The House That Built Baseball
by Jeremy "Fasttalker" Bjornberg - 07/31/2008
Growing up in a small town in Minnesota, the aura of Yankee Stadium was always something quite foreign to me. I spent my formative years in a state where football and baseball were played at the worst stadium in pro sports, the much-embattled Metrodome. I actually banned myself from The Dome after the Vikings blew their chance for the Super Bowl in 1998. That's when I angrily decided I wasn't ever again stepping foot in that stale-beer-smelling, diaper-topped excuse for a sports venue. I have only broken the ban once, for a Yankees-Twins playoff series.
One fact I failed to mention is that I'm a huge Yankees fan, a fascination that started with my first baseball glove that was "signed" by star pitcher Ron Guidry. As I threw tennis balls on my roof and clumsily tried to grab them I dreamed of my own heroics at The House That Ruth Built. Sadly, my aspirations of swatting balls 500 feet in the Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium like Josh Hamilton did a few weeks ago would never come to fruition. Rather, when I finally arrived in the Home of Champions last week for the Yankees-Twins series, my only achievements were guzzling nearly a dozen cocktails and downing enough hot dogs to make Joey Chestnut's stomach turn.
I have traveled around the world and been in many stadiums but I've never had the opportunity to enjoy a baseball game outside in its true raw elements. The gigantic size and history of the building is a little overwhelming--now it's not as awe-inspiring as the Roman Coliseum, but it's the home to 26 world titles and countless historic boxing and college football matches. When it was built in 1926 Yankee Stadium was widely hailed at the time as the best sports facility in the nation and it actually managed to over-exceed those expectations. As a gambling fanatic I also had to wonder how many fortunes had been won as well as squandered in this great building. How many depression dollars were bet on Joe Louis to avenge his loss and defend America's flag against Max Schmeling and the Nazi regime? What kind of money and pride were on the line when Notre Dame beat Army in 1929 and Hollywood legend Knute Rockne uttered (and Ronald Reagan made famous) the line "win one for the Gipper?" Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Joe Dimaggio and Mariano Rivera have all won and lost so many dollars for gamblers by showing off the best skills baseball has ever seen. It was hard to concentrate on the game with so many thoughts and drinks flowing through my body. From staring at the statues to pointing out the spot where Josh Hamilton almost hit one out of the stadium, the last year of Yankee Stadium is hard to grasp.
After a dreary 30-minute ride on the overcrowded subway reeking of body odor and smog, seeing glamorous Yankee Stadium in its' twilight year was an almost euphoric experience. Though the building is months from demolition and is far from beautiful by modern standards, it is reminiscent of a fictional, mythical edifice in my mind. The smell of hot dogs and cheap beer brings a true nostalgia, as it has probably smelled the same for its entire existence. In the last 85 years there has been more accomplished in this building related to sports than any other venue I can think of.
There's little chance Alex Rodriguez would have signed for half a billion dollars in guaranteed money or that the Yankees would have a $200 million dollar payroll if it wasn't for this famous building in the Bronx. It's pretty mind boggling that the new Yankee Stadium (they will keep the name for the new structure) would cost $1.3 billion whereas the original was only $2.5 million! That was 1923, but by these astronomical rising rates the next replacement will cost in the trillions if not the fantasy gazillions. From a historical perspective, the importance of Yankee Stadium cannot be measured in dollars or championships, glory or records, but rather the entire success of baseball as a whole. This isn't The House That Ruth Built, it's The House That Built Baseball. Without this glorious ballpark the sport would never have become Americas' pastime, and we all have New York and the Yankees to thank for that.