Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The new New York baseball stadiums

Well, it took me almost the entire season, but in early September I was finally able to accomplish my goal of taking in games in both of the brand spanking new public facilities built for the Mets and Yankees this year.

I had tried to go to each of the Opening Day games. Was even in New York for each. But, even with the sour economy, fans were bullish on baseball this spring.

So I waited. And plotted. And waited. And missed a couple of opportunities.

Finally, it was September, and action had to be taken. A fast one day trip took me to Queens, and the impressive Citi Field. Much has been written already about these stadiums, what they each sought to evoke, how much they cost, and what the hope is for profits for each team. For now, I’ll leave the business aside and just speak as a fan.

As barren and common as Shea was for all these past 45 season, Citi is its own place, with its own character, its own sense of history, and its own wonderful sightlines, playfulness, and space. This is a first class ballpark. From the Ebbets Field exterior entrance behind home plate, to the Jackie Robinson Pavilion, on to the plentiful food stands, restrooms, and wide spaces to walk, this park is welcoming and pleasant.

Designers continued the trend of turning the space beyond the bleachers, beyond the outfield, into a party zone. And with plenty of food options, lots of open space, and enough bars to keep fans drunk well into the second game of a day/night doubleheader (not that we’ll see any of those quite so soon), this zone works, draws fans, and presents the game on enough monitors to hold everyone’s attention.

As to the architecture, it’s just about all evocative of the place and the setting. The bridge motif works, and appears not only as the primary pedestrian walkway in right-center, but on the edges of the decking. It give Citi a local touch, and a reminder that just because a model is being followed with a retro-park, it doesn’t mean there aren’t individual components that stamp it as New York.

Over in the Bronx, the New Yankee Stadium is a breed apart. It’s a stadium on steroids. Just the footprint alone for this behemoth is greater by almost 50% the park it replaced. And while the dimensions for the field are comparable to the old Stadium, and even though there are slightly fewer seats, there are enough separations and sections and distances that you can find everyone and everything from a mullah to a mullet from the fancy seats down low to the reserved seats up high.

History is much of what is being marketed and sold with this park. The exterior goes back to the original park, opened in 1923, and does a good job reminding us of that classicism. Still, there are banners and placards noting current stars on the outside of the park, a way too small plaza on the 161st Street side, and a screaming need for a subway exit that brings you onto this plaza, not the other side, the old Stadium side. Couldn’t something be done about that by now, let alone by the opening of the season back in April?

As to the interiors, oddly, they feel cramped. Sure, there are elevators to race you to the upper levels. And the promenade goes for a bit, and access through the open scheme entrances goes smoothly. But when faced with a crowd, and that’s what you get at a Yankee game, a crowd, movement is slow, there are several choke points around very narrow tunnels in the outfield area. There’s a sense at times that you’re stuck in Madison Square Garden, walking around the 33rd street side to get from one half of the arena to another. Yet you’re in a brand new building that really should have no reason to compress people and create claustrophobia.

Another issue with the stadium is the constant shilling. Everything is for sale. It’s a combination Modell’s, Christie’s, and TGIFriday’s all wrapped into one. Here you can buy everything from a simple trinket, to a game worn uniform from the 30’s, to just about any and every food imaginable. The offerings are there. The question is, do you want them.

There is a wide array of beer choices, but from my seats in the upper reserved section, it seemed that I was limited to light beer, or gourmet beer, nothing in-between. That seemed odd, and I can assure you I checked to see the options in this category.

On a plus note, there was a green market on the lower level, with great looking fruit and some veggies, not just dried out or soggy looking things. Each food kiosk has a calorie count next to the item price, though I doubt anyone ordering an Italian sausage cares that it comes with 500 calories. After all, you’re gonna wash that down with a beer or two, light beer or not.

A humorous aside was the reference to Fries on each of the boards. There are no French Fries at Yankee Stadium. But there are Fries. American Fries. Go ahead, laugh, but in arguably the most liberal city in the country, or more likely the second most, there’s a strong and unambiguous international political statement that certainly does not go without notice.

