State of the Ballparks

While most fans here in New York are perplexed about A.J. Burnett’s burnout and questioning Mariano Rivera’s cutter, I’m trying to figure out blog posts for the next month. Yes, we are in the dog days of August, where baseball can being to look a little stale, especially with the prospect of a new NFL season just around the corner. Especially stale when you don’t feel like writing about a wild card race.

So I remembered that I haven’t given out any ballpark reviews in a while. I’ve been to three baseball games this year; two at Yankee Stadium and one at CitiField. First we have to take a trip back in time to my first visits to the ballparks.

The first new stadium I went to was CitiField in April of 2009. This was before the Mets were the Walking Wounded and too busy looking for quarters underneath the couch to look for a quality free agent. K-Rod had just become Met and still friends with his father-in-law and there was still hope that the Mets, who had suffered two straight last-week collapses to miss the postseason in 2007 and 2008. K-Rod was felt as the missing piece of the puzzle to lead the team to the postseason and be a perfect compliment to ace Johan Santana and a Mets lineup that had Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, David Wright and Carlos Delgado.

So it was no surprise as on an unseasonably warm day in Queens that the young Mike Pelfry shut down their divisional doormats, the Washington Nationals, on their way to an 8-2 victory. As I looked around the park, I liked it because it was new, much like how a kid enjoys the shiny new toy they got for Christmas. But I never liked the way it looked; like a different team played there. A memorial for Jackie Robinson, the classy Dodger that broke baseball’s color barrier. Black and orange outfield walls, a tribute to the colors of the New York Giants. There were no special names for the various entrances, no Mets museum. No identity. They played “Sweet Caroline” in the home half of the eighth inning. Not even the Boston Red Sox were spared from their copycat syndrome.

I saw my second game at CitiField early in 2010, but really did not take in much of the ballpark. They had added the Mets Museum, changed a few things in the ballpark, and most importantly, nixed “Sweet Caroline”.

Flashforward to last Friday night when me and some friends went to see the Braves take on the Mets. We got there two hours before the game, so I finally had time to explore the entire ballpark. I think that helped my opinion of it. Even though the Mets would go on to lose 4-1, and attendance was not great, the fans that were there still showed the amount of hope that was there in 2009. The Mets were then 8 games out of the Wild Card. It’s a longshot, at best, for the Mets to make a charge at the playoffs. But the fans booed when Ryota Igarashi could not throw a strike in the 8th inning of a 2-1 ballgame, still booed when Jason Bay grounded out with runners on first and second in the bottom of that inning. They booed as if the Mets had just had their last rally of an NLCS snuffed out.

It was May 5th, 2009 when I first visited the New Yankee Stadium. My father and I went to see the greatest rivalry in the sport play their second game at Yankee Stadium. Like the Mets, the Yankees in early 2009 were a different team. In addition, they had also missed the playoffs the year before. The team had signed CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira in free agency, but had gotten off to a rocky start. The Yankees were swept by the Red Sox at the end of April before losing the first game of a two-game set at the stadium to their rivals. Alex Rodriguez had not started his season yet. Joba Chamberlain was still trying to become a starter.

We arrived at the ball park a little after gates opened and took everything in. We walked around the stadium at least twice, saw Monument Park and the retired numbers. We felt the history. But I wasn’t too sure that the “fans”, or lack thereof, behind home plate did. Perhaps it was the cold, rainy weather. But the stadium felt dead. My final memory of the old stadium was a September game in 2007, where the Yankees were chasing down a playoff spot. This felt completely different, and the high volume of Red Sox fans in our section was a dead giveaway of the change of atmosphere. As Josh Beckett mowed down the Yankees that night, the fans began to grumble. After my dad and I left in the 7th (it was pouring buckets), the fans showed their discontent by chanting, “We want Torre!”.

Up until April 2011, that was my impression of the stadium; an historic monument to the sport’s most successful franchise that, because of astronomical ticket prices, no longer had the same amount of worshipers in their temple. I went to see the Orioles play the final game of a rain-shortened, two game series. The weather, contrary to my first visit, was a cloudless April evening with mild temperatures. Phil Hughes was rocked by the Orioles for five runs, and I thought back to my first visit. At least, I said, this wasn’t the Red Sox that were killing them. But then the Yankees from the second half of 2009, storming back with an four runs in the mid-innings. That set the stage for the ninth inning. Jorge Posada led off the inning with a game-tying home run, and I suddenly found myself in the coolest moment in baseball that I had ever been to, and on my way to a walk-off win. Two months later, I was there when they played Texas on a Thursday afternoon. While not as dramatic, the game was tied in extra innings, until Brett Gardner sent everyone home with a smile to go with his walk-off single.

But even still, even with the walk-off wins, the pies in the faces, the Jeter and A-Rod and CC jerseys as far as the eye can see, it still seemed hollow. I can remember times walking out of the old stadium where fans would, very loudly, chant “Let’s Go Yan-Kees!!” until everyone was blue in the face. The walks out of the ballpark this year were disappointingly ho-hum.

But the Yankees have had one of the best records at home over the past three years, so it does not bother the team. And why should it? Who needs loud fans when you have a jet-stream out to right field? When you have three outs to go, and Granderson, Teixeira and Cano due up, down by a run, there could be no one in attendance and still instantly have the closer rattled. The ballpark and the history have not changed. The fans have not changed. But the fans and the ballpark, together, are not on the same page.

 

Follow me on Twitter: @JustinCirillo

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