As I turned on my computer to write this article I glanced down at the taskbar at the bottom of my monitor and noted the time here on the west coast was 7:14 PDT. The 714 immediately drew me to the number of home runs Babe Ruth hit in his historic career. It also reminded me that the Babe hit the very first home run in the “old” Yankee Stadium on April 18, 1923 against the Boston Red Sox.
On this night the Babe wasn’t there, but his ghost and maybe all the other ghosts of Yankee legends made the trek across the street to witness the very first game in the “new” Yankee Stadium.
Although, I had to watch the proceedings on television I was still impressed with what I saw on my HD flat screen TV. The Yankee ownership did a masterful job in connecting the past with the present future with the design of the new stadium.
The first thing that grabbed me was the wall rising over Gate 4 with the marble like stone standing like a sentry and lifting towards the heavens. The cathedral windows and the double eagle seals in the upper corners of the wall, along with the words “Yankee Stadium” etched into the face reminded us all of the glorious past of this storied franchise. Over the wall stood monstrous letters spelling out Yankee Stadium in a way that seemed like the new park was shouting “LOOK AT ME!”
Next, was the concourse going around the inside of the new edifice. It was also adorned by cathedral windows that, in the daylight, give it the look of a holy place. Unfortunately, what I saw on the outside of the playing field was limited, but, oh the inside was spectacular.
The first feature that drew my attention was the frieze or façade affixed above the upper decks of the stadium. This was another remnant from the old stadium pulling us back to days gone by when Ruth, Gehrig, Berra, DiMaggio, Mantle, Rizzuto and Maris played. It was the most identifying mark of the old Yankee Stadium. When the park was erected in 1923 the Yankee ownership at that time wanted something to distinguish their new park from any other park and the unique stadium frieze was born. It ringed the entire stadium, but in 1974 when the park was renovated the frieze came down, with only a reminder of it stretched across the outfield area from left field to right. From 1976, when the refurbished park opened, until it closed on September 21, 2008 it remained that way.
Below the new frieze the stadium appeared to be cavernous. >From the seats in the upper decks to the playing field below the stadium looked like it could almost go on forever. Even as the new park appeared to be somewhat different from the old one there was a sense of familiarity.
The dimensions of the new field were the same as it was at the old one. 318 feet down the left field line, 399 in left center, 408 feet in dead center, 385 in right center and finally 314 down the right field line. It looked the same but it was different. The distance from the back of home plate to the backstop had been shortened by 20 feet. There was more foul territory than before and no longer was Monument Park located behind the left center field wall. Now it was located behind the center field wall where the black seats used to be in the old stadium. Above it was the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar hidden behind smoked glass. One thing that was carried over was the gap between the right field and bleacher seats where the No. 4 train passed by. It still does.
By the way, there was some baseball played too.
The Yankees were hosts to the visiting Chicago Cubs. Manager Lou Piniella, an ex-Yankee pinstriper himself, was impressed with the visitors’ clubhouse.
“The visiting clubhouse, it’s wonderful. It’s got every imaginable amenity that you would want. In fact, you wonder if the players will be ready to play ball at 7:05,” Piniella told reporters before the start. “About the only thing that I missed was the old coffee pot. I messed around and fiddled around trying to get a cup of coffee about one of those new technological machines for about a half-hour.”
Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson threw out the first pitch and once all the pregame festivities were out of the way the Yankees took the field with Chien-Ming Wang on the mound. Here were the firsts for the new stadium.
First pitch: Strike by Wang.
First hit: Cubs’ Aaron Miles singled up the middle off Wang in the first inning.
First run: Miles, who moved to third on a single by Kosuke Fukudome and then scored on Derrek Lee’s sacrifice fly to center.
First hit by a Yankee: Who else? Captain Derek Jeter doubled down the left field line off Cubs’ starter Ted Lilly in the first inning.
First home run: Robinson Cano, who lifted a two-run, shot into the right field bleachers to cut a Cub’s lead to 3-2.
First strikeout: That belonged to Ted Lilly who whiffed Mark Teixeira in the first inning. It was the first of two strikeouts for Teixeira who went 0-for-3 on the night.
Mystique and Aura making an appearance: When is the last time you saw two home runs hit the opposite foul poles in a game? It happened tonight. Hideki Matsui hit the Yankees’ second two-run, homer in the third inning by bouncing a bomb off the right field foul pole and third baseman Cody Ransom followed up the next inning by clanging a 3-run, shot off the left field foul pole to give the Yankees a 7-4 lead.
First winning pitcher: Wang, although he wasn’t brilliant he was unflappable. Wang lasted five innings, but gave up four earned runs on six hits. He struck out 3 and walked two.
First losing pitcher: Lilly, who had a worse outing than Wang. Lilly lasted just four innings and gave up all 7 runs on eight hits. He struck out two and walked one.
First save: Jonathan Albaladejo, who got the Cubs to go down in order to end the game. Never fear though. Closer Mariano Rivera made an appearance in the 6th inning and was perfect, including a strikeout.
All in all, it was an outstanding debut for the new park. Even the rain didn’t dampen the crowd’s spirits. I think the old Yankee legends would be proud of the new digs. It was an eerie feeling though to see the old stadium lit up in the background of the new one. For now as motorists drive down the Major Deegan Expressway they will see both stadiums illuminated at night, standing side-by-side as beacons in the Bronx.
It is a fitting bridge between the Yankees’ then to their now. The $1.5 billion palace should leave every attendee breathless as they take in the enormity of it.
The Cubs’ Aaron Miles summed it up best as he told reporters, ”It looks pretty much identical. That’s one thing a lot of people were worried about, losing that nostalgic feeling. I think they did it right.”