Time Out: June 11, 2008
It’s the end of our national pastime, as we know it. When the Yankees and Mets unveil new home stadiums next year, New York’s baseball fans will be the big losers. The change of venues will be the final chapter in baseball’s transformation from a sport for the masses to one for the classes -- the upper classes that is.
Like many kids in my generation, some of the greatest memories of my early years had to do with baseball. During my time boys followed and played baseball with a passion. During my formative years, the guys on my street literally constructed a home baseball field where we hosted heated contests with the “townies” who used the field near the school as their home site. Little League dominated every summer with morning practice sessions through the town’s summer recreation program and a full slate of well-attended contests, Monday through Friday, for seven weeks during the summer.
We were all poor, but nobody knew it. Every kid with a baseball glove felt like a million dollars. A new glove was a symbol of status. We oiled our gloves every night, placed a ball in the pocket and tied the webbing closed. A good glove was often so worn that it felt like an extension of your hand.
With one-car families the norm, car pooling was a must in every neighborhood. Moms took turns transporting a car full of eager “future major leaguers” to and from the Lions’ Field mornings, noon and nights.
Despite limited resources for entertainment, my family could afford an occasional trip to Yankee Stadium. In our house, my dad was a Yankee fan, so my early baseball forays were directed to the Bronx. An annual highlight of the town recreation program was a bus trip to New York City to catch a game. My brothers and I would look forward to those trips all year long.
Sadly, baseball will no longer be an entertainment option for New York kids living in families of modest means. Actually, New York’s two new stadiums mark the end of a transformation that has been taking place over several years.
Almost six years ago, it was obvious a change was underway when I visited Shea Stadium for the last time. I was appalled to learn that only ticket holders with field box tickets were allowed to move to the railings separating the fans from the field during pre-game fielding drills. Ushers stood as sentries at all entry points making sure the children of wealthy season ticket owners sitting in the field level box seats would have no competition seeking autographs from kids whose families could only afford tickets for seats positioned farther away from the action. A time honored childhood tradition of hounding the rails for autographs was now only an option for kids with parents of a higher financial standing. Shea Stadium took on the nauseating feeling of a gated community that day.
That indignity pales compared to what the average New York baseball fan will be facing when the new stadiums open for business. Corporate America, who has long wanted to expand its influence to the big market New York stadium venues, has finally met that goal. As pointed out by Mike, the Lip, Lupica in a New York Daily News column in early May, the prices at the new ballparks will be insane.
Lupica used information from Yankee season ticket holders who have been notified by the pinstriped management types about purchasing options for tickets next year. Although Lupica did not include information about future Met tickets at Citi Field, you can count on a similar pricing scenario. The Mets never do things as big as the Yankees, but I’d almost guarantee future Met tickets will be beyond the affordable price range of the average family worker.
A friend of Lupica currently owns season tickets behind the Yankee dugout of the grand old stadium. Last season, these seats went for $150 per game. This year, in honor of the final year at historic Yankee Stadium, the price of the same seats was increased to $250 per game. Lupica’s friend was called in for an appointment to talk with Yankee officials about purchasing tickets for the first year in the new stadium. If he wants to keep his seats, the cost will jump to $850 a seat, Lupica’s friend must sign a minimum four-year contract and pay a third of the first year cost up front.
Lupica shared the contents of a color-coded Premium Seating Plan for the new stadium. You can purchase season tickets for the best seats in the house, first row, dugout to dugout for the meager cost of $2,500 per seat. Front row seats in the first couple of boxes behind the dugouts are a fire sale bargain at $1,250 each. Behind them you can buy a ticket for only $600. Front row seats extending from the dugouts to the foul poles will cost $1,000 each. If you’re not afraid of heights, you can purchase front row seats in the upper deck behind home plate for only $135 apiece. Image the financial impact on an average working class family of four who wants make an afternoon excursion to a ballgame.
As surely as the American League will win another All-Star game this summer, I’m certain they will have no problems selling out seats in the new stadiums. The ever widening gap between the rich and poor will soon be an asterisk in attendance statistics providing a glimpse of two Americas, an America of means and privilege where membership assures you may experience the ‘finer things’ of life in person, and an America of those without access, those forced to follow their interests from afar using secondary tools like radio and television.
Luckily there are many things in life like family, friends, and community that are finer than attending a major league baseball game. The best things in life aren’t things. Still, the outrageous stadium ticket prices and the prospect of not being able to afford a day at the ballpark feels like the passing of a friend. For millions of lifetime baseball junkies accepting the fact that attending a professional baseball game in New York City will soon only be an option of society’s upper crust is a tough pill to swallow. But, then again, maybe someday we will get lucky and a Yankee or Met ticket will ‘trickle down’ so some lucky ‘commoner’ might watch their favorite New York team play.