The New York Yankees played 19 playoff games at the new Yankee Stadium from 2009-12, and I was at every single one of them. There were some fantastic games during that time, and some truly celebratory moments, not least of which was Nov. 4, 2009, a night when the Yankees won the World Series. The Yankees had some good times there, no doubt.
But after all the iconic Octobers at the old Yankee Stadium, those first four postseasons at the new place never quite came alive the way you would have expected them to. When the new Yankee Stadium opened in 2009, the Yankees had missed the playoffs the season before -- leading to a spending spree that the team is just now getting out from under -- but otherwise hadn't been outside the postseason since 1994, when there was no postseason. This led, inevitably, to an air of entitlement about the playoffs that couldn't help but lower the temperature in the Bronx: Winning was expected. There were some anticipatory glares among the cheers.
The first year of the new stadium mostly consisted of awe at the size and scope of the thing, while few noted that the place didn't quite rock and sway like the old barn did. But in subsequent years, when the awe wore off, and the team looked creakier, things seemed a bit grim. I remember Game 1 of the 2012 American League Championship Series, when the building wasn't at capacity and a hush fell over the crowd after Derek Jeter broke his ankle; the whole place turned so quiet that "the loudest sound was the blimp engine whirring high above."
By 2015, when Yankee Stadium attendance fell below 3.2 million for the first time since 2000, it was hard to ignore the complaints: The new place seemed devoid of energy. Talking about the new Yankee Stadium made you wistful for the old place.
That … that has changed.
There is much to talk about this postseason, but I'd argue there has been no bigger story than the new Yankee Stadium coming into its own as a live, organic, downright terrifying place to play a postseason game for opponents. The Yankees, after their exhilarating 6-4 comeback win in Game 4 of the ALCS against Houston on Tuesday night, are now 5-0 at home this postseason, and it is no accident. The new Yankee Stadium has turned into a rollicking, rambunctious, unpredictable and transcendent place for baseball this October. The place is packed and it has completely transformed itself. The building that seemed dead from 2009-12 has roared to life and might be on the verge of carrying its team to the World Series.
You know what the place reminds you of? It reminds you of Pittsburgh. We all remember the first playoff game at PNC Park in 2013 -- when the raucous crowd was so overwhelming, a gnarled and gnarly hockey crowd materializing to terrifying otherwise sedate baseball people -- that Johnny Cueto actually dropped the ball on the mound?
That wasn't a baseball game: That was a freaking riot. It was glorious. And doesn't the new Yankee Stadium, this 2017 version, feel a little bit like that? Like the place is about to break free from its hinges and go blasting off into space?
So what has changed? The stadium itself is in the same place: same dimensions, cavernous halls, short right-field porch, all of it. How can it be so dramatically different?
The difference is the team. There are a few veteran holdovers (Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, CC Sabathia), but the thrill of this Yankees team is its youth: Gary Sanchez: Aaron Hicks, Luis Severino and, of course, Aaron Judge, a superhero fitted perfectly for pinstripes. New York sports teams don't usually get to watch young players develop; they usually sign veterans who emerged somewhere else, weighing them down with expectations before they've even gotten here. But these young Yanks are theirs and theirs alone: New York fans get to enjoy them, to learn what they're capable of, right along with them. This is a far more enjoyable way to watch a baseball team. It makes the Yankees fresh and new in a way the team hasn't been for some time.
And the fans have evolved right along with them. When those "Judge's Chambers" were initially introduced in the right-field bleachers, there was a smattering of grumblings about Yankee Tradition and What Would George Think? Then everyone ignored them because the place was a blast and it became an instant Yankee Stadium attraction and a Supreme Court justice herself actually showed up. Now it's just part of the architecture there, perhaps the best part. This is a stadium for fans to get crazy and jump around like fools and just act like normal fans. This is a Yankee Stadium that is finally itself. It is so much better now. You won't hear any blimps whirring above ever again.
"It was special again tonight," manager Joe Girardi said after Game 4 of the ALCS. "Every home game has been special. I just feel like the fans are back. And I see things that I haven't seen in a while and it reminds me a lot when I was playing here. So it's been fun to watch."
Game 5 of the ALCS is Wednesday night (5 p.m. ET on FS1), and if the Yankees can win their sixth straight postseason game in the Bronx, they'll be one game away from their least likely World Series appearance in recent memory. The crowd will be ready. The place will be rocking. You can't force fans to embrace a new building: You just have to let them make the place their own. Now they have. Yankee Stadium is loud and crazy and dangerous once more, and is sure to stay that way for many Octobers to come. Welcome back.
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