21st century New York sports cathedral.
Behind the modernity is an architectural tribute to the 1923 stadium
The new Yankee Stadium is equipped with all the bells and whistles of modern-day coliseums — such appreciated amenities as wider concourses and plenty of bathrooms — but it doesn’t leave the past entirely in the dust. Several architectural elements pay homage to the original stadium, a place that icons such as Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio called home. Most vividly, the exterior was designed to reflect the spirit of the original ballpark with a handsome limestone and granite facade. Look for the white painted frieze around the top of the stands, it’s meant to evoke the iconic architecture of the original stadium.
Something sinister was buried in the foundation
In 2008 during the construction of the stadium, a worker and long-time Red Sox fan, Gino Castignoli, buried a David Ortiz jersey in the foundation in an area behind home plate during his one day on the job. He was attempting to place a curse on the Yankees, but his fellow workers (and die-hard Yankee fans) didn’t let him get away with it. After the story broke in the New York Post, the team embarked on a self-proclaimed “excavation ceremony,” and took up jackhammers to dig up the shirt, discovered under a thick layer of concrete. The incident ended with a positive spin when the Yankees sent to the jersey to Boston to be auctioned off by the Jimmy Fund that raises money for cancer research. The supposed curse turned into a $175,000 donation to a worthwhile charity.
New stadium continues old tradition of record-breaking
Just like the inaugural season in the 1923 stadium, the Yankees won their first World Series in the new ballpark the first year the doors opened in 2009. But that’s not the only moment in baseball history. Derek Jeter became the all-time hit leader for the Yankees when he surpassed Lou Gehrig with his 2,722nd hit — a record that had stood for more than 70 years. He also hit the all-important 3,000 hit mark in 2011 at the stadium, one of only 28 players in history to reach the milestone. Former closer Mariano Rivera also broke the all-time regular season save record with number 602 in 2011.
Hitting a home run isn’t as hard as it used to be
You don’t get to 27 championships without hitting an impressive amount of homeruns, but something changed in homerun history when the stadium opened in 2009. That year, the team surpassed the number of homers hit at the ballpark over any other season in its history — a whopping 237 went over the fence! The number has slowed down since then, but most think the architecture of the right field fence is what caused the sudden jump in homers. AccuWeather even commissioned a study, concluding: “The wall structure is slightly different than the old park. The main difference involves curvature. The gentle curve from right field to center field seen in original Yankee Stadium has largely been eliminated at the new stadium. This is due in large part to the presence of a manual scoreboard embedded within the wall. Losing this curvature has resulted in a right field that is shorter by four-to-five feet on average, but up to nine feet in spots.”
There’s some music memorabilia hidden among the upgraded eats
If you ever had the “privilege” of eating at the old stadium, then you know that the typical Yankees meal was a couple of hot dogs and a cold Bud. Today you can still find the classics, but a new crop of vendors is showing a more refined side. You won’t find CitiField’s cornucopia of high-end eats, but the current offers are certainly an upgrade. Hipster Italian sandwich shop Parm (get to-die-for meatball sandwiches in the Great Hall between Gates 4 and 6) and old-school butcher Lobel’s (hand-carved steak sandwiches in Section 134) are the highlights. If you want to sit down for a meal, there’s Hard Rock Café, open year-round to ticket and non-ticket holders. In addition to its menu of standard American classics, Hard Rock has a guitar signed (and played) by Yankee hero and musical virtuoso Bernie Williams.
Tucked off the Great Hall is a team museum
Peppered about the stadium are references to the historic legacy of the Yankees, including the famous Monument Park, which was moved from the old stadium into its place behind the center field fence. Less visible but equally impressive is the climate-controlled (handy on hot or cool days) Yankees Museum located off the Great Hall near Gate 6. Along with a giant display — nicknamed the “ball wall” — of baseballs bearing autographs from almost every player to ever put on a Yankee uniform, the museum has changing exhibits and a handful of permanent gems that you would expect to find in Cooperstown, not off a stadium corridor. One highlight is an emotional tribute to catcher Thurman Munson, a fan favorite who died in a plane crash in 1979. If you want to see the museum, go before the end of the eighth inning when it closes.
