By KAREN MATTHEWS – Mar 22, 2008 NEW YORK (AP) — One is the House that Ruth Built. One is the concrete box where the Beatles performed in 1965 and the New York Mets went from chumps to champs.
Opening Day will usher in the last season at both the current Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium, as work progresses on the gleaming new ballparks where the Yankees and the Mets will play starting in 2009.
The old parks will go out with a bang. With the Yankees on the road in Baltimore, Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate Mass at Yankee Stadium on April 20, and the All-Star Game will take place there on July 15.Shea Stadium will counter with the Piano Man. Billy Joel is set to play sold-out shows July 16 and 18. "I'm a New York fan, and before this venue is gone, to have the opportunity to play here is really something else," Joel said.
The historic significance of the end of the two stadiums in the same season has not been lost on New York City sports fans, who are dreaming that the final game in their ballparks will be a World Series victory. Tickets are extraordinarily tough to come by. Seats for the final scheduled home games quickly sold out. Prices for some seats have exceeded $10,000 on the Internet.After the season, both Shea and Yankee stadiums will be torn down and the city will auction off their pieces.
John Gallagher, a spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said the city is working with both teams on a plan to sell memorabilia at the end of the 2008 season in a way that won't interfere with the stadium demolition plans.Fans attending games in New York this year will see busy construction sites where the new stadiums are going up next to the old ones.In the Bronx, the new ballpark will still be called Yankee Stadium. Team officials said they turned down offers of $50 million a year for naming rights.
The stadium has been designed to evoke the original 1923 building before its 1970s renovation, with a granite and limestone exterior and a familiar frieze atop the grandstand.The Mets' new home in Queens will be called Citi Field, thanks to a $20 million-a-year deal with Citibank. William Shea, a lawyer who was instrumental in bringing National League baseball back to New York after the Giants and Dodgers left, will be honored somewhere in the new stadium, team owners have promised.
And speaking of the Dodgers, Citi Field will celebrate their legacy. The arched brick facade is supposed to look like Brooklyn's long-gone Ebbets Field, and fans will be able to eat at the Ebbets Club Lounge. Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball's color line with the Dodgers in 1947, will be honored with a Jackie Robinson Rotunda.
The Dodger tributes don't sit well with some fans who would prefer that Citi Field invoke the Mets' own journey from lovable losers in the early 1960s to World Series winners in 1969 and 1986.
"Where's the Gil Hodges Suite?" said Ron Dresner of West Hartford, Conn., who runs a Mets fan Web site. "Where's the Tom Seaver Suite?"New York, a city that is constantly reinventing itself, is not awash in nostalgia for either of the doomed stadiums.
Some Yankees fans miss the old ballpark from before the mid-'70s renovation. In a column last year, The New York Sun's Tim Marchman derided "the absurd pretense that the park where Derek Jeter plays is the same one in which Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle played." He called the 1970s Yankee Stadium "a new park in everything but name, and a rather ugly one.
"In the 1970s renovation, the team removed the original facade, replaced its wooden seats with plastic ones, and changed the dimensions.
Shea Stadium opened in 1964 and was designed for use as a baseball and football field. During a media tour of Citi Field last month, Jeff Wilpon, the Mets chief operating officer, called Shea "a dual-purpose stadium built in the 1960s that has served its useful purpose.
"Like other 21st-century stadiums, the new stadiums will feature ascending levels of privilege. The new $1.3 billion Yankee Stadium will have 51 luxury suites, a club suite, a legends suite, a main level outdoor suite, a terrace level outdoor suite and eight-party suites suitable for weddings and bar mitzvahs.
Dining options will include an outdoor food court, a martini bar and a members-only restaurant.There will be a conference center where business groups can hold a daylong meeting and then take in the game.Yankees marketing materials make the new suites look like depopulated airport lounges.
"We tried to reflect a five-star hotel and put a ballfield in the middle," said Lonn Trost, the team's chief operating officer.The $800 million Citi Field will have 54 luxury suites, 10 of which will be 18 rows from home plate. Ticket prices for 2009 have not been announced, but the Yankees and Mets have said the games would be affordable at a range of income levels.Both teams raised prices for 2008, and those pricey tickets have sold briskly.
The Mets announced on March 15 that ticket sales had already surpassed 2.5 million, the earliest the team has ever topped that benchmark. The Mets are on track to draw 4 million at home for the first time.
The Yankees quickly sold 3.75 million of about 4.4 million available tickets.Tickets for the Yankees' last scheduled home game on Sept. 21 against the Baltimore Orioles were listed on StubHub.com last week at up to $15,439. The last scheduled game at Shea, on Sept. 28 against the Florida Marlins, was listed at up to $20,000.
Not everyone in the Bronx will welcome the new stadium. Advocates for open space tried to halt it with a lawsuit because two city parks were torn up to make way for it. The lawsuit was unsuccessful and the parkland is supposed to be replaced eventually.
To mend fences, the Yankees promised an annual donation to the community of $800,000 plus tickets and sports equipment.But the foundation that was supposed to distribute the money was criticized for taking a year and a half to hold its first meeting.
The foundation, called the New Yankee Stadium Community Benefits Fund Inc., announced Tuesday that it has received its first $800,000 check and will begin soliciting grant applications shortly.
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