And then there are the bars and restaurants. You want a white tablecloth place, you got it. Want a casino feel, you got it. Want a taproom, check. There are enough bars and restaurants to water the south Bronx for weeks. And that’s where the space comes from, space you won’t see from the field, or from the seats in the lowest bowl, separated by a concrete wall from the rest of the stadium. From the best seats, this place looks clean, new, and fantastic. After all, it’s the best money can buy. Your money, that is. But for the rest of us, this place comes up a bit short, not only when compared to Citi Field, but compared with what one expects of a Yankee Stadium, and what exists with recently opened ball fields in major league parks across the country.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Open house night.....same as it ever was.......

High school never ends.

It doesn’t end with graduation.

It doesn’t end in the back seat of a ’71 Mustang, or the beach in Malibu, or even with the start of college, boot camp, or even cosmetology school.

Is just continues, and comes back to you at times. Sometimes it’s inopportune. Sometimes you know it’s coming, but there’s nothing you can do about it. Like you’re a deer in the headlights.

Back to school night fits that category when you have a child in high school, and of course make the obligatory annual pilgrimage to smile on the teachers so they treat your child like the prodigy you believe ‘the one’ to be.

You get all types at back to school night. The hard working dad, still in his suit on a late summer night. The workout addicted mom with the great arms and probably killer abs, who’s trying to figure out what to do about the lines in her face. The PTA moms who live through their kids. The parents taking a second or third free beverage, just because it’s there. The moms with the bad dye jobs. (would it have killed you to spend another 30 seconds on the side of your head, in front of the ears. You, yes you, the women I sat next to in the gym!) The kids dying for the community service hours willing to prostitute themselves for this club or that school activity just to be involved. The football players selling tickets to who knows what because they’re too cool to have a pitch down that works, and don’t they realize football is no longer the fall sport in this part of the east coast, anyhow?

There’s the teacher who used to be a party planner, still using balloons as the background of her powerpoint. And the science teacher who was so unintelligible, no one was able to ask him a question at the end of his presentation, as no one had a clue to what he just said. (I do have a great deal of sympathy for my kid in this class)

And then there's the gym teachers. They fit every stereotype. And then they add this to the mix. They take themselves seriously. They talk about posting the curriculum online. They talk about tests. They talk about the course. It's fucking gym. You either get hit by the dodgeball, or you catch the dodgeball. Has gym changed that much? Not by the look of the teachers, legs spread, standing as tall as they can, hands behind their back, looking trimmer than the other teachers, but probably thanks to the Under Armour gear more than any regular form of exercise. For the umpteenth time, Woody Allen was right when he said those who can't teach, teach gym.

But then it’s also about the wonderfulness of a community wealthy enough to put a promethium board in every classroom. But, still, has to tape a handwritten note alongside each board warning that it’s not to be written on with markers or other pens or inks!

Another type is the cautious and caring teacher, the one who warns parents about the problems at this school. Drugs? Sex? Pregnancy? Truancy? No, the silent agent this fall, H1N1, and the perennial favorite in these parts, the overindulgent parent who provides their child with the excuse necessary to stay out of school on exam day. This, it appears, is the big problem in our community. And it certainly speaks to the overindulgence of the parent, the coddling of the child, and the disdain it shows for both educators and the process of teaching and learning. I suspect it will continue to go on, as we know that every angle will be taken to get Missy into Yale and Skippy into Brown.
And then the evening ends, after you’re offered cookies and brownies and drinks and memberships and clubs and galas and trips and who knows what. You walk out into the preternaturally cool late summer evening, into what at first seems to be a nice, refreshing, open space. Then, right in front of you is a reminder of the way the kids are treated. Of what they have to deal with each day. Three very large security guards, evident to all by their embroidered shirts with ‘MCPS Security’ over the left breast on their XXXL buttondowns, arguing either with one another, or with a parent, over some sort of transgression.

There is no calm in high school. There is probably very little reason. There’s a lot of emotion, a decent amount of pheromones, way too much sweat, and a false sense of being in the universe. But not to worry. It doesn’t end. And by the look of it. Many people spend many years trying to get it right. Even if they don’t follow the rule, if you wore it back in high school, it’s more than likely not appropriate to wear now.

Now, where’s that Mustang.