New Yankee Stadium taking shape

New Yankee Stadium taking shape

They secured the familiar big blue letters that read YANKEE STADIUM high above Gate 4 on Friday, and in October, the sod, which is growing right now on a New Jersey farm, is expected to be laid down on the field that already is sketched with the outline of the infield and basepaths. The lights that wrap around the roof will be turned on for the first time in November.

As the Yankees prepare to play the Orioles this weekend for the final three games at the existing Yankee Stadium with the finale on Sunday night, the new building is on its way to being completed on a fast a furious pace.

For months around the construction site, many of the upbeat workers have been wearing dark blue buttons with the name of the famous ballpark in white capital letters set above this date: 2/17/09, just about two months before Opening Day on April 16. That's the day the keys are literally supposed to be turned over to the Yankees.

"We're exactly where we want to be," said Harry Olsen, the project manager for the company that's overseeing the project and site, during a telephone interview this week. "We broke ground on Aug. 16, 2006. And we just passed the two-year mark. We're exactly where we need to be."

That means construction is about 75 percent complete, down now to the trim and the finishes. About 80 percent of the dark blue seats have been installed. All the monuments and plaques in the current left-center field Monument Park will be moved across 161st Street just before the construction completion date. The new Monument Park is just beyond the fence in dead center, closer to its location in the original stadium that was opened in 1923 and closed in 1973 to make way for the renovated model that is closing this weekend.

Of course, it wasn't called Monument Park back then. They were just "the monuments" surrounding the main flag pole on the field and in play some 460 feet from home plate.

No question, the construction appears right on target and the privately funded $1.3 billion stadium -- which was the brainchild of Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner -- should be nothing short of spectacular when it is unveiled next year.

For the older generation of fans who remember the Mick, Whitey, Yogi -- and those who came before them -- running around the field in pinstripes: The new stadium pays homage to the original edifice erected across the Harlem River from the Polo Grounds. The Yankees shared that old horseshoe shaped park in Manhattan with the Giants from 1913 to 1922.

Farewell Yankee Stadium

Yankees officials dug up those initial Yankee Stadium architectural plans and from it relocated the famous curved and stripped "frieze" that hovers high above the bleachers in the renovated ballpark back where it once was: running around the stadium below the lights on the fringe of the upper-deck overhang from left field all the way around to right.

The Gate 4 entrance, among others, is cast in limestone with each letter of the words YANKEE STADIUM set between stone emblems and chiseled in gold leaf. The limestone façade gives it a decidedly old-time texture. Running most of the way around the new ballpark, it is now 100 percent complete.

"And it's built to last for the next 50 years or more," Olsen said.

The new stadium won't look much like the current edifice, which rose out of the rubble of the first and more sacred building on 161st Street and River Avenue and reopened after a two-year hiatus in 1976.

The Yankees won the World Series 20 times in the original stadium and six more since it was renovated.

It is a stones throw to the north, hard along the subway line that rises from underground just short of the current stadium and travels above ground into the depths of the Bronx. And instead of the signature Bronx County Courthouse hovering in the distance, fans will have to get used to the obtrusion of a high-rise apartment complex.

The new stadium is airy and open with complete views of the field from every concourse, restrooms and concession stands on every level. The congestion in the concourses and the problems of ingress and egress in the current stadium will be left in the past.

Like the original stadium, the auxiliary scoreboards will be located on the fences in left-center and right-center fields.

It will seat 53,000, but somehow every one of those seats has an unencumbered view of home plate, even though the new stadium reaches about the same height as the existing one.

Most of the seats are much closer to the field than the current stadium, where the catcher squats about 70 feet from the backstop. In the new park, that distance is about 50 feet. The grade, which seems nearly flat at 35 percent in the current lower deck, has been changed to a much steeper 45 percent. There are also much fewer rows in each deck.

A new "Great Hall" is outside the field concourse on the right-field side. It boasts a 24-by-36-foot video board hanging on the wall at the far end, banners of great Yankees stars from the past and present draped in strips from a glass ceiling that allows light to flood in during the day time, and is fine place for fans to meet and mingle.

The board twins with the 60-by-110-foot video monster that hovers above center field. That one already has been installed along with much of the scoreboard and was tested this week. And in the clubhouses, the lockers will be fitted sometime next week.

The field dimensions will be identical to the current stadium: 318 feet down the left-field line; 314 feet down the right-field line, 408 feet in dead center; 399 feet in left-center, and 385 in right-center.

Fences, shacks and scaffolding will begin coming down so workers can complete sidewalks and everyone can "get a flavor of how [the stadium] performs and what it looks like," Olsen said.

Many dignitaries have already toured the burgeoning facility and have come away impressed.

"I was extremely impressed with the sightlines, the fan amenities and the intimacy for a 50,000-seat park," said Bob DuPuy, Major League Baseball's president and chief operating officer, who toured the site earlier this year. "The biggest surprise to me was how when you walk into the main bowl you feel like you are in Yankee Stadium -- with elements of the current stadium and the stadium before its renovations in the '70s."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.