I must admit: looking around the historic confines of Yankee Stadium, I didn’t quite understand what made the ballpark so great. My seat was squeezed next to the railing and overlooked a breakneck-steep stairway. The largest scoreboard displayed two colors: light and dark. The architecture was about as fancy as the paneling on my fridge.
To my confusion, though, people venerate this stadium as if it were a concrete version of Babe Ruth. It mystified me as to how people could feel deeply connected to such a ballpark.
And so I sat, watching the Yankees light up the box score as hundreds of grandstand bulbs lit up the field. Whatever stadium enlightenment I expected to get from “The Cathedral” hadn’t arrived quite yet.
Something occurred to me as I stabbed into my frozen lemonade, though: the ads hanging above the center field stands had to have been changed thousands of times, if not tens of thousands. Dozens of generations—from Civil War veterans to those who don’t understand our current war—had sat in this azure seat before me.
The Yankees roster has been a revolving door, but the hotel has stayed the same. In New York, where a Times Square billboard has a shelf life of mere weeks, seeing anything last 85 years in this city of change is remarkable. Even more amazing, the Bronx Ballpark has only undergone a few design-focused renovations.
That was the point that I had been missing. The great irony of it all is that the thing that makes Yankee Stadium so dull on the surface—its old-style demeanor—is what makes it so commendable on a deeper level. This ballpark, I’m sure, has stood up to hundreds of developers and CEOs who wanted to put their own stamp on it. This ballpark refuses to become just another asset for a corporation; hence, the name “Yankee Stadium” instead of, say, Geico Field. This ballpark has survived a near century despite the lure of other newer, larger, greener, cheaper, cleaner stadiums. Darwin, had he cared about the sport, would be rolling in his grave.
There are some beautiful places to watch a baseball game out there: Nationals Stadium in Washington, to name the latest and shiniest. Give taxpayers even the most hi-tech design out there, however, and your “ballpark of the future” will be in the past come a decade. Yankee Stadium never fell for that strategy, even when the 70s renovations rolled into town. Its appeal lies not in its ability to blend with the times, but to outlive them. Not to rise and fall with the tide of local interest, but to stand, as a column, steadfast in the water.
I make no claim to understand why Yankee Stadium should have been the ballpark to overcome the cycle of renovation and contemporizing. This is my lone hypothesis: in a city where neighborhoods reinvent themselves daily and businesses spar on shaky ground, the citizens of New York desired something more permanent—a pillar to weather the tides. For some, that pillar was Yankee Stadium. Residents desired a sense of permanence: to be able to visit the ballpark of their childhood and find almost everything intact. The steadfastness of that concrete hunk has shaped it into a counterbalance for the progressive. (Yes, baseball purists, I understand that the stadium’s been tweaked countless times since its 1923 initiation. Nevertheless, the overall structure has remained more or less intact.)
Alas, this Bronx establishment won’t enjoy quite the permanence as did the Coliseum. Its death is slated for the end of 2008, though it will enjoy status as a park in the architectural afterlife. The new stadium retains much of the features of its predecessor, but I can’t help but feel that the original stadium’s longevity won’t be one of them.
Sure, my initial reaction to “The House That Ruth Built” was of confusion and indifference. But once I realized how amazing it was that Yankee Stadium managed to retain its identity for decades on end, the somewhat uninspiring architecture at the stadium became an inspiration in itself.