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Giving It Up for Mr. May!

[It was 1988 — pretty much the middle of the New York Yankees’ longest drought between World Series wins (1979–1995), and seven years since they’d even made it to the Fall Classic. All the more reason to sit in the cheapest seats, drink too much beer, and unleash invective upon visiting players and fans. As correspondent Ivan Solotaroff wrote in the September 20, 1988, issue of the Voice, “Baseball-watching invites strange behavior and, two weeks into this Yankee homestand, I’ve actually begun to fear the Voodoo Man’s Evil Eye, and to respect his power.” Solotaroff was referring to one of the bleacher regulars, called “Bleacher Creatures,” in this case a man with a pencil mustache who would train his “magnetizing gaze” on opposing ballplayers.

The Voice reporter succinctly summed up these lean times for the Bronx Bombers: “The Yankees, 2-8 in their last 10, are coming into the fifth inning down by a familiar four-run count. [Bleacher Creatures] Frank and Bob are already ingesting their remedy for slumps like this: many Jumbo beers, a confirmed one-way ticket back to second grade.”

Solotaroff then consults with Cousin Brewski, the beer vendor. “‘How are you? How are you? How are you?’” he asks from ten rows away. “‘The Voice? Sure, I’ll tell you everything you wanna know. The Regulars? Best fans out here. Class. They know everything. Teena’s got the batting averages, Bob, the Captain, knows every word of the “Gang Bang Song,” the “Get the Fuck Out Song,” “Syphilis,” all the songs. Melle Mel’s a singer too. Big rap star. Famous, famous, famous. Sees everything — the others tend to drift a little.’”

Sports give us a tribal outlet that might otherwise turn into uglier fanaticism, and the bleachers have never been a place for the fainthearted. But, as always, the crowd in ’88 was a disparate mix, the fans glad to have anything to cheer about. Melle Mel — “taking time from cutting a new album to attend every Yankee home game” — commands his compatriots’ attention when he bellows, “Let me hear it, one time, for my man Mr. Da-a-ave Winfield.” Solotaroff drily notes that the huge crowd screamed, “Dave, Dave, Dave” as Winfield looked at a third strike.

Winfield had signed with the Yanks in 1980, for the highest-paying contract in baseball at the time. And in his first year he delivered — at least during the regular season. But he was flat in the 1981 World Series, which the Yanks lost to the Dodgers, and that was the last trip he made to the playoffs in a decade of wearing pinstripes. “I let Mr. October get away,” said Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, in 1985, referring to clutch hitter Reggie Jackson, “and I got Mr. May, Dave Winfield. He gets his numbers when it doesn’t count.”

Still, Winfield’s long-striding grace in the outfield and powerful strokes at the plate (he hit 465 career homers) made him a favorite with many fans, especially the Bleacher Creatures, who would yell encouragement at the right fielder from directly over his head. “Yeah, we know him,” bleacher denizen Bob told the Voice reporter. “Well, we don’t know him personally, but, he sees us on the street, he knows, yeah, the bleachers. We gave him a plaque last year, congratulating him for his sixth consecutive year hitting 100 RBIs. He didn’t do it, he ended up with 97, but we gave him the plaque anyway.”

This was back in the day when all that most of us could count on was that fabled fifteen minutes (or hours or seconds) of fame — that epoch before the social chum of Facebook and the careening notoriety of Twitter. Being a tried-and-true Bleacher Creature offered proximity to greatness. As one cheap seat regular said to another, referring to the Voice scribe: “Talk to the man, Frank. Get famous.” —R.C. Baker ]

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NYCFC’s Bronx Stadium Would Use City Parks Land — Sorta

When the owners of the New York Yankees announced, on a June day in 2005, plans for a new stadium to replace the 82-year-old Yankee Stadium, they had a special treat for New Yorkers who’d been hearing for more than a decade how the public would need to pay for a new home for the ball club: Steve Swindal, George Steinbrenner’s son-in-law at the time, declared, “There will be no public subsidies.”

That turned out to be not quite so much true. After adding up all the tax breaks and parking garage construction fees and costs of rebuilding parks that were bulldozed to make way for Yankee Stadium 2.0, city and state taxpayers ended up out more than $800 million — one of the spendiest public costs for any baseball stadium in U.S. history up to that time.

