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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Wide, Wide World of Walkways

The Fairly Detached Observers

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The Observers played zone coverage again last week. Frank was on another New York visit, including a stop at the new Yankee Stadium, and Artie was at the home office monitoring the Bucks’ fortunes in the NBA draft lottery.

Artie: So you’ve been to the new Cathedral of the Almighty Pinstripers. Was the $1.5 billion well spent?

Frank:Forget the in-house restaurants and bars. The best thing about the new Yankee Stadium is something you can’t spend money on. 

Artie:Come again?

Frank: Space, my friend. Breathable, strollable space. The old Stadium had 85 years of history and I loved it, but in this place you actually can take a few steps without bumping someone and losing precious drops of your overpriced beer.

Artie: Something we lowly Brewtowners discovered in 2000 when Miller Park opened.

Frank: Exactly. Never underestimate the value of wide walkways and big bathrooms.

Artie: I never, ever do.

Frank: Certainly the old place, like County Stadium, had the charm of grunginess. You’d go through the turnstile and be swept into the riptides of narrow corridors and narrower ramps. If you could carom to the proper level and squeeze up the tunnel, you’d see a sliver of sky getting bigger until finally you’d behold all that wonderful green.

Artie: The baseball fan’s rhapsody for a century.

Frank: But a new millennium has arrived, and a few more decades for me personally. Going through mosh pits at a ball game has lost its charm.

Artie: So there’s room to roam at the new Yankee Stadium?

Frank: Well, comparatively speaking. When I went through the turnstile this time I was in... open space! The right-field side of the Stadium has a huge glass-enclosed atrium lined by banners of Yankee greats. You can find a nice spot to take photos, then stroll to escalators and much wider ramps. Of course there are temptations to spend—a Hard Rock Cafe, a Yankee souvenir store— but you can give those a wide berth.

Artie: And when you get to the seating areas?

Frank: Concourses, not tiny hallways! And you can see the field all the way around on the first level, even better than you can from the Loge level of Miller Park. But don’t even think about approaching the field unless your ticket cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. You’ll run into “The Moat.” 

Artie: As in water and crocodiles?

Frank: No water, and I didn’t spot any crocs. But the most expensive seats are protected by a railing and a deep pit—which serves as a walkway to the fancy food areas for the big shots.

Separate entrances, separate splendor for guys like Trump and Regis.

Artie: What about the real people?

Frank: Of course the concourses are lined with all sorts of food stands, and yes, the prices for even the basics are higher than in Milwaukee—$5.50 for the standard hot dog and $8.50 for a light beer. But having some personal space while you curse the prices is, well, priceless.

Artie: How are the seats?

Frank: Good sightlines, for the most part. My nephew and I were on the second level near the right-field corner—a mere $45 per ticket, $17 higher than a comparable spot in the Loge at Miller Park. The third and fourth levels share another nice concourse, and because it has a field view you can buy food, watch from the concourse and return to your seat when the inning’s over.

Artie: Consideration for fellow fans. What a concept!

Frank: The top deck isn’t as steep as at the old Yankee Stadium. It’s also 10 rows shorter, reducing the number of the most affordable seats. But if you’re up there, one cool thing is that the traditional Yankee facade is back on the roof, like it was until the ‘70s. It kind of frames your vision of the field, a nice reminder of the team’s history.

Artie: But does the new place really have the same vibes?

Frank: Nah, but it doesn’t feel entirely new, either. The seats are still dark blue, the field dimensions are similar and the No. 4 elevated train still rumbles out beyond right field—more visible than it’s been for decades. But they also felt the need to put “YANKEE STADIUM” in huge letters above left-center.

Artie: Like people need reminding?

Frank: Pretty tacky. Same with the new version of Monument Park, the plaques and retired numbers for the Yankee greats. In the old place it was highly visible in left-center; now it’s stuffed under the restaurant they stuck in the middle of the bleachers.

Artie: The big story is that the park is a launching pad for home runs. True?

Frank: The place does look smaller than the old Stadium, partly because the bleachers are closer, and it’s certainly playing smaller. We saw four homers as the Yankees beat Baltimore, and there have been 87 in the first 23 games, almost twice the rate of 2.1 per game at the old place last year—and at Miller Park, too. There are tons of theories why it’s happening, most involving the park being windier because of differences in the design.

Artie: What’s the record for homers at one stadium?

Frank: Coors Field in Denver had 303 in 1999, and that mark sure looks vulnerable.

Artie: Hey, come October we could find out how many homers the Brew Crew can hit in the Bronx Bandbox!

More Power to ’Em?

Frank: So the draft lottery left the Bucks right where they played themselves, in the No. 10 spot. No miracle of getting the top pick and taking Blake Griffin, the monster power forward they’ve been needing for a generation.

Artie: There’s another good power forward available in DeJuan Blair from Pittsburgh. He’s a tad short for the 4-spot, but maybe he could turn out to be a New Age Charles Barkley. The No. 10 pick has produced some topnotch players, including Paul Pierce and Caron Butler.

Frank: I keep hearing this draft is “weak,” except perhaps in the area of point guards.

Artie: And the Bucks might decide that’s just what they need. A guy like Jonny Flynn of Syracuse, Jrue Holiday of UCLA or Brandon Jennings, who went from high school to the Italian league.

Frank: Wouldn’t that be admitting they can’t match any offer Ramon Sessions gets as a restricted free agent?

Artie: Maybe not. It might just mean they think of him as a shooting guard. And remember, Michael Redd is coming off a major injury and heading into the last year of a big contract.

Frank: And he won’t be asking for less money.

Artie: So maybe they draft a point guard, pay to keep Sessions and then make big changes in the summer of 2010 when they lose Redd’s and Richard Jefferson’s contracts and have much more room under the salary cap.

Frank: Poor Blake Griffin. As the expected No. 1 pick, he’s probably facing four years with the L.A. Clippers.

He won’t be able to escape until after the 2013-’14 season.

Artie: Hey, the Bucks ought to start clearing their cap room now, so they’ll have the dough to land Griffin in ‘14. How about every game they pick five lucky fans to come on down and be the starting five?

Frank: They probably wouldn’t have to pay ‘em much.

Artie: T-shirts and vouchers to Noah’s Ark in the Dells should be enough. Let the economizing commence!

Photo: Yankees of the past welcome you to the Yankees’ future.

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