Fans Fight for Piece of Old Yankee Stadium

A rendering by Richard Kaplan of the proposal to keep Gate 2 in Heritage Park. (Photo: Courtesy of Save the Yankee Gate 2 Committee)

A rendering by Richard Kaplan of the proposal to keep Gate 2 in Heritage Park. Photo: Courtesy of Save the Yankee Gate 2 Committee

For the self-described “army” of baseball fans fighting to save Gate 2 of the old Yankee Stadium it’s the ninth inning– and things don’t look good. Last Monday, the New York City Design Commission gave preliminary approval to a plan that calls for the stadium to be completely demolished by June. It will be replaced with a park called Heritage Field.

Yankee Stadium currently sits covered in snow, surrounded by scaffolding, the seats have been stripped out and auctioned off by the team. Many of the walls are already knocked down. Across the street is a gleaming, new $1.5 billion ballpark that Yankees management built after years of trying to gain public approval for a stadium that would accommodate more high-priced luxury boxes and the profits that come with them.

The old stadium was built in 1923 and served as the home of the Yankees until the end of the 2008 baseball season. In those 81 years, the park was home to 26 World Series teams, the highest number of championships won by a single franchise in sports history. Plans to build a new stadium and destroy the old one were officially approved in 2006. At the time, many of the Yankees’ faithful were heartbroken that the historic “House That Ruth Built” might be torn down. As the years passed, and after the Yankees christened their new stadium last year with their first Series win in nearly a decade, much of the resistance quieted down. However, for one group of fans, the battle to preserve part of the old stadium never stopped.

Mark Costello is a 57-year-old from New Jersey who is one of the leaders of the “Save the Yankee Gate 2 Committee,” a small group of passionate baseball fans fighting to preserve part of the old stadium. According to Costello, they came together via the message boards on a Web site called Baseball Fever in April last year.

Costello said the members of the Save the Yankee Gate 2 Committee all “have careers that are not related to baseball” and are working to preserve the gate in their spare time because they believe the old Yankee Stadium deserves a fitting memorial. “Basically, we start off as Yankee fans, but it’s much more than that,” he said. “We’re also very appreciative of history… and recognizing that Yankee Stadium is such an iconic ballpark where so much took place.” Costello works at an insurance brokerage firm and said he spends about five hours each week working on committee business. His efforts have earned him unexpected foes in the Parks Department and the South Bronx community where the Yankees play ball.

On Feb. 18, Costello and about 10 men from his group attended a briefing on the situation at Heritage Field sponsored by District 16 Councilwoman Helen Foster. Representatives from the Parks Department and the Empire Development Corp., which are responsible for the site, gave updates on the progress of the construction. At the briefing, Hector Aponte, the Parks Department’s Bronx borough commissioner said the city has “two issues” with the Gate 2 proposal; “parkland” and the cost of the project. According to the Parks Department, preserving the gate would come with a $15 million price tag. Costello said his proposal would only take up about one thousand feet of space in Heritage Field. He also said that his group produced cost estimates showing that the gate could be preserved for just $1 million, but Aponte said “there’s no way that’s possible.”

Area residents and community activists are eager for Heritage Field to be built as soon as possible. Ralph Frissora, the commissioner of a local program called United Youth Baseball, was also at the briefing to press for the old stadium to be demolished as soon as possible.

“They took away our fields when they built the new stadium,”Frissora said. “We had 700 youths, now we’re down to 400 because of the fields.”

Many of the people who are eager to see construction on the site finished see the debate about Gate 2 as an unnecessary delay.

Geoffrey Croft is the president and founder of the NYC Park Advocates, a non-profit organization dedicated to expanding park space in the five boroughs. At the briefing, Croft criticized the Committee to Save Gate 2 as “tourists” and said their proposal is “going to take away park space and it’s delaying the whole project.” He also suggested that they are latecomers to the debate about the Yankees’ construction project, asking “where were these people when we were trying to fight the stadium?”

Costello said his group only formed in the past year because the original plans for Heritage Field involved keeping substantial portions of the old stadium. “We got involved when we found out the whole stadium was going to go away,” he said.

Costello thinks the criticism that his group comes from outside the neighborhood is irrelevant. “The idea should be debated on the merits of the idea, not who’s proposing it and where they’re from,” he said. He added that at least one member of his group comes from the Bronx. Regardless of where they live, all of the members feel they have a deep connection to the team. Costello said he has been a Yankee fan since 1961 and has fond memories of going to games in the old stadium. He has partial season tickets and a collection of team yearbooks dating to the 1960s.

The opposition from area residents came as a surprise to Costello who said that he initially went to the local community board and received a positive response from the chairperson.  “We started by reaching out to the community,” he said. “We thought it was a win-win for everybody and most of all the neighborhood. We thought it would make for a better park.”

Costello’s group also sought support from the Yankees organization without success. “Several of us tried to contact the Yankees in various ways and basically received little to no response,” he said.

Alice McGillion, a team spokeswoman, said the controversy over Gate 2 is “not a team issue, it’s a city issue, a Parks Department issue.”

Costello and his group clung to the hope that that the Feb. 22 meeting of the design commission was their best chance for success. Initially, the commission rejected the Parks Department’s designs for Heritage Field because it didn’t contain sufficient commemoration of the original Yankee Stadium. The Parks Department presentation at the earlier briefing included new elements that have been added to their plans to address the issues raised by the design commission, including a fence made from a piece of the frieze from Yankee Stadium, plaques with historical info, viewfinders that will show images of the old stadium and the preservation of the giant baseball bat statue located outside the old Gate 4.

John Trush, another one of the group’s leaders, said the Parks Department’s new plan has “nothing” that adequately commemorates the old stadium. Along with the others, he was confident that the design commission would agree.

Costello and Trush went to City Hall last Monday along with four other members of their group. The six committee members and the Parks Department both made presentations to the design commission, which then voted to give preliminary approval to the city’s plan for Heritage Field.

Despite the defeat at the meeting, the committee to Save Gate 2 isn’t giving up just yet. “It wasn’t what we were looking for, but we haven’t decided what our next step is,” Costello said.  John Trush was resolute about the gate as well.  “Until it’s down,” he said, “it’s not over.”

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Additional images of the proposed gate. (Photos: Courtesy of Save the Yankee Gate 2 Committee)

One Response to “Fans Fight for Piece of Old Yankee Stadium”

  1. avatar Tim Reid says:

    Within 24 hours of the City’s decision to destroy the Gate the Committee to Commemorate Old Yankee Stadium has requested Mayor Bloomberg to prevent the Gate’s destruction by the filing of the following Emergency Petition for Injunction. This injunction details the true history of why the City & Stalinbrenners are selling and destroying ALL of Old Yankee Stadium.

    Committee members have regularly requested his direct intervention to protect the original Stadium and Gate for more than two years. He has never responded. All he has done is obstinately plot with the Yankees to destroy the Old Stadium and, without referendum, get City taxpayers to flip the bill for the grossly overpriced new one – the one with King George’s bust.

    Neither of them living as children in New York, or even being Yankee fans, has certainly informed and motivated the irreparable damage they have done.


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