The New York Yankees held their stadium party today in what until this week was Macombs Dam Park, with a big stage and loudspeakers and a fake grass lawn and more elected officials than you can shake a stick at. George Steinbrenner said the $1.3 billion project was for “you people,” and MLB commissioner Bud Selig called the soon-to-be-demolished Yankee Stadium to be “one of the most revered, the most famous arena in the country if not the world,” and invited guests cheered as schoolchildren waved Yankees flags.
And you can read about all that in tomorrow’s Times or wherever, As for me, my subconscious cleverly left my press ID at home, so I was left outside with the unwashed, catching only an occasional snippet of Yankees broadcaster Michael “baseball tradition is like the Holocaust” Kay welcoming various and sundry dignitaries. (“…Yogi Berra! Billy Crystal!…”) Behind the police barricades that lined all of River Avenue, local residents and curious Yankee fans drawn by the hoopla strained futilely to catch a glimpse of the festivities, while several dozen protestors from Save Our Parks were swiftly herded into pens on the next block. One demonstrator pointed out that the Macombs Dam Park trees that will soon be cut down for the new stadium had been supplied with fresh mulch for the occasion; cleaning crews pulled down Save Our Parks flyers before supplying a fresh coat of paint to lampposts. A passerby on River Avenue complained to his neighbor: “These kids [at the groundbreaking] aren’t from the neighborhood. They brought them in from Kips Bay in Manhattan. The real kids are up there” – pointing to the northern end of Mullaly Park, which remains open to the public – “playing football in the dirt.”
The protest received plenty of media attention, as did the official ceremonies inside, and probably anyone who made the mistake of wandering too close to a camera crew outside the Court Deli on 161st Street. The coverage that’s resulted so far has ranged from sloppy (Karen Matthews of the Associated Press saying that the Yankees will “offset the loss of the parks by building new parkland including three ballfields at the site of the current Yankee Stadium,” when in fact city taxpayers who will foot the bill for this) to excellent (Newsday’s Wallace Matthews, no relation, running down the reasons why “this deal as as dirty as anything ever found in a puddle of black water in the subway”), but that’s almost beside the point. Where the media dropped the ball here was in waiting to report the story until there was a press release telling them it was time to – if even half the news crews that swarmed Macombs Dam Park today had showed up in the Bronx last summer, maybe this project could have been subjected to some public debate instead of being rushed through in back-room deals.
At least one report has the bulldozers starting in earnest on demolishing Macombs Dam Park tomorrow, which should make for an interesting backdrop for Yankee games the rest of the season. Bronx residents say they’ll battle on, with state and possibly federal lawsuits, but barring a dramatic come-from-behind rally, both Yankee Stadium and the parks that have been its neighbors for 80 years look destined to join Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds as New York city landmarks lost to the insatiable maw of Progress.