Earlier this month, developers working with New York City FC — the Major League Soccer franchise co-owned by the Steinbrenner clan and Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan — revealed the latest plan for a new soccer stadium to arise just south of the Yankees’ home field, which has been serving as a not-entirely-satisfactory temporary home for the soccer team since the club launched in 2015. (Among other things, the field dimensions make for a soccer pitch so narrow that players can all but throw the ball into the goal from the sidelines.) Unlike NYCFC’s previous plan for the same site, a New York Times report promised, the soccer team’s owners were “not asking for the avalanche of free land, tax breaks, and public funding” received by previous stadiums in the tristate area.

Is this sports promise for real? A Voice analysis finds the answer to be: It’s complicated. Even more than other previously proposed NYCFC home field sites — which have wandered the five boroughs from Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens to Pier 40 in Manhattan to Aqueduct and Belmont race tracks to a riverside spot in the South Bronx that was dead seemingly even before it got off the ground — the new Bronx plan involves a rabbit hole of leases and subleases, public land and private operators, and creative bookkeeping that makes the final price tag difficult if not impossible to calculate.

“This generation of development just seems to be getting bigger and bigger and more complex,” says Bettina Damiani, a Bronx resident and former director of Good Jobs New York, an economic development watch group that tracked and analyzed the Yankee Stadium deal. And with the added complexity, she says, any hope of transparency has gone out the window: “If you don’t care about the people that live and work and run small businesses in a neighborhood, you should at least have a marker of whether this will financially benefit a community, or a city, or a region, or something.”

***

The latest site to catch NYCFC’s eye will be familiar to anyone who lined up around the block for Yankees playoff tickets during their postseason runs in the Seventies or Nineties. Garage 8, also known as the “triangle garage,” is a four-level parking structure that sits immediately south of the old stadium site, providing parking spaces at $35 a pop for anyone foolish enough to drive to a Yankee game. Along with an elevator parts factory across 153rd Street to the west — plus 153rd Street itself, as well as an on-ramp to the Major Deegan — the garage would be demolished to create a roughly eight-acre plot of land just big enough to squeeze in a soccer-specific stadium of the kind that makes fans happy, and MLS execs positively drool with glee.

Five years ago, NYCFC’s owners planned on having the city let them use the land free of charge — and also free of property and other taxes, for a total public gift on the order of $106 million. If you count the $100 million in IOUs that the city would have to forgo collecting from the nonprofit company that runs the garage — money it might never get, given that hardly anybody, it turns out, wants to pay $35 for parking when there are other cheaper garages plus the subway and Metro-North all a couple of blocks away — the total taxpayer cost would have cleared $200 million.

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In this latest iteration, the team owners would do away with the need for public cash by means of a new gimmick. Instead of giving the land to the team, the city would sell or lease it to a private developer, the exquisitely named Maddd Equities, which was already looking to build housing in the area. Maddd would, in turn, sublease the garage site to NYCFC, which would erect on it a 26,000-seat, $400 million soccer stadium. (The city, it should be noted, has yet to sign on this plan, though deputy mayor Alicia Glen told the Times that negotiations are ongoing.)

If all that sounds a bit alchemical — add one private housing developer, and presto chango, watch the public subsidies disappear! — it only gets odder from there, thanks to the convoluted history of that garage site.

Back in 1973, when the city embarked on its first Yankees stadium redo project — right after George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees from CBS for the cut-rate price of $8.7 million — it acquired the triangle garage land, city property records accessed through PropertyShark.com show, from Kinney System, which had run an open-air parking lot there. (Around the same time, the city used its eminent domain powers to seize the stadium site itself from the Knights of Columbus and Rice University, which through a series of sales by former Yankees owners had ended up holding title to the land and the building, respectively.)

Sometime between the 1970s, when the city actually took title to the garage site, and the present, City Hall placed the parcel in the hands of the Parks Department. But at the same time, it never formally designated it as parkland, a process that involves the city getting the state to add the land to its zoning maps.

This is, parks and city land use experts agree, kinda weird. Some space that is treated as public parks isn’t actually owned by Parks — many community gardens, for example, are technically owned by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. But the reverse is seldom true. “In general, because Parks has traditionally had a bare-bones budget, they’ve been unwilling to take on things that aren’t really parks,” says Tom Angotti, a Hunter College urban planning professor who formerly worked for the Department of City Planning.

