Yanks preparing for All-Star Game
Staff overcoming obstacles in staging Midsummer Classic
NEW YORK -- Each day as he walks into the current Yankee Stadium, Yankees chief operating officer Lonn Trost glances across 161st Street in the Bronx at the facility under construction that will become the new Yankee Stadium next year, and wonders what it would be like to have an All-Star Game in that building.
For the first time in the 75-year history of the All-Star Game, the site of the game pairing the top players of the American League and the National League will take place in a park's final season. It's a grand way for the second-oldest park in the AL to go out, but the age of The House That Ruth Built presents some problems staging a modern event that the Yankees and Major League Baseball continue to sort out.
"On a weekly basis, the entire staff meets here in untold numbers with MLB to work out all the issues you have to deal with," Trost said in his Stadium office. "These are not necessarily issues of controversy, just issues of trying to get things done. We're trying to convert a stadium that has been here for 85 years into something that can be a focal point for the country."
The original Yankee Stadium was built in 1923, 10 years before there was anything like an All-Star Game. The park underwent a two-year overhaul and reopened in 1976, the year before it hosted its third All-Star Game. But that was 31 years ago, and the All-Star Game has changed significantly since then. No longer is it just a matter of playing one game.
The All-Star Game has expanded to include the XM Futures Game and Taco Bell Celebrity Softball Game on Sunday, July 13; the Gatorade Workout Day on Monday, July 14, followed by the State Farm Home Run Derby that night and the 79th annual All-Star Game on Tuesday night, July 15. In addition, beginning on Friday, July 11, there is the five-day DHL All-Star FanFest at the Jacob K. Javits Center on the west side of Manhattan.
Up in the Bronx is what concerns Trost and the Yankees most. The current Stadium, as celebrated as it is, lacks many of the amenities of modern parks that have most often been the site for All-Star Games. Since 1997, Boston's Fenway Park, site of the 1999 All-Star Game, is the only yard build before the 1990s to house the event.
Deborah Tymon, Yankees senior vice president for marketing, attended last year's All-Star Game at AT&T Park in San Francisco to get a lay of the land for this year's event.
"There were seas of people everywhere," she said, "and all I could think about was how are we going to handle all of this at the Stadium? It has been a challenge, but we're up to it."
"I hate to keep bringing up the new Stadium, but the new building will be 500,000 square feet larger," Trost said. "That expanse is the building itself. The field is identical, even the dimensions. In that building we'll have space for clubs, meeting rooms, restaurants, whatever, that this building doesn't. So we sit with the folks at MLB and the architects to see which areas we can convert. We're taking a portion of the weight room, a portion of the auxiliary clubhouse, portions of the concourse area and making them into areas that can handle the influx of events."
Among those is something as seemingly innocuous as the Mascot Race, which has become a recent feature.
"There will be a mascot race with 20 some-odd mascots," Trost said. "Where do you dress them? Where do you feed them? You have the Derby, the All-Star Game, a softball game, the Futures game, so there not only have to be locations for these people to change clothes in the clubhouse and showers but also there has to be a quick turnaround so that one group gets in and out and the next group comes in. The same thing holds with our club. We have to pack up everything in the clubhouse. Where do you put everything?"
The largest storage area in the Stadium is currently used to keep promotional items, which will have to be moved so that it can be used for an interview room. If the Yankees were going out of town after the All-Star break, it might have been easier to clear out the locker rooms, but they begin the second half at home, so temporary shelter for the equipment and uniforms have to be found.
As for the playing field, which is exquisitely groomed, there are problems that have little to do with the grounds crew. Again, there is the matter of limited space at an older venue.
"Here's an idea of what we're up against," Trost said. "For the Home Run Derby, they generally have a platform on the field where ESPN does its show. Well, in the new stadiums the field seats are higher and the field is lower, so you put the platform in without creating sightline problems. Here, the field level is low and the field itself is higher, so when you put a major stage there, all of a sudden you're taking away 100 seats of your most important fan base. There are issues like that we're trying to resolve."
For postseason games at the Stadium, TV platforms have been stationed down the left field line. Coverage of the Home Run Derby, however, requires ESPN cameras and personnel to be closer to the plate to conduct interviews of each participant after their swings. Trost had a suggestion.
"I said, 'Put it on second base,' and they thought I was crazy," he said. "I said, wait a minute, you want access to the players. Nobody can get hurt because it's no different from batting practice when we put screens up at the bases, and it's a far better view. They didn't buy that.
"The resolution is that there will be a number of fans with hampered views, and we're going to lose some seats. The Home Run Derby this year could be as big as the game itself when you consider that no one has ever hit a fair ball out of the Stadium. We know everybody is going to try. We know they are going to hit it in the black [the blackened seats beyond the center-field fence]."
As for security, the Yankees are old hands at trying to ensure that on game nights the safest place in town is Yankee Stadium.
"For events like this, security is not just us and MLB," Trost said. "It's all the services: federal, city, state. Security has always been an extremely high priority at Yankee Stadium. We've had presidents here. We've had Popes here. So we have plenty of background in what has to take place.
"Parking will be, well, different. We will lose Lot 14 [the players' parking area]. That will be taken over by MLB for all the television trucks. So players' cars, staff cars and employees' cars will have to be relocated."
Does all this work mean the Yankees have second thoughts about hosting the All-Star Game?
"Not at all," Trost said. "It's something that we felt was necessary for this ballpark. It's appropriate. Fundamentally, it is the cathedral of sporting venues in this country, and we expect the new building to be the same."
And getting ready for the All-Star Game also includes making the new facility presentable. After all, there will be those blimp shots the night of the game.
"When the blimp comes over, it will almost look ready," Trost said. "The foul poles are in already. We're going to have them lay out the field. There won't be any grass, but you'll get a view of what the interior will look like. For the new building, we looked at every request anyone could make and we put in every room we could possibly think of necessary for a major event like the All-Star Game.
"I want to see the last one here and the first one there."
Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.