Classism At The Ol’ Ballpark
Three years ago my friend Mark bought two tickets to Fenway Park and surprised me with a road trip for my birthday. Ideally, we would have taken our sons with us, but the costs were prohibitive. According to baseball’s tradition, fathers and sons have to experience these things together.
Mark had another good reason for getting the tickets besides my birthday: it was the 100-year anniversary of Fenway Park. As much as we’re both diehard New York Yankee fans, and as much we dislike the Boston Red Sox, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Then again, he is also an avid stadium hopper; having visited Camden Yards (Baltimore Orioles), Progressive Field (Cleveland Indians), the old Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia (Phillies), Marlins Park (Miami Marlins), Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay Rays), Chase Field (Arizona Diamondbacks), Nationals Park (Washington Nationals), and Dodger Stadium (LA Dodgers).
I’m a poet, in 2014 that means I’m also a teacher. I teach developmental English and composition, and while I earn a living, I have to make economic choices every day. It seems that with each passing season, professional sports make it more difficult for families to enjoy their venues. Once upon a time I was a season ticket holder, before the extreme monetization of Yankee Stadium. These days we watch the game on television.
Fenway Park is smack in the heart of Boston, and it has to be one of the most beautiful baseball stadiums I’ll ever see. The chaotic symphony that is parking gives the place a bit of charm. Inside, the word nostalgia is wildly inappropriate as you look around the place, and I’d wager it hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years. Fenway is small. The crowds are thick but polite. We went right to our seats for the celebration and the first two innings. Then we walked around, and after seeing all the eye treats Fenway Park had to offer, we decided to go back to our seats. I was ready to make my way back down the long corridors, through the green painted beams, to the staircase at the end, up to our seats. My buddy said, “Come on, we’ll walk through here.”
That “through here” turned out to be a tunnel to the Field Level seats. As we emerged there was a handrail, and about forty-fifty feet away was Yankees pitcher Ivan Nova, throwing warm-up pitches. We were so close I could see how tall he is, and hear the ball smack the catcher’s mitt. I suddenly remembered how often I’d traversed the walkway to my seats at the old Yankee Stadium. At Fenway Park, there was no security guard to tell us we can’t go down there. No security guard/usher hybrid asked to see our ticket, or told the little boys and girls taking pictures to stand back, giving their parents menacing looks. I used to take my kids through the field-side walkway at the old Yankee Stadium, admittedly the long way, to give them a closer look at the players, the field, and the action. We’d slowly make our way up to Tiered Reserve; nowadays they call those seats Grandstand Level. What happened? What changed?
My son’s not much into playing baseball. He prefers to play basketball, and fútbol. However, he enjoys watching a baseball game, and along with his sisters, going to Yankee Stadium. We pack sandwiches, sodas, and chips and make the drive to the house the Steinbrenners built. The one stadium treat I won’t deny my kids is ice cream in a batting helmet. Even if it is seven bucks a pop. After that, the chicken fingers and fries, the hot dogs, the pizza and so on, are just too expensive. Occasionally I splurge, when I’m by myself, and buy a fourteen dollar steak sandwich. Ridiculous, I know. I thought of my son as I watched Ivan Nova pound pitches into Russell Martin’s mitt at Fenway Park. He would have enjoyed seeing that up close.
Let’s go back a few years to the construction of the new Yankee Stadium. The aforementioned Mark and I had been season ticket holders at the old stadium for about five years. As such, we were invited to tour the new stadium, and to buy early: specifically Field Level seating. The sales rep who hosted us was a young man wearing a suit one size too small for him. I distinctly remember his main selling point: “In this section the food doesn’t stop. Let’s say you order the lobster tail. You can take one bite out of it, and if you don’t want it you can send it back, and order something else. You can do that all day if you want.” My first thought was “What kind of asshole does something like that?”
The new Yankee Stadium cost somewhere around 1.3 billion dollars to build. However, much of that was subsidized by various city, state, and MTA subsidies, and of course taxpayer money: nearly 550 million dollars in total. How do these dollar signs affect fans? To quote bleacherreport.com “you could pay a mere $2,204 (service fees included) for two seats in the second row of the Legends Suite parallel to first base at Yankee Stadium.” When you factor in the cost of the ticket and all the free food and beverages floating around, is it any wonder security is tight, and noses are high? I mean we wouldn’t want a ten-year-old trying to get a picture of Derek Jeter to walk out with a Filet Mignon, gratis.
Many Yankee fans aren’t happy about this new upper class/lower class system at the stadium. If you tune into any of the sports talk radio stations in the Tri state area, you’ll hear callers complaining about the situation. Mike Francesa, host of The Mike Francesa show on WFAN, has taken note of the new atmosphere at Yankee Stadium calling it, and I’m paraphrasing here “A unique situation the Yankees are creating, between haves, and have-nots.”
