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Yankee Stadium: Site of NYC’s Own Turf War

13 Mar, 2015

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Multi-tasking has been called the work style of the times. It also has been called a myth. Whether it is attainable for people might be an individual question. Whether it works for sports facilities with a natural grass surface – well, just ask the baseball players at Yankee Stadium.

They’ll be glad to tell you multi-tasking is a myth.

The facility is actually staring down two opening days within three weeks: that of the New York City Football Club (NYCFC) and, of course, the Yankees. The two teams will be sharing the field, with the NYCFC opening its season in March. In fact, in excess of 30,000 tickets were sold for NYCFC’s home opener, and the brand-new Major League Soccer franchise had to resort to offering seats in the upper levels of the stadium to meet the burgeoning demand.

That’s very nice, say the Yanks, but what’s good for the bottom line may not be good for the grass on the field. And really, there’s no other way to say this: the field surface looks bad. Having barely recovered from the winter, it is now facing the prospect of relining between games – not to mention twice as much foot traffic.

And the pinstripes, needless to say, are peeved.

Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira did not mince words or tread lightly while talking with the New York Daily News about sharing the field. “It’s going to suck,” he said, “but you have to deal with it. It’s going to tear up the infield, but there’s nothing we can do about it, so we’ll deal with it.”

Sharing the field was supposed to have been a temporary arrangement; the original plan was that the NYCFC would be quick to build their own stadium in one of New York City’s five boroughs. However, there have been delays in finding a site for a soccer stadium, which means the Yankees and the NYCFC can expect to be sharing one field for the foreseeable future.

Scheduling the use of the field will be a balancing act, with NYCFC games being held while the Yankees are on the road. According to the Wall Street Journal, the stadium’s grounds crew “will always have at least three days to change the field from baseball to soccer and vice versa, with the exception of one two-day midsummer window.”

The effectiveness of the schedule is being put to the test. NYCFC has two games at the stadium in March before the Yankees take the field for their home opener on April 6.

And let’s just say this: so far, public relations have not been effective. The New York Daily News noted, “Media Day for NYCFC at the stadium was a weird affair, if only because security guards prevented reporters from going beyond drawn curtains to see the patch-quilt field. A sneaky columnist avoided the elevator and climbed the stairs to watch briefly the dedicated grounds crew very nearly starting from scratch, having cleared away the snow after one of the most brutal winters in recent memory. While there was grass on the infield and right field, there was a large bare area in left that represented nearly half the soccer field.”

Yikes.

And bloggers have been having, well, a field day. The site, Gothamist, gleefully reported that NYCFC, in its first-ever media day, seemed less concerned than the Yanks. Coach Jason Kreis make a stab at explaining the situation from his (lack of) perspective:

"My reaction is one of non-understanding, to be frank with you, because I have never played baseball at a high level. So I don’t know what it means to want the grass to be a certain way in baseball. I certainly know what it means to want the grass to be a certain way in soccer. We want the field to be as pristine as we can. Natural grass surface with a tightly mowed grass can be one of the most enjoyable surfaces to play on. We want the same thing for our surface, but for me to try to understand or comprehend somebody's comments who plays the sport at a high level, it's not my place, if that makes sense.”

Um, no, it doesn’t make sense at all, say members of the media. The New York Daily News dubbed the two teams ‘the sod couple’ and were quick to show an aerial view of the chewed-up turf.

“I’ve heard about it and I’m sure it’s not going to help anything,” outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury said in an interview with the New York Post when asked about NYCFC’s debut as he took part in the Bombers’ spring training in Tampa. “But there’s nothing we can do about it. Hopefully, the grounds crew can get things ready in between games. Ideally, nothing would be there. But if they make it look like nothing happened, I guess it could be a win for everybody and Yankee Stadium can get more events.”

The stadium operations staff declined interview requests, but Ellsbury has seen the after-effects of concerts at Fenway Park when he played with the Red Sox, and outfield partner Brett Gardner has seen soccer games played at Yankee Stadium before.

In the same interview, Yankees president Randy Levine earlier had dismissed any worries, saying “We know what we’re doing.”

He might, but Mother Nature has her own plans. Rainouts will play havoc with the schedule – not to mention the field.

It’s hardly the first time New York has hosted multiple sports in one season, according to the New York Post, which noted that professional teams, the New York Generals and New York Skyliners, played at the old Yankee Stadium in 1967, the Generals played there the following year, and the New York Cosmos played the 1971 and 1976 NASL seasons there.

This is not to mention the multiple sports parks around the United States that host games in any number of sports – from softball to soccer and baseball to quidditch, as well as plenty of others – all year long.

But the plan for the current stadium-share — to be executed entirely by the regular grounds crew, with manpower from NYCFC — is far more ambitious. It will take three days to convert from baseball to soccer and vice versa, and involves even removing the pitcher’s mound and storing it.

NYCFC Defender Jason Hernandez, a native New Yorker, says he understands the upset, but is willing to give management the benefit of the doubt.

“If I had an office and I was used to working there all the time, and then someone new just came and was moving stuff around, I’d wonder what was happening as well,’’ said Hernandez. “But there’s people well above my pay grade that planned and thought out every step of the process.”

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