Yankee Stadium set for transformation
History-rich ballpark prepared to host Midsummer Classic
NEW YORK -- Derek Jeter put his head down and charged around the bases on Wednesday, his thoughts going no deeper than making it to home plate and scoring the winning run for the Yankees.
Yet if Jeter were to consider his dash on a more symbolic level, his race to home plate signified a transfer of sorts. With New York's 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, Yankee Stadium officially transitioned into the home of the All-Star Game, with the Yankees departing from their ballpark and allowing all of Major League Baseball to enjoy it for the break.
The next time Jeter sets foot on the field at Yankee Stadium, he'll do so representing the American League All-Star team.
"I think the closer is gets, the more we're all getting excited about the game, especially the fans," Jeter said, shortly before boarding a charter flight for the Yankees' final road trip of the first half.
"I think it's going to be a celebration of Yankee Stadium. I don't really know what they have planned here, but I'm sure it's going to be something special."
As Jeter spoke, All-Star Game signage had already been posted in the tunnels on the basement level of the Stadium. Yankee Stadium 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 blue-line walkway leading to the Yankees' clubhouse was now being directed as the destination for the USA Team, who will use the storied room for their preparation leading up to the XM All-Star Futures Game on Sunday.
The red line still led to the visitors' clubhouse, but now it was being labeled as the locker area for the World Team -- a sign that would only stay up through Sunday, because on Monday, the American and National Leagues would begin to send their equipment in.
The current Stadium, as celebrated as it is, lacks many of the amenities of the 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 built before the 1990s to house the event.
Deborah Tymon, the 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."
Downstairs, the area normally used for a press dining room had been cleared of all its usual tables, chairs and napkins, to be transitioned into an overflow media workroom as Yankee Stadium prepared for an onslaught of national and international press. The weight room, a portion of the auxiliary clubhouse and portions of the concourse area will be transformed into areas that can handle the influx of events.
Areas of the Tier level down the left-field line and the Loge level down the right-field line will also be converted as work areas for journalists, who will rely upon the strength of the wireless computer network to transmit their stories from the Bronx to the world.
In the Yankees' clubhouse, workers dutifully loaded the club's midnight blue travel bags onto carts, leaving the pinstriped uniforms hanging in each locker stall. That would be temporary.
While the Yankees traveled west to Pittsburgh for a one-game makeup contest and then on to their regularly scheduled trip to Toronto, the workers would stay behind, boxing each players' uniform and moving it into storage, just as they were ordered to do earlier this season when Pope Benedict XVI used the Yankees' clubhouse as his own personal dressing area before celebrating Mass on April 20.
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 has to be found.
Before the Yankees' game on Thursday, clubhouse manager Rob Cucuzza was spotted slotting Twins catcher Joe Mauer's All-Star Game locker tag over that of Yankees reliever Edwar Ramirez, just making sure that it fit before a full-scale replacement went into effect.
Only four lockers were to remain uncleared through All-Star week: Jeter's, on the left side of the room near the bat rack; Mariano Rivera's corner locker signifying the longest-tenured Yankees player; and Alex Rodriguez's, on the right side closest to the players' lounge. The final one would be the locker adjacent to Jeter's, last used by team captain Thurman Munson in 1979, which remains untouched to this day.
Preparations began almost immediately for Thursday's Little League Challenger division game, allowing two local teams to play a one-inning game, while workers rattled off the laundry list of what would need to be done before the press gates were to open for the Futures Game on Sunday morning.
Paint sat in a storage area of the Stadium, to be expertly dispensed by head groundskeeper Dan Cunningham's crew on the playing field to signify the All-Star events. Driving through the streets in the Stadium area, banners had already been affixed to hundreds of flagpoles, signifying New York as the Baseball Capital of the World and celebrating the All-Star Game.
Souvenir stands were to be restocked and the Yankees' clubhouse store to be filled with an array of All-Star merchandise. Lot 14, normally used as the players' parking lot and for select media outside the press gate, was ordered closed on Wednesday.
A sign was posted in the Yankees' clubhouse ordering players not to bring their vehicles to the Stadium, as the lot would be needed for TV trucks. One Yankee grumbled about the cost of parking a vehicle for a week in midtown Manhattan -- the price to be paid for having the All-Star Game at your home ballpark.
Does all this work mean the Yankees have second thoughts about hosting the All-Star Game?
"Not at all," Yankees COO Lonn 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."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.