The stadium has exclusive-pay-in-advance-to-get-in bars, restaurants, gift shops, a museum, and a Hard Rock Café (my main hangout since it’s free to get in and my seats suck). Here’s a list of the new Yankee Stadium’s fine establishments, in case you’re curious:
- Mohegan Sun Sports Bar
- MasterCard Batter’s Eye Cafe
- The Club Suite
- Party City Party Suites
- FedEx Banquet & Conference Center
- SAP Suite Lounge and Board Room
- The Great Hall
- Audi Yankees Club
- Delta SKY360° Suite
Each of these spaces is available for bookings (parties, meetings, conferences).
The stadium also has a museum, along with several shops, and stands that sell Yankee merchandise and memorabilia. You can also buy dirt, grass, and seats from the old Yankee Stadium. Sell, sell and sell. I suppose we shouldn’t begrudge the NY Yankees’ capitalistic spirit. This is America after all. However, my question, yet again is, at what cost capitalism? Normally, the goal is to secure future fans, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. It feels more like ‘get what you can while you still can.’ I see no aspect of this monetization compelling my son to be a bigger baseball fan. He’s not drinking at any of the bars, nor is he particularly excited about steakhouses and sushi.
I heard a caller on WFAN sports radio complaining that he drove two hours to the Yankee game on bat day, a day when the Yankees give away an autographed baseball bat to all fans 14 years of age or younger. He got to Yankee Stadium with his son, and his son’s best friend but they were already out of bats. He got there late. So like any father in that situation he couldn’t take no for an answer, and he went to customer service. According to the caller he was greeted with a harsh no, and a “There’s nothing we can do.”
I know this feeling. I was at the Hard Rock Café with a friend. Per Yankee Stadium policy, you have to leave the Hard Rock Café before the seventh inning if you want to be allowed into the stadium. We tried to enter the stadium before the last out of the sixth inning. The gentleman who scans the tickets so that you can enter the stadium had already left. The usher told me that if I run, I might make it to one of the gates outside. I asked the attendant, “How is the fact that your ticket scanner left already, my problem?” He stared back blankly and said, “There’s nothing we can do.”
I’ve always been a history buff and one of the reasons I love baseball is because it is a kind of mirror of American culture and society. Segregated America, segregated baseball. Integrated America, integrated baseball. Latin explosion America and I think you’re starting to get the picture. The era we live in is the same. The middle class is disappearing, and the economic divide is widening with every stagnant paycheck. It is getting harder for Americans to make ends meet, and at every turn the actions of politicians and corporations show us that there’s nothing they’re willing to do to change the status quo. Baseball is beginning to reflect the economic disparity in America more and more every day.
At first, Americans scoffed at the huge contracts baseball players were signing; 100 to 200 million dollar deals. Now, we get to marvel at the even higher costs associated with going to the ballgame and passive aggressive class discrimination.
To be fair, the Yankees have not raised ticket prices on Grand Stand Level seats in about three years. However, that hasn’t translated to sales of the big boy seats; Field Level. That image of empty seats behind the batter is still an ugly one. The absence of young fans sitting there, the ones not taking pictures with their smartphones, not eating peanuts, or waving at the camera way back in center field is sad. The children prevented from drifting down behind the dugout, these young fans that in the past were able to get a ball signed, or a smile and a wave, won’t be tomorrow’s fans. They’ll be cheering for America’s other pastime, football, or its up and coming distant cousin, fútbol.
Last season Derek Jeter retired from baseball, and my son’s favorite Yankee, Robinson Cano was allowed to walk away in Free Agency. The Yankees’ season was one long swan song for The Captain, and I’m not knocking him, he earned it. Also, he’s been my favorite Yankee, with Jorge Posada a close second. But the Yankees turned Jeter’s retirement into a cash cow. Jeter seemed a little embarrassed by all the attention, but he did generate a lot of money for his charity, the Turn Two Foundation. I bought a 15 game season ticket plan so that I could enjoy Jeter’s last season. Yep, I’m a sap.
I still love baseball. A day at the ballpark still holds some charm for me. The excitement of the fans, and the giddy kids are just a couple of things. Tailgating in the parking lot is another. I also love America, and I know that the power to change things we don’t like still rests with the people. So please, speak up, before we’re all priced out of the ballpark.
Roberto Carlos Garcia’s published works include the chapbook amores gitano (gypsy loves) Cervena Barva Press 2013, his poems and prose have appeared or are forthcoming in Entropy, PLUCK!: The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture, The Rumpus, 5 AM Magazine, Wilderness House, Connotation Press- An Online Artifact, Poets/Artists, and others.
A native New Yorker, Roberto holds an MFA in Poetry and Poetry Translation from Drew University. He is Instructor of English at Union County College, and his website is www.robertocarlosgarcia.tumblr.com