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Web Posted: 09/24/2008 12:00 CDT

Utility Infielder: Another stadium set for demolition

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Gaylon Krizak - Express-News

For those of you cut off from all forms of communication for, say, the past year, this bulletin: Yankee Stadium has hosted its final game. For the rest of you, blessed with a TV, radio, newspaper, computer, carrier pigeon or smoke-signal decoder, this does not qualify as news. The fact that this was Yankee Stadium's final season has been passed along roughly as often as Your Local on the 8's shows up on The Weather Channel.

(A quick aside: The reason that Yankee Stadium has hosted its final game is that, even in these times of overexpanded playoffs, the Yankees ain't gonna reach the postseason. Bwa-hahahaha. Now, back to the show.)

There are many reasons this event has received man-sets-foot-on-the-moon-level coverage. No. 1 (as well as 2 through about 1,000), it's in New York. Anything that happens in New York supposedly spellbinds the rest of us yokels. Gawwww-lee!

Also, the name “Yankee Stadium” does conjure up decades of priceless sports memories; no questioning that. Emphasis in that sentence, it should be noted, goes on the word “name.” The stadium in which most of those memories were created was removed in the early 1970s; pretty much the only constants were the site, the name, those monuments and some of the original concrete once the city was done with the place.

But I think there's another reason that the stadium's passing has so many people waxing so rhapsodic. In the end — even after its '70s extreme makeover — at 85 years old it represented permanence almost completely unheard of in modern stadium and arena construction.

On the same day as — you read it here first! — Yankee Stadium hosted its last game, Miami Arena was demolished. The Miami Herald referred to the building as a “landmark” and quoted nostalgic locals who wanted to see “a part of history” one last time.

Folks, Miami Arena opened in 1988. Twenty years ago. Two-oh.

Of course, that was just a lousy, abandoned basketball/hockey arena. No one would try that with, say, a football/baseball facility, right?

Well, technically, right. The Seattle Kingdome made it to age 24 before its spectacular implosion in 2000.

“People see a building that has been around for a long time. It amazes them that something so permanent can turn to rubble in seconds,” the vice president of the demolition firm told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer at the time.

Twenty-four years. A long time.

Sorry, but no. My parents' first color TV lasted longer.

There's a reason these facilities are made of concrete and steel and other such durable materials. In theory, they are meant to last — and closer to forever than Miami Arena, which was razed before the building was old enough to drink the alcohol once served in it.

At the current cost of construction, they'd better hang around awhile. The new Yankee Stadium's price tag currently stands at $1.6 billion (yes, with a “b”). Jerry Jones' new Cowboys playground in Arlington? Another $1 billion-plus facility.

Age at least played a role in the original Yankee Stadium's demise. JerryWorld will replace Texas Stadium — at age 37, the third-oldest stadium in the NFC and fifth-oldest in the NFL.

I turned 45 last week. Until I typed that sentence about Texas Stadium, I didn't feel old.

Sporting venues that are built to last

On Nov. 27, 1924, Texas hosted Texas A&M in a game that also served to dedicate a shining new football field.

Texas Memorial Stadium, built by Walsh & Barney of San Antonio after its low bid of $201,091, actually had opened 19 days before (Baylor 28, Texas 10 before 13,500 in the unfinished facility), but the pomp and circumstance long had been planned for Thanksgiving Day. The stadium, with permanent seating for 27,000, used temporary bleachers to pack in a crowd between 33,000 and 37,000 — at $2 to $2.50 a pop — for the Longhorns' 7-0 victory.

On Nov. 27, 2008, Texas will host Texas A&M at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. After several expansion and renovation projects over the decades costing a combined total greatly exceeding $250 million, the stadium now officially seats 94,113 and likely will have a Thanksgiving Day (night, actually) crowd listed at nearly 100,000 — at $90 a pop.

Those first 27,000 seats? They (or, rather, the concrete on which they originally rested) are still there, incorporated into a mammoth facility that undoubtedly would amaze the UT students whose donations provided much of the funding for the original stadium. Here are a few more U.S. facilities that have stood the test of time ... with a little help:

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Franklin Field: The NCAA calls it the oldest stadium, since the University of Pennsylvania began staging events there in 1895; specifically, the Penn Relays, for which it's now best known. The stadium itself, however, was “rebuilt in 1922 in its present form,” according to the Penn Web site. Some of its other firsts: first scoreboard (1895), first college football radio broadcast (1922) and first college football telecast (1940).

Harvard Stadium: America's first football monument opened in 1903 and is the oldest permanent concrete structure in the country. Its importance was driven home in 1905-06, when safety-minded reformers could not achieve their goal of widening football fields because the width — 160 feet, as it remains to this day — at Harvard had been established and could not be easily changed.

NFL

Lambeau Field: Take a guess at its age. It's ancient, right? Relatively speaking, yes; it's the NFL's oldest stadium and was the first built for the exclusive use of an NFL team. But the fabled frozen tundra (both redundant and incorrect) sits in a facility just 51 years old; by comparison, the Big 12 alone has 10 stadiums older than Lambeau, which had a listed seating capacity of just 32,500 when it opened as City Stadium in 1957 (it's now 72,298).

Soldier Field: Took the Yankee Stadium notion of gutting the old and replacing with the new to the next level. The original Soldier Field opened in 1924 as Municipal Grant Park Stadium and held between 74,000 and 100,000 (with temporary seating) for football; the new version on the same site opened in 2003 and holds an NFL-low 61,500. The Bears didn't move there from Wrigley Field until 1971.

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

Fenway Park: The home of the Green Monster was built in 1912 for about $420,000. Its capacity then was 35,000 — and even with various renovations beginning in 1934, it hasn't changed much in the past 96 years. It now officially seats 39,928, with no plans to add new seats anytime soon.

Wrigley Field: Built for $250,000 in 1914 as Weeghman Park for the Chicago Whales, members of the short-lived Federal League, the “friendly confines” originally held just 14,000 fans. The capacity now is listed at 41,118 — not counting those watching from the housing along Waveland and Sheffield avenues. It has never been the home of a World Series champion — the Cubs moved in for the 1916 season, but their most recent title came in 1908, with the team calling West Side Park home.

Sources: “'For Texas, I Will' — The History of Memorial Stadium” by Richard Pennington (1992), Wikipedia.com, PennAthletics.com, ESPN.com

Trivia

True or false: Between 1962 and 1971, Rice University owned two stadiums with seating capacities of more than 65,000: Rice Stadium in Houston, and Yankee Stadium in New York.

Today's answer: True. Yes, true. Rice Stadium was built in 1950. But that, of course, is not the real story here. Seems that Rice alumnus John Williams Cox in 1955 became the owner of Yankee Stadium, selling the grounds to the Knights of Columbus but, in 1962, donating ownership of the structure itself to his alma mater “lock, stock and barrel.” According to a 1998 story in the Rice Thresher, the school newspaper: “In March of 1971, the City of New York exercised its right of eminent domain, acquiring Yankee Stadium through condemnation hearings with the intention of remodeling the venue. Rice received $2.5 million in compensation from the Big Apple, relinquishing all ownership and rights to the City of New York, the stadium's current owner.”

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