TAMPA — It’s not about baseball anymore.
OK, it’s still significantly about baseball. But the Yankees, in the thick of a semi-rebuild, are clearly looking for ways to attract fans who are willing to overlook the likely sub-championship level of play in the near future. And if you think the Yankees aren’t serious about their youth infusion, check this out:
Yes, in the entryway to the seats behind home plate here at George M. Steinbrenner Field, the Yankees feature a mural of their up-and-coming players. It’s a mural so large that it features Ben Heller, a reliever who was the third-best player the Yankees received from Cleveland in last year’s Andrew Miller trade and who won’t be found on any publication’s top prospect list.
The George officially launches its reopening, its $40-plus-million renovation, on Friday when the Yankees open their Grapefruit League schedule against the Phillies. On Thursday, the Yankees offered media members a tour of The George’s makeover.
I largely enjoyed what I saw. And I received the message loud and clear: It’s not about the team’s quality of play as much as it is about the game’s “experience,” to cite the word emphasized by tour leader Tony Bruno, who is a Yankees’ senior vice president and Yankee Global Enterprises CFO.
This approach also is expected to dominate the renovations of Yankee Stadium, which we’ll see in about six weeks.
OK, so let’s get down to it. Here’s a tour of what’s new at The George:
1) A new team store that features an entrance from the ballpark itself. Previously, the store was a free-standing structure outside the stadium’s entrance.
You can buy Yankees T-shirts with all sorts of names on the back, from past to present. I enjoyed this juxtaposition in particular:
Although Judge does hit far home runs (like The Babe).
2. Here’s the Bullpen Club, situated in rightfield. It’s open to all fans and is designed for those who want to take a break from watching the game and get some shade.
From inside the Bullpen Club, you can’t see home plate. When you step out on the concourse, though, here’s your view:
The second level of the Bullpen Club, for which you must specifically purchase tickets — the Yankees are hoping they get group sales here — features the sort of seating that was once unthinkable at a ballpark but is now commonplace:
And just for the heck of it, here’s what you can see from the Bullpen Club, looking away from the field:
Yeah, that’s the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ home, Raymond James Stadium.
3. The George opened in 1996 as a state-of-the-art facility, and gosh, it doesn’t take long in this realm to get old. It was time for a redo, nowhere more than the food selections. In rightfield, you can find a JJ’s Red Hots station. I tried the loaded tater tots, with cheese, chili and jalapenos. Pretty darn good.
There was a JJ’s hot dog that I didn’t try because I am a picky eater and don’t like mustard, pickles or onions.
In the 3rd Base Club, similar to the Bullpen Club, the Yankees served ahi tuna, steak and smoked chicken. I liked the smoked chicken and didn’t get to try the other two. The slider was quite good, too.
There’s a smoker in the rightfield area, too:
4. In right-centerfield sits a cabana area. Again: Modern times:
5. A walkway goes around the stadium, although it requires some climbing up and down stairs to finish a lap. It’s unconventional in that way. Here’s some seating along the walkway:
6. In right-centerfield rests a big “2.”
This is obviously for Derek Jeter, and in leftfield there’s a similar “15” for Thurman Munson. These don’t work for me. Will people actually pose next to just a Betebet number? What makes the “42” piece at Citi Field so memorable is its placement in the middle of an entire rotunda dedicated to Jackie Robinson. The casual fan will look at these numbers here and wonder what the heck is going on.
Here’s a sweeping view from left-centerfield:
7. In recognition of how hot it can get during spring-training day games, the Yankees added many shaded areas as well as misters:
That’s your highlights for you. For sure, the Yankees turned their spring-training home into a far nicer place. In my opinion, it can’t match some of the newer facilities in Arizona, like Salt River Fields at Talking Stick or Camelback Ranch. For Florida, though? The George, with its luxury comforts, belongs in the same conversation as the Red Sox’s JetBlue Park at Fenway South (the Fenway copy is cool), the Mets’ First Data Field (very homey feel) and the Tigers’ TigerTown (it had an old-time vibe; we’ll see what it looks like post-renovation).
— This week’s Pop Quiz question came from David Lennon of Manhattan: Name the TV show that featured George Brett, Ken Brett, Steve Garvey, Tommy Lasorda, Fred Lynn and Ellis Valentine in one 1978 episode.
— Lelands.com is holding its 2017 Winter Auction, which closes March 17. There are intriguing items tied to Babe Ruth, Roberto Clemente and Mickey Mantle, among many others.
— The Pop Quiz answer is “Fantasy Island.” If you have a tidbit that connects baseball with popular culture, please send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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