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A Farewell to Yankee Stadium

The New York Yankees defeated the Baltimore Orioles 7-3 in the 6,850th and final baseball game ever played at Yankee Stadium. As someone who loves old sports venues and believes their demolition is a loss to the experience of sport, I ought to care; but I don’t.

Four years ago, when I made my first trip to the stadium, I might have cared. I was on a graduate school field trip, and stayed on the bus in the parking lot. Asked by a professor why I was staying, I said it was up to him: I’d come in, but I’d piss in the sink. He let me stay.

Two months later, the Red Sox erased a three-game deficit to beat — to humiliate — the Yankees in the American League championship series. It was the only such comeback in the history of baseball, and more satisfying than their subsequent World Series victory. This might seem odd, but any true Red Sox fan will understand.

That was the high-water mark of my loathing for the Yankees. As the years passed, I soon came to appreciate two things: first, after sitting in a bar beside a woman who called Jorge Posada a "big-eared fuck" in one Italian-accented breath and cheered him in the next, that Yankees fans and Red Sox fans are much alike, less enemies than nemeses, like politically opposed siblings; second, that a rivalry is only meaningful if its participants are worthy of each other.

The players must be capable of rising to the occasion; they must have a certainĀ  presence, a capacity for drama. Paul O’Neill and Roger Clemens, now retired, embodied this; so do Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez, Joba Chamberlain, Andy Pettite, Mike Mussina, Johnny Damon and even Jason Giambi.

But except for Chamberlain, these players are in the latter stages of their careers, or at least their Yankee tenures, and their replacements are inadequate. Melky Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Ian Kennedy, Phil Hughes: they’re able enough, but in the manner of successful TV actors who cannot command attention on the grand scale of a movie theater screen. That they were groomed under the weak-chinned half-competence of Brian Cashman and Hank Steinbrenner, with the fabulously, tyrannically villainous George Steinbrenner relegated to golf-carting irrelevance in Florida, is at least poetic, and perhaps and directly related. Joe Torre’s disgraceful dismissal and the hiring of Joe Girardi, well-meaning but unexceptional, was the coda to this decline.

The rivalry just isn’t what it was. And by the time I finally entered Yankee Stadium, at the end of its next-to-last season, this was already evident. And I couldn’t get over just how unremarkable the hallowed stadium turned out to be. Maybe this was because Fenway Park, with its ancient, musty corridors and whimsical geometries and smell-your-neighbor intimacy, had skewed my expectations of what a ballpark should be. But no. It was more than that.

From the outside, Yankee Stadium loomed, as raw and massive as its Bronx home, but it was a shell. Inside, it was merely expansive and featureless. The outfield walls were a generic shade of blue that echoed nothing so much as the signage of a suburban office park, and spotted with advertisements. Worse yet, a swath of the bleachers behind them had been blocked off, as glaring in its lifelessness as a chunk of dead coral reef. The foul territory behind home plate was so large as to make the game feel detached. Except for the porticos on the stadium walls, the interior architecture was eminently forgettable. I felt let down, insulted that the Yankees, so despised and so necessary, should play in a so bland a place. I poured a Tylenol bottle of urine under the seat before me during the seventh inning stretch, but my heart wasn’t in it.

Perhaps, then, it’s for the better that Yankee Stadium is being abandoned. After all, despite my own misgivings, New Yorkers love the stadium; the decision is being driven by pure, unadulterated greed, and the proposed stadium is as garish and overbearing as the ESPN Zone sports bar in Times Square. The entire process is a testament to the power of money and tastelessness — but on a monumental scale, a scale appropriate to the drama. With any luck, the new stadium will impart its misguided vitality to the Yankees; and when I piss on it, I’ll be able to mean it.

Note: My apologies for my extended absence here. My job has become much more demanding, and I’ve found myself without the energy to be creative come the end of the day. That sort of thing soon becomes a habit. A bad habit, though, and one I’m going to break.

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