As college spring breakers are flocking to the tropical beaches of Florida, it seems like the perfect time to share my Spring Break 2k15 adventure. While most college students pile their friends into a car and trek down to either Panama City Beach or Miami, with the intent of spending the week pounding beers on a beach, I took a more sophisticated approach. My parents and I made a last minute decision to fly down to Tampa, Florida, and then drive up to Thomasville, Georgia to visit my brother, then back down to Tampa (with my brother) to watch a Yankees vs Pirates spring training game, and then finally fly back to the pristine, yet a little colder, shores of Lake Erie. The main attraction for me on this voyage was, with-out-a-doubt, experiencing the wonders of spring training, even if it was with the New York Yankees. Of course, the Cleveland Indians spring training would be ideal to attend, but I’ll have to save that for another year (aka, next spring break). In the meantime though, a spring training game at George M. Steinbrenner Field was a great way to spend my spring break.
Pulling into the parking area, it was apparent that baseball was in the air. From tailgaters to ticket scalpers, believe me when I say, people take this whole spring training thing quite seriously. The parking area was directly in front of Raymond James Stadium, the home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Then to get to the baseball field, we crossed a pedestrian bridge over Dale Mabry Highway. Before finding our seats, we meandered around outside the stadium for a short time, making stops to see the retired numbers of Yankee greats at the mini Monument Park, as well as the George M. Steinbrenner Statue.
The city of Tampa became the first spring training site located in Florida when the Chicago Cubs setup camp in 1913. For years the city hosted different Major League Baseball teams during spring training, along with various minor league teams throughout the summer. Then in 1988, the Cincinnati Reds moved training facilities, and the following year, the last minor league team followed suit, leaving the city void of a baseball team and venue. An end to that spring baseball drought was announced in 1993, when the Tampa Sports Authority revealed a deal to build a new spring training facility for the New York Yankees. After a short debate over location, it was decided that the new complex would be built directly across the Dale Mabry Highway from Tampa Stadium, the home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the time. On March 1, 1996, spring baseball was restored to the city when the Yankees hosted the Cleveland Indians. Today George M. Steinbrenner Field serves as home to the minor league Tampa Yankees, as well as the spring training location of the New York Yankees.
The “Legend”-ary Name
From the time of inception, the new ballpark was named Legends Field. On March 27, 2008, that name was changed to George M. Steinbrenner Field, in honor of long-time Yankees owner and Tampa resident, George Steinbrenner. At the time, Steinbrenner was in failing health, and later passed away in July 2010. To further honor the illustrious owner, a life-size bronze statue was erected at the stadium’s entrance in January 2011.
The Stadium Itself
George M. Steinbrenner Field, with a seating capacity of 11,026, is an intimate venue when compared to its colossal Major League Baseball counterparts. When visiting the ballpark, fans can catch subtle nods to the storied Old Yankee Stadium. The field dimensions of the stadium precisely mirror those of the former Yankees home. Also, the grandstand facade was designed after that of the legendary stadium. On this specific trip, my attention was slightly less focused on the actual stadium and more about the atmosphere. Spring training should be on the list of must-sees for every avid baseball fan. It gives you a chance to see veteran players in a lighter environment, alongside prospects fighting to make the team. Spring training allows fans to see players in all different stages of their careers. One of the most intriguing aspects of my visit was hearing a cacophony of boos as well as cheers raining down every time Alex Rodriguez’s name was announced. In years prior, that mixture would have been solely applause. Spring Training gives you a great preview of the regular season, and from what I saw in that one game, the 2015 season will be quite a spectacle.
To wrap up this summer, my family planned a spur of the moment weekend trip to New York to see New Yankee Stadium. That trip will go down in history as one of my favorite stadium visits of all time. The atmosphere at Yankee Stadium could not be compared to anything I have ever witnessed. Even with a subpar team on the field, the stadium was packed with passionate New Yorkers cheering at every opportunity possible. Although Yankees fans are always known as being some of the most intense fans in the league, a major factor contributing to the atmosphere was Derek Jeter’s final season.
