A-Rod World Series trophy

OK, Yankees. You held up your end of the deal, and it’s time for me to do my part. Now that you’ve shown those obnoxious Phillies how it feels to come up short at the end, and now that you’ve shown those obnoxious Phillies that REAL world champs don’t spend time at their celebration being sore winners who mock the teams that didn’t get there, I will officially bury the hatchet I’ve been carrying since that time you hurt me in 2000, and we can be friends again. Not BFF, but, you know, we can say Hi when we see each other at parties. I’ll even stop criticizing you for buying championships and admit that I wish my high-payroll team were as good at buying championships as you are.

But don’t get too cocky. I may not be mad anymore but if you start blathering about the Yankee Way and the Yankee tradition of excellence, I will have no choice but to remind you of the Bronx Zoo ’70s, the fruitless ’80s, and all the other times that your precious history wasn’t so pristine.

Congratulations, guys.

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Citi Field

I got my first up-close glimpse of the Mets’ new ballpark, Citi Field, this weekend. Needless to say it’s a vast improvement over Shea. The views are better, the concourses wider, the sound system more audible, the bathrooms more plentiful (and cleaner), and of course it’s a whole lot prettier, inside and out. Overall, I love it. But I’m not IN love with it.

First, the good:

Jackie Robinson Rotunda
The much-hyped Jackie Robinson Rotunda is stunning, inside and out. Symmetrical curving staircases, giant paintings of Jackie, enormous windows, and lots of dark gray steel and orange brick. There’s also a 10-foot-high, 3-D, Dodger blue number 42 where people will no doubt be taking pictures all year long. It did strike me as a bit odd to have such a grand tribute to a man who never played for the Mets and had no direct connection to them, but if any player deserves such a tribute, it’s Jackie. The whole thing is truly majestic and worth walking through even if you’re parked on the other side of the stadium.

Home run apple Citi Field
The new home run apple looks great in dead center, and will look even better popping up after each Met homer. And the old apple from Shea is here too, just inside one of the outfield entrances to the stadium.

Citi Field interior
The field itself is beautiful. Gone are the dead patches of outfield grass we saw in Shea. And the outfield dimensions are quirky, with enormously deep gaps, and fences of varying height. Lots of foul ground in the infield, very little in the outfield.

Citi Field bleachers
The bleachers not only go all the way around the stadium but have multiple levels. I have to say it’s nice to see fans in the outfield. And, unlike at Shea, you don’t have to buy 100 tickets to sit there.

Citi Field bathroom
The bathrooms are located evenly and frequently throughout the building, and they’re all controlled by sensors, so you don’t have to touch anything. By midseason that will be a huge selling point.

Now, the bad:

Citi Field is kind of like John Mayer: there’s nothing specific to point to as bad, but there’s an overall feeling that it’s lacking somehow. What I mean is, it’s just as nice as the Nationals’ new stadium. And the Phillies’ new stadium. And the Reds’ new stadium. And the Rangers’ new stadium. In fact, it looks just like them. And that’s the problem. Aside from the home run apple and the rotunda, there’s little tying this stadium to New York, or even to the Mets. I feel like, with a few minor logo changes here and there, the stadium could be airlifted out of New York and dropped in any major city and fit in just as well.

The whole reason all these new stadiums were built was to replace bland, soul-less cookie-cutter stadiums. But what the architects at HOK Sport have done in several recent cases is simply replace the old, round cookie cutter with a nicer one. I expected more from the Mets, more from New York. I expected the stadium to have a soul.

Still, it’s gorgeous and comfortable and nicely appointed and modern and classic, and I’m going to truly enjoy my new summer home. It may have no soul, but its body is a wonderland.

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The new Yankee Stadium officially opened to the public today. Much has been made of the design touches that replicate parts of the “original” Yankee Stadium. There’s just one problem with that story: the original stadium–the House that Ruth Built, that DiMaggio graced, that hosted Larsen and Berra’s great hug–was destroyed more than 30 years ago. The building that was demolished this winter was a cheap imposter.

The 1976 renovation of Yankee Stadium (which actually began in 1974) was so drastic that it turned what had truly been a baseball cathedral into Shea Stadium North, a bland mass with little personality, lots of terrible seats, and a false claim to history. The centerfield wall that stood behind DiMaggio and then Mantle was 461 feet from home plate; the one that got knocked down this winter stood at 408. During that renovation, the stadium’s upper deck was completely rebuilt; it’s famous facade was removed from the top of the stands and a phony version was tacked onto the top of the scoreboard (which was also completely redesigned).

The version of Yankee Stadium that closed at the end of the 2008 season was so different from the one that closed at the end of the 1973 season that director (and lifelong Yankees fan) Billy Crystal had to film the 2001 movie 61*–about Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris’ home run chase–in Tiger Stadium instead of Yankee Stadium. Because, as the official press release about the film explained, “the current renovated stadium bears little resemblance to the architecture of the original,” and Tiger Stadium looked more like Yankee Stadium than Yankee Stadium did.

