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New Stadium an instant classic

NEW YORK -- Yankees owners Jacob Ruppert and Tillinghast L'HommedieHuston wanted unprecedented grandeur, and so in 1923, with audacity to crib from the Roman Coliseum, they built the first triple-decker stadium America ever had seen. Yankee Stadium succeeded, architecturally and aesthetically, as a groundbreaking achievement.

The new Yankee Stadium, even for $1.7 billion, is not similarly auspicious, in keeping with the modern ballpark building boom that relies on blueprints passed like cheat sheets from city to city. Rather, it succeeds wonderfully as an homage, one that looks back more than it looks forward. It is an attempt -- and it is executed skillfully and exactingly -- to reflect what was rather than redefine what is. It is a beautiful place, stately, proper and refined in a grown-up, already matured way. To look up from the playing field upon the majestic frieze, as white as icing atop a birthday cake, colorful flags fluttering like candles aflame, is to be transported back to the original stadium, before the renovation. The new Yankee Stadium cuts no corners and spares no detail. There is no denying the beauty of the stadium. It is, to borrow from that modern paradox, an instant classic.

Only time will tell, as its opening day hinted, if the Yankees lost something in gaining such an elegant manor. For as much as the Yankees planned for and built a worthy heir to its two forefathers, neither money nor architects can create the atmosphere that makes a building a ballpark. For one day, and even before the Indians turned a pitchers' duel into a 10-2 rout (RECAP | BOX) with a nine-run seventh inning, Yankee Stadium sounded nothing like the old place. It sounded much quieter, much more refined.

Almost nobody stood up and howled with delight as Indians pitcher Cliff Lee kept pitching himself into trouble, as the throaty hordes across the street felt they could push such cornered pitchers into surrender. These fans waited for something to happen. And Lee kept them disappointed.

Almost nobody stood up and cheered in anticipation when Yankees starter CC Sabathia obtained a second strike on a hitter; in the old place the fans were building their applause like thousands of ominous kettle drums upon the instant of the second strike.

One of the great advantages for Yankees teams in recent years has been the foreboding urgency whenever an opposing pitcher or hitter is in trouble. The upper deck seemed to hang close to the field, like leaden clouds. The bleacher creatures loudly recited opposing outfielders' family histories, particularly on their mothers' side, from point-blank range.

"One of the things I always remember," said Indians third baseman Mark DeRosa, "is looking up and thinking, There is nowhere to hide here. This place is a little bigger, more spread out."

A few of the many Yankee legends on hand for the pregame ceremony were talking before the game about how the decks of this ballpark are sloped, and less stacked as compared to the old stadium. Said one of them, "It doesn't sound the same. It can't sound the same." An upper deck home run, for instance, a signature of the Babe, the Mick and Reggie, is no longer possible; the upper tank is just too far away.

Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, the current Yankee legends, showing proper restraint for the day, said after the game the place sounded no different than their former base camp across the street. Yankees left fielder Johnny Damon said the club gave the new stadium fans little reason to cause a racket. But it was different, even if the answer as to why needs more time to be known.

It could have been simply the newness of the place; it's hard to call out the opposition when you are gawking. It could have been the formality of Opening Day, which draws baseball fans as Christmas and Easter do churchgoers: filled with those who are not regular supplicants. It could have been the physical shape of the ballpark, which pushes the bleacher creatures and upper deck denizens a bit farther from the field. It could have been the price of entry. It is a ballpark not built for these economic times, and so the clientele that actually can meet the asking price of the tickets is likely to be more comfortable, less involved with whether the Yankees win or lose as the defining line of their daily mood. Or it could have been bits and pieces of any of the above.

"To be honest with you," DeRosa said, "I looked up in the seventh inning and a lot of them were leaving. In the old Yankee Stadium you never saw that."

Quibble if you must with the physical structure. The 54-by-101 foot high definition videoboard is almost too clear, too big and, sitting in dead center field like a Picasso over a fireplace mantel, too prominently displayed. "It really reminds you of the old place," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "Everything except for that big high-definition screen in center field."

Monument Park -- it's actually no longer a park, but a beshadowed alley -- is shoehorned sadly behind a wall (center field) and under a bar (the glassed-in sports bar), which sounds like a place for suspicious criminal activity, not the sacred ground of legends. Players on the field cannot see it.

But to find a fault or two with the stadium would be unjust to the scale of its success. The sightlines are terrific, the concourses wide and inviting, the manicured playing field a carbon copy of the perfection of the old stadium grounds. Beautiful photographs and banners dress the place appropriately, like exquisite table linens; they are appropriate accents, not the focus. The new stadium does not overwhelm, not as the old stadium did (but that was back in a world of black-and-white TVs and few skyscrapers, so it was bound to drop jaws). The new stadium satisfies and comforts.

I asked Jeter if home-field advantage is something that requires time, that perhaps fans, and maybe even the players, needed to get beyond the newness before they can establish an edge over opponents.

"I think home-field advantage is about the atmosphere," Jeter said. "We have great fans, and I don't think that takes time."

It will take more than one day, of course, to take the temperature of the place. The Yankees succeeded in giving their ballplayers and their fans a worthy house to call their own. Now it is up to them to make it a home. And yes, it is a matter of time.

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