A Tale of Two Yankee Ballparks

Most fans were philosophical about the extravagance that strikes some as crass in the midst of a recession

Down in the plush, teak-armed seats of the ultra-deluxe Legends Suite section, Rose Mattiello sighed in the glorious sunshine Thursday as she enjoyed the treat of a lifetime -- a gift from her son of opening day tickets at the new Yankee Stadium.

Out in the bleachers, in a section with an obstructed view, Melanie Mugno was fuming. She couldn't see left field from her $5 seat. She couldn't see the flat-screen TVs placed too far below her, or the huge scoreboard just above.

"Look at this," she said in exasperation -- the benches didn't even have seat backs.

The christening of spanking-new, $1.5 billion Yankee Stadium, with its exquisite dining, private clubs, conference rooms, martini bar, farmer's market and crazy prices for the best seats -- $2,625!-- had a decidedly "Upstairs, Downstairs" feel about it.

And yet the outraged Mugno was in the minority. Most fans were philosophical about the extravagance that strikes some as crass and insensitive in the midst of a crippling recession. The stadium was conceived long before the downturn, many reasoned.

And hey -- it was a truly gorgeous day.

"I could care less about all that stuff," said Mario Valente, of New Milford, N.J., sitting next to his awe-struck fourth-grader, Michael, in $375 seats. "It's opening day, and I'm here with my son."

While you can still catch a game for as little as $5 -- in an area obscured by the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar -- attention has focused on the seats behind home plate, which go for as much as $2,625 for single games and north of $200,000 for a season ticket. Even Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner has acknowledged some may be overpriced.

On Thursday, those seats held likely suspects from the worlds of high finance and politics. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani among those who watched the Yankees lose to the Cleveland Indians, 10-2. But there were also some regular folks who'd shelled out the money for one unforgettable experience.

"It's really for this little guy that I'm doing it," said Eldon Chan, a banker accompanied by his 3-year-old son, Evan, in the front row to the right of home plate. "It may never happen again for him. We've got to enjoy it while it lasts. I can't see paying this on a regular basis, but for today, it was worth it."

Mattiello, the Staten Island mother, tried to be realistic: She once held season tickets but has long since been priced out. This trip to the Legends section was likely her last. But for a few hours, the 57-year-old administrative assistant was going to enjoy it.

And she had options, especially for dining. She could order penne with veal and chicken bolognese at her seat if she wished, or an Italian antipasto wrap prepared by Fresco by Scotto, a noted Italian restaurant in Manhattan.

Or she and her daughter, Ann O'Connell, could check out the gourmet options in the Legends Suite Club or one of two exclusive dugout lounges. Should they visit the ladies' room, they'd find it softly lit with footlights, shiny black tiles on the walls, and video screens above the sinks showing highlights from the life of Babe Ruth.

"It is excessive." O'Connell said. "But what gets me really mad is how people just buy these tickets and then sell them. As for the Yankees, it's not just them. Everything costs. Look at Hollywood, where they pay the stars millions. So let's be fair about this."

Lower down, in a seat that was a comparative steal at $375, Mike Iantuano wondered how the super-deluxe seats could even be worth it.

"I honestly think it's ridiculous -- with the economy the way it is. It's obnoxious," he said. Besides, they were, in his words, just a sticky piece of gum's throw away.

"If I'm down there," he said, "I want a massage, too."

It was actually because of the recession that Derek Gauss was at the game in the first place.

The 44-year-old from Williamston, Mich., was laid off two weeks ago from his insurance job. So he and a friend flew in for two Yankees games. They paid almost $700 online for two $5 tickets in the bleachers.

"There's millions of people in New York -- I'm sure there's enough who can afford the top seats,'' Gauss said. "It doesn't bother me."

Season ticket holder Lisa Curesky was fine with the ticket prices _ well, not really, she said, but she could deal with it for now. What really annoyed her at the moment was the price of a beer: nine bucks.

Naturally, she found herself in line for the ATM. It was 30 deep an hour before the game.

"I'm not really angry at the team, I understand that everything's expensive," said Curesky, an art director who lives in New Milford, Conn., and paid $12,000 this year for a full season. "But you know, in times like these, they should give fans a bit of a break."

Yankees officials have argued they need the high-rollers to subsidize everyone else. To that, longtime baseball fan and essayist Roger Rosenblatt merely laughs.

"On that basis, automakers should charge $300,000 for one car and $20 for another," Rosenblatt said. He looked into buying tickets for the opener but decided it was too expensive. He looks back fondly on the days, in the early '50s, when a box seat was $3 and the bleachers 75 cents.

Stuart Barnett was also looking back on the old days Thursday, but not as fondly. Standing by his $325-per-game season seats, the 44-year-old bail bondsman from Queens said he always had to sit in the upper deck as a kid.

"Now that I have some money, I'm sitting on the lower deck," he said. "'m living the dream I never got to live as a kid."

And what did he think of the stadium?
"It is," he declared, "the most amazing place I've ever seen in my life."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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