2005-06-24 / Sports

Baseball Fans Will Attend New Stadium Palaces Soon

By Michael Avallone Sports Columnist

By Michael Avallone
Sports Columnist

One is more than 80 years old while the other is entering its 41 st season of use. Since the opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore 13 years ago, a new breed of stadium has popped up seemingly everywhere… except in the Big Apple.

Jacobs Field in Cleveland, Coors Field in Denver, The Ballpark in Arlington (now Ameriquest Field), and Turner Field in Atlanta are just three of 13 new stadiums opened. A yet-to-be named ballpark will also be opened next year in St. Louis. And that’s just the NEW parks.

Stadiums that have undergone major renovations include Angel Stadium of Anaheim, Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City and U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. If you’ve lost count, that’s a total of 16 new ballparks and four more renovated fields in the majors.

Meanwhile, the Mets and Yankees continue to play in Shea Stadium and Yankee Stadium, respectively. The Mets – only in their 44 th season of play – have the fourth oldest ballpark in baseball behind Wrigley Field, Fenway Park and the House that Ruth built.

As for the Bronx Bombers, they have 26 world championships and the ghosts of players like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and so many more roaming the bowls of Yankee Stadium. But what they don’t have is a practical and modernized facility to play ball in…until now. Both teams are on their way towards building new homes to be ready for the 2009 season.

In a last-ditch effort to lure the 2012 Olympics to New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg shook off his West Side stadium defeat and instead turned to the Mets, who have quietly waited in the background for their opportunity to break ground on a new stadium in Shea’s parking lot.

For the Mets, it’s a no-lose proposition. They get the 45,000-seat ballpark whether the Olympics come to New York or not. The project is currently estimated at $600 million and will be funded by Mets owner Fred Wilpon himself. The city would kick in close to $200 million more for infrastructure costs but taxpayers would not pay a dime for the ballpark itself.

If by some chance the IOC decides to bring the 2012 games here, the Mets will play at the Yanks home park while their new facility is used for Olympic events. The park would be retrofitted with some 40,000 more seats – much like Turner Field was for the 1996 games in Atlanta – that would be torn down after the games are over.

If the Olympics don’t come to NYC, then the Mets have the Ebbets Field-like ballpark Wilpon envisioned some eight years ago – minus a retractable roof – regardless.

On the other side of the Triborough are the Yankees, who have been touting a new Yankee Stadium of their own, albeit in a much louder manner. After years of threatening to move the team to Manhattan or New Jersey, owner George Steinbrenner finally decided to keep his club in the Bronx.

At a news conference this past Wednesday at the Stadium, the Yankees unveiled their proposal and model for a new ballpark, built adjacent to their current home. The new version would feature the same field dimensions and incorporate the old-fashioned look the original Yankee Stadium had. Of course, it would also have more than double the number of luxury suites as the current stadium has.

Like Wilpon, Steinbrenner has decided to fund the ballpark entirely from his own pocket, meaning taxpayers won’t be on the hook for any of the estimated $800 million price tag. The city would chip in around $300 million in infrastructure costs, including a new Metro-North Railroad station nearby.

Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani signed off on stadium deals with both teams before he left office in 2001, but that was prior to the terrorist attacks on September 11 th. Once Mayor Bloomberg took over early the next year, he immediately nixed the idea of any ballparks being built with city money.

However, almost four years later – and after a fervent attempt to build a West Side stadium for the Jets and the 2012 games – the mayor has changed his tune.

From a fan and player standpoint, new ballparks are long overdue. Yankee Stadium underwent a complete renovation in the mid-1970s, but another facelift would only cover up major deficiencies. Opposing players and fans love the history the Stadium conjures up, but there is very little that is appealing about the 82-year-old ballpark.

Similarly, Shea Stadium may have great memories of 1969, 1973 and 1986, but it doesn’t have much else. The 41-year-old stadium has undergone several facelifts of its own, but it is considered to be the worst stadium left standing in all of baseball.Despite the non-use of taxpayer money, there will certainly be obstacles to overcome in the Yankees and Mets quest for new ballparks. However, it looks like the light at the end of the tunnel is finally in sight. 2009 can’t come soon enough.

For the greatest sports town in the world, it’s long overdue.

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