Before I went to a baseball game at the new Yankee Stadium, a New York friend offered his views. “The old Yankee Stadium had horrid architecture, hectoring service, and terrible food,” he said. “They’ve worked really hard to re-create all of that.”
Already I’d tasted Yankee graciousness. The Yankees organization sent down word that it loathed the idea of Architect comparing its new $1.5 billion Bronx home to the Mets’ new Citi Field, and wouldn’t help cook up such a story with interviews, drawings, or photos. No problem. The magazine bought tickets for a photographer and me, and we went as fans to a Sunday 1:05 p.m. game. We did much the same the next evening at Citi Field in Queens.
The two teams share an architecture firm, Populous, formerly known as HOK Sport, whose talents for designing stadiums are hardly in question. That’s about all the teams share, though both venues do have excellent access by rail from Grand Central, and the relative appeal of each makes itself known as you descend from an elevated platform.
Yankee Stadium would appear to have the more coherent façade, though its coherence is deprecated by dullness. The Yankees’ vast pride surely larded up the design brief with nostalgia for The House That Ruth Built, which is coming down across East 161st Street from the new one. This strategy has produced high and monotonous limestone exterior walls, punched through with tall arched openings on a light granite base and, up high, the words “Yankee Stadium,” V-carved and gold-leafed. The name tag helps; the place might be mistaken for the Pentagon. The stadium certainly bears no relation to the lovely ochre-hued brick tenements around it.
In its period dress, though, the Yankees’ is a modern stadium, furnishing enough TV screens that you need never watch the game in real space. And ticketing is ticketless: By scanning a bar code I printed at home, I gained entrée to its ceremonious Great Hall at the main entrance and felt free to wander. As quickly as possible, too. Everything about this Great Hall, with its mineral slabs and metal screens all around, says: Get out of here.
So I went to find my seat. I see little use in dwelling on the $2,650 seats that have had all of New York so upset. Our seats, up where we mooks belong, cost only $100 each, high above the first-base line and nearer to Manhattan, as the seating tiers spread broadly outward rather than stacking straight as in the old stadium. I visited one of the concession stands and walked around the concourse with a misassembled cheeseburger in my hand—the Yankees’ commitment to terrible food intact—and noted that it was good to see such commodious wheelchair seating even way up here. But there is no real money shot of the Bronx, which is visible only beyond lawyerly metal screens enclosing the perimeter walkways that turn the stadium into a gigantic cage.
The Mets did much better than the Yankees in every respect, including beating the Nationals 5-2. (The Yanks, despite a sixth inning homer, lost to the Phillies 4-3.) Their Citi Field is a warmer, handsomer, and infinitely more convivial ballpark. The place felt like a party, given, not least, superior groceries and truly genial service.
When you come off the 7 Train, Citi Field’s colossus is magnetic, sitting as it does in the middle of nothing but pavement next to Flushing Bay. One of the nearest streets in view, 126th, supports a monoculture of auto sales and wrecking shops. The architects, though, while not physically snubbing these good enterprises, looked farther abroad for inspirational grist to the big bridges that connect the various parts of New York City and then sewed their astonishing trusses into the stadium’s guts.
On the outside, Citi Field has arcaded façades of warm red brick with light-colored columns and keystones and its muscular steel members painted a greenish black throughout. In a space so large, good color does wonders for a crowd’s mood.
You’re drawn around the perimeter concourses by blasts of light alternating with tunnels of deep shelter. Around the outfield, the joint is one big cookoff—you’ve got food by famous makers whose names I won’t bother to drop, except this one: Shake Shack. From there you can stare down the way through a couple of very large bridge-truss replicas that look as if they were constructed for the Metropolitan Opera and see all the tiny people moving beneath a dark and soaring industrial galleria. Citi Field is a money factory, but one you could call home.
When you visit the Mets, there is a strong sensation of being someplace new yet abstractly familiar, though Citi Field shows none of the anxious rigidity used to try to tell the Yankees’ story. Some Yankees fans, including Steinbrenner, are said to have been wedded to the picketed frieze that hung around the top of the old stadium until the mid-1970s, and in a confusion between historic and classic, it has come back, even though it resembles metal bargeboard. The Yankees got too caught up by looking for newness in superficial forms of oldness, whereas the Mets found something good and old by making something they didn’t necessarily have before.