The Yankees have been taking guff since their new stadium opened in 2009 over the many seats behind home plate that stubbornly remain human-free when viewed from the centerfield camera.
Some say the cause is insanely high prices that limit sales in that section. Others say many of those seats are sold, but that their buyers are inside where it is warm (or cool) and dry, and where the prime rib is carved to order. Both are correct.
But on Monday the team announced a bold new initiative that will result in many more sold-but-empty seats in less-rarefied sections.
The “enhancements” include a children’s play area and sponsored new locations for eating and drinking, with the option of keeping an eye on the field if one chooses.
The project will result in Yankee Stadium’s seating capacity being reduced by about 2,000, but that should not be a problem given that average paid attendance in 2016 slipped to 37,820.
That is a healthy number by most standards, but it was the Bombers’ lowest since 1998 and their first time not leading the American League since 2002.
Anyway, back to the “enhancements.” Managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said they came in response to fans’ requests for more family friendly and socially oriented spaces in the big ballyard in the Bronx.
The cynical reaction to his claim is that they actually came in response to the Yankees’ desire to wring more money out of customers. That surely plays a part, but it also is true that this is what many modern fans want.
Sports events long ago became schmoozing opportunities for high rollers entertaining clients and friends in suites, but now the vibe is filtering into the (relatively) cheaper seats, where the game often is incidental for easily distracted fans.
Look no further than the lounge behind Coca-Cola Corner at Citi Field, featuring comfy couches and eight bean bag toss boards.
Baseball is the perfect laboratory for this sort of experiment.
People have complained for 150 years that the sport is on the slow side. But now they play 4 ½ -hour, nine-inning playoff games, and 97.2 percent of at-bats result in strikeouts, walks or groundouts to shifted second basemen playing in short rightfield.
Fans need other things to do more than ever while waiting impatiently for the next home run to come along.
If all of this sounds like the nostalgic whining of a get-off-my-lawn senior citizen, you’ve got me wrong! Not only do I support what the Yankees – and everyone else – is trying to do here, I think it should go even further.
The next generation of baseball stadiums should encourage more people to get on the lawn.
Why not ditch traditional seating altogether and turn the entire viewing area into a tiered park with locations for eating, drinking, sunbathing, Frisbee-tossing, iPhone-scrolling, daydreaming, selfie-taking and whatnot?
Return baseball spectator sections to their pastoral roots in the mid-19th century, when a nice lunch on the lawn was the perfect accompaniment to a ballgame, no reserved seat required.
Stadium capacities would be lower, because picnic blankets take up more room than rows of hard plastic seats. But fans would be freer to access paid amenities, and as a bonus it would be easier to move away from loud-mouthed drunks.
Just a thought.
In the meantime, for the traditionalists among you, Games 3, 4 and 5 of the World Series this weekend are scheduled for Wrigley Field.
Sure, the place has seen some 21st-century “enhancements” of its own, but mostly it is structured to do what people quaintly did at baseball games when it opened in 1914: Watch baseball games.