Thursday, May 21, 2009

Q&A with Jeff Fox, Author of Yankee Stadium: The Final Game

I recently talked to Yankees fan Jeff Fox, who is also the Technology Editor of Consumer Reports magazine, a photographer, and author of Yankee Stadium: The Final Game. Jeff poured a lot of his own money into this project as he worked on it while holding down his job at Consumer Reports.

The book centers around Jeff's experience over 11 hours last September 21, spent outside, inside and around the old Yankee Stadium as he captured some great shots from seemingly every inch of the place as he said goodbye one last time. The book is on sale now.

Jeff's book is about looking back. We asked him to look forward to the new stadium, about what he thinks of it so far, and whether it will eventually have what it takes to shed the "new" and just become Yankee Stadium. Here's what he had to say:

For a fan, is this a good place to watch a ball game?

I have mixed feelings about this. On the field level, while the game is in play, it’s actually better than the old Stadium for roaming around to view or photograph the game from different angles. No longer do you get virtually accosted by one of those yellow-jacketed security guards just for stopping momentarily to take a photo. I now have field-level seats in the outfield and it was nice to be able to walk back to the infield (where my seats used to be in the old Stadium) to take photos. On the other hand, I’m quite angry that the Yankees forced me out of my infield seats during the relocation because they required I purchase all 81 home games to stay there. That would have cost me $16,000 per year for two seats similar to the ones I’d had since 1997.

I don’t love the way the seats in the upper stands have been spread further out from the playing field. I think it removes some of the intensity we all (and opposing players) felt in the steeper old Stadium grandstand, as if we were all bearing down on them. In the old Stadium, even in the upper deck, you had the feeling an opposing player could hear you if you yelled loudly enough. Ironically, friends who have just been to Citi Field tell me that the Mets have taken the opposite approach and moved their upstairs fans closer to the field than they were in Shea.

I’ve been to four games at the new Stadium. When I wasn’t sitting in my own seat, I often felt like the game was a backdrop, rather than the main event. It felt like I was at some combination theme-park shopping mall, with a baseball game going on in the background. Maybe they made the place too comfortable.

I feel especially sorry for fans with obstructed views. In fact, even my $85 seats in section 134 are slightly obstructed. There’s a spot in center field that I can’t see because it’s blocked by the bleachers. There is simply no excuse, other than insensitivity toward the fans, for obstructed views in a 21st century stadium.

I love the two new scoreboards on the field level in the outfield. It takes me back to Yankee Stadium as it was pre-1974.

Another beef: The so-called free wi-fi wireless Internet is, so far, not available to most fans. I was able to access the signal with my iPod Touch, but couldn’t sign in to actually use it. Twice the Yankee Guest Services staff have told me that it was restricted to “premium accounts.” The Yankees should change that. Don’t tease 30,000 people by giving them a signal and then not letting them use it.

[Editor's Note: As of now, the wi-fi is for Yankee Stadium employees/personnel only. It will be rolled out for certain fan devices in the future, but the Yankees have never promised free wi-fi for fans to use on devices such as IPhones. This is especially annoying for us, as when you have a Windows Mobile device that defaults to wi-fi, you need to remember to turn off wi-fi before entering the stadium. Otherwise, when you try to access the internet/email, it defaults to the Yankee Stadium wi-fi login page in your browser (because it is an open network). Very frustrating, and the Yankees should make it a closed network so this doesn't happen to fans.]

If you were a kid growing up going to the new Yankee Stadium instead of the old one, would you have the same fond memories?

I do think today’s kids can have the same kind of fond memories of this Stadium as I had of the old one. You can have fond memories of anyplace. I still have very fond memories of an empty lot in Queens where I played ball with friends as a kid.

It isn’t about the place itself, it’s about your experiences there. Memories of a great time with your family can stay with you for life. Part of why I love the old Stadium is because my dad first took me there when I was 11. But equally important is witnessing great events. Right now, the new Stadium lacks soul because nothing important has happened there yet.

It will take many, many years, for the new Stadium to gain even a part of the aura the old Stadium acquired over 85 years. To sanctify the new Stadium, to coax Babe Ruth’s ghost to come across 161st Street once and for all, the Yankees must win world championships there. They must crush the Red Sox there. Yankee players must break important records, throw no-hitters, make spectacular plays, and win games with impossible comebacks in the late innings. You don’t love a place just because it’s comfortable; you love a place because you experienced thrills there. None of that has happened yet, so right now the new Stadium is just a pleasant park to take the kids to on a Saturday afternoon…. If you can afford the prices.

I also think that the Steinbrenners and their staff need to stop being so totally obsessed with money and get back in touch with the average fan. If they continue to try to milk people for every last cent, they are going to experience the same kind of fall that General Motors, AIG, and Citigroup recently had. The Yankees are even selling the men’s room sign from the old stadium! There’s nothing wrong with making money, but total greed is toxic.

For more from Jeff, including his opinions on the Steiner selloff, check out his blog.
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