Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Yankee Stadium Experience - Part One: Monument Park

The offseason, at least for Yankees fans, has begun and with it The Greedy Pinstripes writers look to bring readers innovative ways to keep you reading about the Yankees and hopefully get you excited about what is in store for the upcoming season.

One of the ideas that came out of a recent brainstorming session among all of the TGP writers was to give readers an insight into what is available for fans at Yankee Stadium BESIDES the product on the field and the actual games.  So we introduce to you a new series that will provide The Yankee Stadium Experience from the eyes of the TGP writers.  A new article should be posted every Sunday night, so I hope you enjoy--especially those of you that have never been to The New Yankee Stadium.

PART ONE: Monument Park

A picture of the Original Monument Park taken on July 4, 2008 from the 1st Base side.

There aren't many stadiums in the world for any sport that have the history of Yankee Stadium.  Sure, purists might say that the current stadium isn't the REAL stadium, but I digress.  Part of that history is of course the great players that have pitched, thrown, batted, and caught balls within its hallowed walls.  The old Yankee Stadium gave incoming teams chills as they could swear the ghosts of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle still roamed the field.  But the Stadium itself, even with the ghosts, was not the best facility for the fan experience.  On August 16, 2006, the 58th anniversary of Babe Ruth's death, ground broke for the New Yankee Stadium.  (not that it matters but I would turn 27 the next day...and hey the Yankees have won 27 World Series...just saying)  One of the things that the Yankees brass was adamant about was to maintain as much of the original "feel" of the stadium as possible.  The famous lattice-work known as frieze, dirt from the original field, and of course Monument Park would be included in that original "feel" and would be transported over to the new ballpark.

To understand why Monument Park is such a great fan experience, you must know a little bit about the history.  The original monument was one erected for Miller Huggins after his sudden death in 1929.  The players at the time placed a free-standing monument in front of the flagpole, which was in the field of play, approximately 460 feet from home plate with the center field wall being at 500 feet.  Upon Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig's deaths additional plaques were mounted in red granite and placed next to Huggins, but by this time the centerfield wall was moved to 461 feet from home plate.  A picture of the original 3 monuments is shown below.

The Original 3 Monuments in Center Field - compliments of Wikipedia
In 1969, two new plaques were placed on the center field for Mickey Mantle and one for Joe DiMaggio, perhaps the two greatest Yankee centerfielders of all time.  The walls were moved in once again during the remodel of 1974 and 1975 and with it, the monuments were now off of the playing field, but not available to the public.  As more plaques were added, the area with the flagpole and monuments began to be known as "Monument Park."  Upon the deaths of Mantle and DiMaggio, their plaques were brought off of the display wall and mounted in red granite along with Huggins, Ruth, and Gehrig.  Believe it or not, this area was not accessible to the public until 1985.  At that time, Monument Park included the original 5 monuments, plaques for former owner Jacob Ruppert, former GM Ed Barrow, Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel, Thurman Munson, Elston Howard, Roger Maris, and Phil Rizzuto.  The retired numbers displayed included Gehrig (#4), Ruth (#3), DiMaggio (#5), Mantle (#7), Stengel (#37), Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra (#8), Whitey Ford (#16), Munson (#15), Howard (#32), Maris (#9), and Rizzuto (#10).  In order to see Monument Park, the public would line up near a door leading from the seats in left field down to the park.  You would have to show up about 2 hours before hand to ensure your entry into the hallowed grounds.  Being in the presence of the monuments, plaques, and retired numbers gave you chills -- more than Cooperstown itself, because this was the field those players actually played on.  The Yankee Greats of the past had stood right where you were standing looking at history.

View of the Retired Numbers from 1939 to 1993 in the Old Yankee Stadium
When the New Yankee Stadium opened, a newer "improved" Monument Park also opened to the public.  Critics of the park have nicknamed it "Monument Cave" because it isn't readily seen from the field like the original.  While this may be true, I personally think they did a great job incorporating the new Monument Park into the Stadium Experience.  No longer do you have to wait in the hot sun to get into the park as the entrance is now within the concourse and you are easily directed by in-stadium signage directing you to see the monuments.  Here is a picture of what Monument Park looks like from my old Season Ticket seats in the 2nd deck near the left field "fair" pole (I have never understand why they call it a "foul" pole--if the ball hits it it's called fair...).  You can see it stationed in front of what is called the "Mohegan Sun" Sports Bar, with two sections of retired number walls and the plaque wall in the background with the monuments stationed in the center of the park.

View of the New Monument Park from the "Cheap" Seats
You still need to arrive early to the Stadium to get into Monument Park as the doors to the shrines close approximately 30 minutes before the first pitch.  You won't have to worry about getting hit by batting practice home runs as the monuments are covered by netting discretely placed so that you can still see the park from above.  The retired numbers and identification plaques aren't exactly the same (as shown below in pictures from a trip I took for Yankees vs. Red Sox in August of 2009), but the plaques and monuments are the originals.  I personally like the blue granite they used as the background for the retired numbers and plaques as it is a subtle contrast from the rest of the park. Notice the only number missing from what you would see next season or in any one of the Stadium tours given in the offseason is Mariano's recently retired #42.  The #42 shown in the picture is Jackie Robinson's.

As you slowly shuffle by each plaque, take careful time to reflect on what you are witnessing.  This is not only Yankees history, but Yankees Immortality.  Plaques and monuments displayed represent LEGENDS that your grandfather and father spoke of in awe.  Rarely will you hear a word spoken over a whisper as if you are attending a loved one's wake.

Since the original park was opened to the public in 1985 a short distance across the street where a soccer field, track, and youth baseball fields now reside, several plaques and numbers have been added.  The plaques include ones for Billy Martin, Lefty Gomez, Whitey Ford, Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Allie Reynolds, Don Mattingly, Mel Allen, Bob Sheppard, Reggie Jackson, Ron Guidry, Red Ruffing, Jackie Robinson, and George Steinbrenner.  Other plaques are displayed honoring the 3 popes that visited Yankee Stadium and for September 11, 2001.  The numbers added since 1985 include Martin (#1), Jackson (#44), Mattingly (#23), Guidry (#49), Robinson (#42), and Rivera (#42--just this year).

So the next time (or first time) you get to the New Yankee Stadium, make sure to get there early so you can partake in a piece of history, or at least view it.  Cooperstown is where you go to see Baseball History, but Monument Park is arguably the next best thing if you can't make it there.  Maybe I am just jaded that Don Mattingly isn't in the Hall (yet), but I personally revere Monument Park a little more than the Baseball Hall of Fame.  I have included a few more photos below of the last time I visited the park.

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Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)