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One Century, Two Houses: One fan’s reflection on the “real” Yankee Stadium

Some call the old stadium home, others know only the new one. But what makes Yankee Stadium, well, Yankee Stadium?

79th MLB All-Star Game Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB via Getty Images

The corner of 161st Street and River Avenue. Since 1923, this intersection in the Bronx has been the home of the New York Yankees, first in “The House That Ruth Built,” and then across 161st from 2009 to the present. For a full century now, Yankee Stadium has dominated this corner of the Bronx, and generation upon generation of fans have visited the stadium’s hallowed halls.

And yet, to different people, “Yankee Stadium” refers to different things. To older generations of fans, Yankee Stadium is the original. Although major changes were made to the structure during renovations in the 1970s — ones significant enough to invite their own debate — fans visiting in the Bronx in the 2000s were in, both structurally and spiritually, the same building that had witnessed Lou Gehrig’s speech, Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak, Don Larsen’s perfect game, Roger Maris’s single-season home run record, and much more.

Yankees During World Series

The ballpark that opened in 2009, on the other hand, is the New Stadium, a facsimile of the real one, whose Monument Park and transplanted locker of Thurman Munson paint a false picture of continuity.

To my middle school students, Yankee Stadium is where the New York Yankees currently play. They have no recollection of the old stadium (almost every student I teach, in fact, was born after the new stadium opened) and have seen it only in pictures and highlights. History hasn’t left the stadium, of course — Monument Park and the Yankees Museum ensure its continued presence — but at the end of the day, the current stadium is focused on the here and now. Aaron Judge is the face of the organization, and the Judge’s Chambers the physical embodiment of that status.

American League Championship Series - Houston Astros v New York Yankees - Game Five

For some of us, however, the distinction isn’t so clear. I was born in 1996, placing me within the generation that technically lived through the dynasty era but does not recall it with particular specifics. At this point, the Yankees have called the new stadium home for a larger percentage of my life than the old stadium: 2023 will be their 15th at the new stadium, while I only witnessed 13 at the old stadium (and when you factor in the fact that it wasn’t until 2002-03 that I began to truly understand the game, it’s in truth only six-to-seven years of the old stadium I remember). For all intents and purposes, the new stadium ought to be “my” Yankee Stadium.

And yet, it’s not in truth. The old Yankee Stadium is filled with great memories for me, as a lot of my baseball “firsts” happened there. My first game, which so happened to be the first time in his career that Derek Jeter served as the designated hitter (July 7, 2002), sticks in my head as if I saw it yesterday, as I vividly recall Carlos Delgado’s first-inning home run off Jeff Weaver, as well as Rondell White robbing Delgado of a second homer later (a play that I annoyingly cannot find online, although I do remember fondly seeing a picture of it in Sports Illustrated For Kids later that year). I remember getting Jason Giambi’s autograph a year later, instantly catapulting him to the top of the list of my favorite Yankees.

The awe and wonder in Monument Park inspired seven-year-old me to memorize all the retired numbers (a feat that, alas, I can no longer replicate). It certainly helped that the old stadium had them evenly spread out just beyond the left-center-field fence — a much more prominent location than the new one, where the center-field restaurant garishly looms over the supposedly hallowed ground.

Chicago Cubs v New York Yankees Photo by: Diamond Images/Getty Images

And I’ll never forget watching the Staten Island Yankees retire Chien-Ming Wang’s number on July 27, 2006, watching him completely airmail the ceremonial first pitch, then being in attendance in the Bronx the following day as he fired a complete-game two-hit shutout against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. It is through these memories, this stadium, that my Yankee fandom was nurtured and cemented.

If the old stadium was where my fandom began, however, it’s at the new stadium where the Yankees truly became “my team.” While I may have been alive for five World Series championships, I in truth only remember the 2009 title; in my life, the old stadium was somehow a site of failure, while the new ballpark is the home of my World Series championship. It was at the new stadium where the team of my childhood retired, and the team of my adulthood — the first team made up entirely of players whose MLB debuts I absolutely remember, which includes the first prospects who I tracked from the time they were drafted/signed — came together. The Yankees who I love, the current squad that I spill so much digital ink over, exist in this place, in this stadium.

So, to tie back to the question at the beginning: which stadium, for me, is the “real” stadium, the one that does not need to have “old” or “new” attached to it? Both, and neither. Each stadium holds its own special place in my heart, to name one an imposter seems dishonest. When I need to differentiate between them, I give neither precedence and refer to them as the old stadium and the new stadium. Because in truth, what defines Yankee Stadium isn’t the concrete, or the seats, or the features that exist in both ballparks, like Monument Park and the façade; it’s the New York Yankees. It’s the fans, and it’s the pinstripes.

At the end of the day, what matters most to me is the baseball.