So sure, get excited about the new digs. But don’t rave to me about how nice it is that it has a new new version of the old new version of the original facade. It’s like going to a housewarming party and having to listen to the owner brag about how he installed a replica of the orange shag carpeting that had once been in the den, and restored the electric fake fireplace left behind by the previous owner. The best parts of the new stadium are the ones that hark back to its grandfather Yankee Stadium (1923-1976), not to its overrated imposter father, Yankee Stadium Jr. (1976-2008).

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“What gym do you go to?”
“Derek Jeter.”

I didn’t realize that could be a legitimate conversation until I was walking by Madison Square Park and noticed the place in the above photo. In case you can’t read the sign, the place is called 24 Hour Fitness Derek Jeter.

It’s not just a gym, though. When you walk in, you’re in a “nutrition” store, kinda like GNC, stocked with all sorts of dietary supplements. Behind the supplement store is the gym. Now, aside from the horribly awkward inclusion of Jeter’s name in the name of the business, nothing’s really wrong with this, per se.

Jeter’s lent his name to many products over the years: a car, a cologne, Vanessa Minnillo. But with several of his Yankee teammates in recent trouble for steroid use, you have to wonder about the wisdom of attaching your name (awkwardly or not) to a supplement store/gym.

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I read in the paper this morning that the subway station that used to be called Willets Point Blvd/Shea Stadium will not include the name of the new stadium in its title. I assume that it’s because the MTA, like me and plenty of other people, are more than a little skeptical that Citi Field will retain its name for very long, and they don’t want to bother changing all their signage every year or two when the stadium gets a new corporate sponsor. That and maybe the MTA doesn’t want to be associated with the stink of bad PR that Citigroup has gotten for spending a bunch of its TARP bailout money on the naming rights.

I wonder, though, why the station’s name has never included the tennis stadium. Arthur Ashe has a pretty stellar reputation, and is not exactly in danger of going out of business or wasting taxpayer money.

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Even if you’re not a baseball fan, bear with me on this for a minute.

The triple is widely considered the most exciting play in baseball. Why? Well, a home run is exciting, but it involves, at most, three players: the pitcher, the batter, and the helpless outfielder. It excites only the fans of the batter’s team, and the outcome is known within a split second of the batter’s swing. It’s an exciting split second, but it’s no triple.

A triple is exciting for everyone. Fans of the batter’s team are watching to see if he can really get all the way around to third base. Fans of the defensive team are hoping they can get him out, turning a big hit into an out. And everybody on the field is moving: the runner is churning at top speed; the outfielders are chasing the ball; one infielder covers second base in case the runner stops there (or turns back); one runs out toward the outfield to take the cut-off throw; the third baseman gets ready for the throw and tag; the pitcher runs to back up third, and the catcher gets ready just in case a wild throw allows the runner to try for home. Even the umpires all have to hustle into position, ready for any of several possible outcomes. The stakes are high, and everyone on the field knows that if they do their job perfectly, they just might be able to make things come out in their favor (and, simultaneously, that even if they do their job perfectly, it still may not be enough).

New York City is the geosociological version of a triple. I don’t just mean that it’s the most exciting city in America, though you’ll have a hard time convincing me it’s not. I mean that everyone’s in motion, the stakes are high, and the outcome is unknown. Everybody’s got a job to do, everybody’s got a place to be, and there’s no time to lose. Some of those jobs complement each other (the guy wheeling stacked trays of fresh-baked bread from his delivery truck across the street is throwing the ball to the cut-off man who runs the 24-hour deli on the corner), some of them compete (crowds trying to get on and off the subway at the same time). And everybody knows that their actions may tip things in their favor, or may go for naught. Just like the movement of fielders, runners and umpires, it looks like chaos to the casual fan (i.e., tourist), but in actuality everyone’s got a specific purpose, a specific destination, a specific task–everyone’s part of the play.

Some days, you hustle and you manage to slide in safely. Some days you take your eye off the ball for just a split second and you get burned. Some days no matter how hard you play and how well you execute, things just don’t go your way. But the best days … the best days are when you somehow manage to stop paying attention to whether you (or the runner) are safe or out and, instead, just enjoy watching the play unfold in front of you and appreciate the poetry of it all: the music of the honking car horns and the vocals of the guy handing out AM New York outside the subway station; the dance of the dude from Guy & Gallard pushing a cart full of muffins and fruit platters to the breakfast meeting that placed the order; the bright colors of the fruit guy; the thunder of the pedestrians rushing to work or home; the smell of the coffee carts in the morning and the halal carts in the afternoon. Some days you just look around, soak it all in, and think to yourself, “New York is a triple.”

Today was not that day. Today I got thrown out at third. @#$%^&!

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Millions of Mets fans witnessed the collapse of ’08 and The Collapse of ’07. Today only a few dozen fans were on hand to witness the collapse of ’09, as the last chunk of Shea Stadium (a tower of what used to be exit ramps) was knocked down to make way for Citi Field’s parking lot.

There’s not much I can add to what’s already been said about the 45-year-old blue concrete doughnut. Like many others, I felt great joy and great pain in that building. For all its flaws (and there were many), it was, to me and to millions of New Yorkers, a de facto summer home for an extended family at times exhilarating, at times frustrating, often dysfunctional but usually worth the price of admission. At once, I miss the big ole’ eyesore and I look forward to falling in love with its replacement.

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