Yankees set to break ground on new, $1 billion stadium

Updated: August 16, 2006, 8:18 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- No tears were shed Wednesday for the historic stadium where Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio played out their storied careers.

Politicians and baseball officials who gathered to break ground on a new Yankee Stadium shared memories of the old ballpark but said the new one would be even better.

"Yankee Stadium is an iconic stadium, a place where Ruth and (Lou) Gehrig played, where popes and presidents have spoken," Gov. George Pataki said. "But so, too, will the new Yankee Stadium be an iconic stadium."

Pataki joined team owner George Steinbrenner, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others for the groundbreaking ceremony at the site of the new stadium, just north of the existing 1923 ballpark.

The billion-dollar Bronx stadium is set to open in 2009.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said he remembered going to Yankee Stadium as a teenager.

"I can still feel the joy and excitement as I stared in wonder at the field, perfect in every way," he said. "And there in center field stood the hero of my boyhood, the great Joe DiMaggio. ... Yankee Stadium is an American monument that has endured for 84 years. Today we are breaking ground on a new Yankee Stadium, a new monument and new memories for the coming generations of fans."

Steinbrenner, who complained of the heat, was brief.

"It's a pleasure to give this to you people," he said. "Enjoy the new stadium. I hope it's wonderful."

The Yankees displayed a congratulatory message from President Bush on the center-field scoreboard during the second inning of Wednesday night's game against Baltimore. There were some boos from the crowd.

Before the game, Yankees manager Joe Torre talked about the old ballpark, and the one being built.

"This is a special place. There's no question. But all the renderings I've seen of that new ballpark, it's going to be exciting," he said. "The guys who are going to play in these next couple years and go over there, I'm sure it's going to be a big change for them."

Yankees legend Yogi Berra, superfan Billy Crystal and 81-year-old stadium fixture Freddy Schuman, who patrols the stands with homemade signs, attended the 90-minute ceremony but did not speak.

Schuman, who banged on his trademark frying pan during applause, said later he approved of the new ballpark.

"I feel about the old stadium, but this is progress," he said.

The groundbreaking came a day after a state Supreme Court judge denied opponents a temporary restraining order that would have blocked construction. He found there was no legal bar to cutting down trees to permit a project that benefits the city and the local community.

A few dozen demonstrators carried signs and chanted, "Save our parks," during Wednesday's ceremony, but police kept them far enough away that they could not be heard by the participants.

In Mullaly Park, most of which will be lost to the new ballpark, tennis instructor Sam Fumi said he hoped the politicians would keep their promise to move the tennis courts to a new park nearby.

"We will relocate somewhere, but right now we don't know," he said. "It's sad."

Manuel Perez, a lifelong neighborhood resident who was playing with his two children in the park, said the area's resurgence had meant only higher rents and other costs of living and a new stadium was unlikely to help.

"It's not going to do anything for my community," he said. "Whether we say yes or whether we say no, they're going to do it anyway."

The 53,000-seat open-air ballpark will replace one of the most famous sports arenas in the world, christened with a Ruth home run on Opening Day. Designers plan to restore several elements of the original stadium, including the frieze that hung from the roof, that were lost in a 1970s remodeling.

Yankee Stadium is the third-oldest ballpark in the major leagues, trailing Boston's Fenway Park (1912) and Chicago's Wrigley Field (1914).

The city and state are contributing more than $200 million to the project, including infrastructure improvements. The Yankees will pay the rest, financed through taxable and tax-exempt bonds.

Until a dozen years ago, Steinbrenner had denigrated the neighborhood as dangerous and threatened to move the team to Manhattan or northern New Jersey. But the Yankees expect to draw more than 4 million fans to the stadium this year, making it the eighth consecutive season topping 3 million.

The new stadium will have fewer seats than the current capacity, 57,478, but more luxury boxes. Chief operating officer Lonn Trost said the ballpark would continue to be called Yankee Stadium rather than be named for the highest corporate bidder, though parts of the park would be sponsored.

Construction of the new stadium will involve paving over large portions of Macombs Dam Park and Mullaly Park and cutting down about 400 mature oak trees. The Yankees are to offset the loss of the parks by building new parkland, including three ball fields at the site of the current Yankee Stadium, which will be dismantled.

Backers say the project will create an estimated 3,600 construction jobs and 900 permanent jobs. But the plan met with opposition from some South Bronx neighbors and parks advocates.

Geoffrey Croft, president of New York City Parks Advocates, said the stadium foes would appeal Tuesday's ruling and file a federal lawsuit.

"The Yankees were never required to consider practical alternatives to the taking of parkland," he said.

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Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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