Great teams, great ballparks -- which is best?
Relatively new stadiums in four cities add to fresh playoff feel
NEW YORK -- The vendors will show up early at the intersection of 161st Street and River Avenue in the Bronx, hawking T-shirts, baseball caps, foam fingers and the like. Things aren't quite the same as they were when the Yankees regularly hosted playoff games across the street, but you won't hear many complaints. In its second season, the new Yankee Stadium still crackles.
Down in Philadelphia, a two-hour drive across traffic-knotted roads, fans will stream into Citizens Bank Park with red shirts and white towels. This marks the fourth straight playoff appearance and third consecutive National League Championship Series for the Phillies, and yet the atmosphere at the seven-year-old ballpark has not diminished. Nor will it.
The Phillies' opponent, the Giants, never seem to have a problem with atmosphere, either. Perhaps it's the splashdown zone beyond the right-field fence, where a few faithful kayaks always lie in wait. Perhaps it's the smell of garlic fries. Or perhaps it's the fact that the Giants haven't hosted an LCS game in eight years.
Finally, there is Rangers Ballpark, at 17 years old the grandfather of the bunch. But don't expect any creakiness there. Until last week, the Rangers had gone 11 years without hosting a playoff game. They've never hosted an LCS game. Now, they'll be playing for a pennant -- and Texas will be trembling.
With a polite nod to Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and all of the other old gems of the league, the action this week will be at four beautiful ballparks with an average age of nine -- by far the youngest group of LCS parks over the past decade. Compare that to last season, when the four stadiums that hosted an LCS had an average age of 24. Or the year before, when the average age was 42.
That's all well and good -- but those old parks had their time. Now it's time for these four: a toddler, two children and one very rambunctious teenager.
First, the oldest. Prior to this season, Rangers Ballpark at Arlington had hosted a total of three playoff games over its first 16 seasons, thanks to Yankees sweeps in the first round in 1996, '98 and '99. The Rangers hadn't made it back to the playoffs since then, until Cliff Lee, Vladimir Guerrero, Josh Hamilton and company willed them there this October.
And though the Rangers know what playoff baseball at their park feels like, the LCS is different. It's one step closer to the goal, one decibel louder in the stands.
For Rangers fans, that much shouldn't be a problem. They already have Arlington in a frenzy with the "claw" and "antler" hand gestures that have taken over Texas.
"It has been pretty cool," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "People here in Texas have really grabbed hold of it. They enjoy it, so I enjoy it."
Rangers fans have a few things in common with fans in San Francisco, who were also treated to three playoff appearances in four seasons shortly after the opening of their new park. Like the Rangers, the Giants haven't been back since, enduring a six-year drought at AT&T Park.
Now, playoff baseball is back by the Bay, and that's always a good thing. With an outfield concourse overlooking the water, the Giants boast one of the finest ballparks in the game today. Turn your head in any direction, and you're bound to see a group of fans sporting "The Lincecum," with shoulder-length hair and No. 55 jerseys.
"San Francisco is thrilled," said Pete Osborn, the owner of Pete's Tavern adjacent to the stadium. "We have one of the best ballparks, and it's an event destination and a fabric of our city. Everybody's excited."
The same could be said about Philadelphia, which may have the market cornered on T-shirt jerseys. Cole Hamels shirts are popular. Shane Victorino jerseys, too. But Roy Halladay jerseys may be primed to pass them all.
It helps morale, of course, to have a stadium as nice as 7-year-old Citizens Bank Park, and a team as good as the Phillies. With the Philadelphia skyline floating in the distance beyond the center-field fence, with fans waving their white rally towels over and over again, Citizens Bank Park has earned a reputation as having one of the game's best playoff atmospheres. And for good reason.
Finally, there is the new park in the Bronx, the baby of the bunch at 2 years old. But what the new Yankee Stadium lacks in age, it makes up for in decadence -- from the pictures of old Yankee legends in the Great Hall to the new monument celebrating late principal owner George Steinbrenner beyond the center-field fence.
The Yankees proved last year that they don't need their legendary old stadium to achieve postseason success. They still have the same fans and the same frenetic playoff atmosphere.
And so it will be plenty noisy this week in New York, Philadelphia, Arlington and San Francisco. In addition to featuring four of the best teams in the game, the League Championship Series will feature four of its finest ballparks as well.