No matter your favorite team, you can’t argue with the legacy left by Derek Jeter. I might cringe a little inside every time I hear his name, but I have the utmost respect for Jeter as a person and as a baseball player. The reception Jeter received at the game was unrivaled by any other. During the game, Jeter recorded his 3,431st hit. With that hit, he moved to sixth place on the all-time hits list, passing the great Honus Wagner. This was truly a moment that I will remember forever. The stadium erupted as if the Yankees had just won the World Series and chants of “Der-ek Jet-ter” rained down for what seemed like an eternity. Although I of course was rooting for the Indians that day, I couldn’t help but smile at the excitement and the little part of history I was a part of. Derek Jeter is one of the all-time greats of baseball and just to be able to watch him play was an amazing experience. This holds an especially big significance for my generation. Jeter was that household name that you could ask any kid about and they would know who you were talking about. Everyone wanted to be just like Derek Jeter. It is crazy to think that he will not be playing another season, but it is also a great honor to have witnessed his talents for my whole childhood. Here is a video I took after Jeter’s 3,431st hit. You can still hear the remnants of the cheering even as the next batter steps into the box. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBQ0BBdF9oc Now that I got that sappy moment all taken care of, let’s take a closer look at the other aspects that make Yankee Stadium unique and memorable.
The Bleacher Creatures
Anther facet of Yankee Stadium that makes it a must-see is the crazy, devoted, rambunctious, section of the stadium referred to as “The Bleacher Creatures”. In old Yankee Stadium, the Creatures’ home was section 37 and 39. Now in the new stadium, they occupy section 203 in the right-field bleachers. The origin of this passionate group is said to be traced back to the 1980’s and 1990’s when a fan named Ali Ramirez would show up to games ringing a cowbell. Around this time, fans in the bleachers would begin to chant the names of Yankees players. During a game in the early 90’s, the Creatures were chanting the name of Tino Martinez, the Yankees first baseman. Martinez turned around and waved to the fans. This began the first inning ritual of going around the field chanting the names of the players. Some players wave while others have unique gestures. It was such a cool thing to witness. The name “Bleacher Creatures” was given to the group by Filip Bondy, a columnist for the New York Daily News. Bondy spent a whole season with the section gaining research for his book titled Bleeding Pinstripes: A Season with the Bleacher Creatures of Yankee Stadium. Seeing grown men with so much excitement about baseball just has a way of warming the heart. How organized and united the group was blew my mind. Along with supporting their own team with different chants throughout the game, the group also has a tradition of heckling the opposing team’s right fielder. This sometimes has gotten the group in trouble for some offensive things they have said, but overall the tradition of the Creatures is one for the ages. You can hear stories about this group, but the stories can’t do justice to seeing this spectacle in person.
Blending the Old and New
When the plans to build a new Yankee Stadium were released in 2005, they were met with a wide spectrum of emotions. Some diehard fans felt it was a crime to demolish the old stadium with all the years of tradition it contained. Others were upset about the financial side of the new plans with it’s tax-exempt financing, while yet others disliked the fact it would be built overtop of two city parks. Still others felt blindsided by the announcement because the plans were approved without public consent. And then there were fans who were excited about the new stadium and the potential for new memories to be created. Even with opposition the plans went through, and the groundbreaking ceremonies for the new stadium took place on August 16, 2006, the 58th anniversary of Babe Ruth’s death. The construction lasted through the 2007 and 2008 seasons, with 2009 being the stadium’s inaugural season.
Built across the street from the old stadium, New Yankee Stadium, incorporates many of the old design elements in an attempt to preserve the history. The exterior was modeled after the old stadium’s exterior and also, some of the seating layout was planned to mimic that of the old. One of the most iconic features of Old Yankee Stadium was the frieze along the roof with the different flags of the MLB teams. The replica of that frieze is one of the first elements that you notice in New Yankee stadium. That frieze will always be synonymous with the Yankee pinstripes in my mind. Overall, the stadium has a very clean, fresh look while drawing in legendary components from the past.
With the old stadium demolition, a baseball field and park now stand in it’s place. Called Heritage Field, this park is intended to pay homage to Yankee greats and historic moments from the old stadium, while also returning parkland to the residents of that area. My family took the subway to the stadium, so we walked right through the park. On the walkway, there are pavement stones engraved with historic dates and moments in Yankee history. The field is made up of three baseball fields that teams have to apply to play on. One of the fields sits on the spot of the Old Yankee Stadium field. Also, a 12-ton portion of the old stadium frieze remains on the site. It is neat to see how the city worked to preserve some of Yankee history in the park design. After visiting both the old and new stadiums, I have a newfound appreciation of tradition. While some of the most storied moments in baseball took place at old Yankee Stadium, they were not forgotten or demolished with the stadium. They live on in the hearts of fans and in small, yet profound details in the new stadium, waiting for new memories and traditions to be made. I guess you could say Derek Jeter already took the liberty of manufacturing a few moments of his own to be written into the pages of baseball’s history books.