Luxury suite ticket holders can access a treasure-trove of historic photos
The fancy suites have all the perks you expect (cushioned seats, climate control, WiFi and HDTVs, etc.), and those that can afford to grab season tickets are also treated to an exclusive photo exhibit. On the SAP Suite Level are images from the New York Daily News’ 60,000-image strong sports photography archive. Highlights include shots of Elston Howard, the Yankees’ first African-American player, lefty Ron Guidry, and of course legends like Babe Ruth, Yogi Berra and Don Larsen, the only pitcher to throw a perfect game in World Series history.
There’s one rather unusual way to reach the stadium
Most fans know it’s easy to take the subway (25 minutes from Midtown on the 4, B or D lines) or commuter train (Metro-North station Yankees E. 153rd Street was opened in conjunction with stadium), but did you know you can also get there by boat? Seastreak ferry service takes fans from Conners Highlands in New Jersey to the Bronx and back again for every game ($70 for boat fare). Ride traffic-free across the water and enjoy the view; the ferry drops passengers off a short walk from the ballpark. After the game, skip the crowds on the subway platforms and in parking lots, and board the ferry, which leaves 30 minutes after the last out.
No laptops, iPads or bicycle helmets allowed!
Security at the new Yankee Stadium has been notoriously strict compared to other ballparks in the league. Thinking of bringing your laptop or your iPad? Fuggedaboutit! Even bicycle helmets are not allowed. Want to bring a backpack or purse? It better be smaller than 16 by 16 inches and 8 inches high, or you’ll have to check it at a local bar like Stan’s down the block. Surprisingly, you can bring in your own food, and a sealed plastic bottle of water (smaller than a liter) or an empty plastic sports bottle is permitted. Just make sure any food is visible in clear bags. (See the complete list of rules.)
You can get a more relaxed, insider’s view of the stadium off-hours
If you want to learn even more about the stadium and the Yankees storied history, jump on a tour — there’s a standard package and then several more “insider” options. If you go on the regular tour during the season ($20 online, $25 at the Yankees box office), you can see the inside of the clubhouse, dugout and batting cage. Cross your fingers that longtime guide and the stadium’s director of tours, Tony Morante, will be working. He’s been leading groups through Yankee Stadium since 1979, so he knows a thing or two about both the old and the new stadiums. Those who are steeped in baseball lore should check out the VIP Legend Tour with Lunch (from $90), which is led by a Yankee great such as Dwight Gooden, Jim Leyritz, Chris Chambliss, Bucky Dent and David Cone. Fans of the current players should reserve a spot on the Yankee Stadium Player Tour (from $142), which is led by a current player.
Yankee Stadium is about more than just baseball
In the short time the stadium has been open, it’s hosted everything from NHL Hockey (in January 2014, 50,000 fans braved the cold to watch the Rangers take on the Devils and Islanders), to college football and international soccer. Fans of politics will enjoy this little nugget: In 2009, the New York University graduation ceremony drew 6,000 students, their parents and one very famous keynote speaker — then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Her speech touched on the economic recession that was gripping the nation and made a plug that the State Department was hiring new blood. Fittingly she also threw in a baseball reference: “This is your moment. You have made it to the big leagues, and you are up to bat.”
The stadium legacy goes beyond its borders
As part of the deal to replace public park lands gobbled up by the new stadium, the city spent almost $200 million to build four public parks in the immediate vicinity. The additions include a skate park, tennis courts, multiple athletic fields and more than 8,000 new trees. The centerpiece is Heritage Field, built on the site of the original Yankee Stadium for $50.8 million and opened in 2012. The 10.8-acre ballpark includes many notes of homage to the old Yankees Stadium and history; most notable is a 12-ton piece of the original frieze that adorned the House That Ruth Built.
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