And in any case, even if Parks owns the garage land, that doesn’t mean its exactly Parks land, let alone parkland. That’s because in 2009, after Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council approved building a new baseball stadium atop two public parks (which were actually mapped as parkland, as was the old stadium, as were some of the sites of new garages built by the city to accommodate the Yankees’ demand for still more parking), the land was leased by Parks to the city’s quasi-public city Economic Development Corporation, which then subleased it to Bronx Parking Development, that nonprofit parking company that is currently defaulting on its rent payments to the city. (Not to mention on its commitments to bondholders, who have been keeping Bronx Parking afloat only by allowing it to punt on loan payments for years.) Queries to the Parks Department about the status of the garage site were referred to EDC, as the leaseholder; EDC, in turn, directed questions back to Parks, as the landowner.

All of which is a fascinating glimpse into the byzantine land swaps that underlie our city. But really, there’s one big question here: Would NYCFC’s proposed deal require the city to give up land that, even if it has a surplus parking garage sitting on it now, could otherwise be used as a park, or for housing, or for some other purpose other than a soccer stadium?

The best way to tell for sure would be to look at the lease between Parks and EDC, and see what it says can and can’t be done with the land. Neither agency, though, will directly disclose the actual lease language; a Voice Freedom of Information Law request for the document is currently pending.

***

The worry, obviously, is that somewhere in all that fine print are hidden costs that will end up on the city’s tab. This wouldn’t be at all unusual: When University of Michigan sport management professor Judith Grant Long compiled a database of sports venue deals in 2012, she determined that such under-the-table goodies as free land and tax breaks added an average of 40 percent to the public cost of each stadium and arena.

With a little creative financial thought, it’s easy enough to see how NYCFC’s arrangement could be used to sneak in public subsidies as well. The market value for just the 4.5-acre triangle garage site is $31.5 million, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office. Let’s say EDC were to offer it up for sale to Maddd for, say, $10 million, and the developer then turned around and leased the site to NYCFC for the same price. Even though the city still wouldn’t be giving any cash to the soccer club, suddenly — presto chango — the Steinbrenners and Sheikh Mansour would be getting a $21.5 million discount on their land costs, courtesy of taxpayers.

And if EDC leased the land to Maddd, the deal could be even worse for the city, because the site would then remain exempt from paying city property taxes. The current assessed value of the garage site, per IBO, is $14,165,100; forgoing property taxes on that would cost the city just over $1.4 million a year. (Mayor de Blasio’s office did not have a comment in response to Voice queries about whether Maddd will pay market value for the land or property taxes on the proposed stadium site.)

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We’ve seen this kind of maneuver before when it comes to sports venues. In 2013, Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno offered to pay for $150 million in renovations to the team’s publicly owned stadium if the city of Anaheim would just hand over development rights to 150 acres of parking lots on the site; the land gift, the city later determined, would have been worth about twice as much as the renovation costs. (After Anaheim mayor Tom Tait rejected the deal, Moreno quietly signed a lease extension without getting his desired land.) And closer to home, the New York Islanders are pursuing a new arena atop state-owned land at Belmont Park that could be worth anywhere from $74 million to $300 million in public land discounts.

And there’s one final twist to the NYCFC plan: The garages only become available if the Yankees agree to lift the requirement, agreed to in 2006, that the city provide a minimum of 9,500 parking spaces for fans — a provision that even the team owners no longer care about, but which they can decline to do away with unless the city agrees to use the garage property for a project of their liking. In effect, the Yankees and NYCFC can say: Yes, that’s a valuable site you have there — now give it to us for a stadium, or else we’re going to make you keep it a parking garage until long after cars are a thing of the past. Michael Bloomberg’s Yankee Stadium deal truly is the gift that keeps on giving.

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The 10 Best Bites at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, 2015

Baseball season is upon us, which means it’s time again to secure a bleacher seat and cheer on one of our home teams. And/or drink a lot of beer and feast, for dining at the ballpark has never been better. From fancy steak dinners to healthy eats, here’s our list of the ten best dishes currently available at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field.

Nathan's. Eat this if you want to fit in.
Nathan’s. Eat this if you want to fit in.

10. Nathan’s Hot Dog (multiple locations, Yankee Stadium and Citi Field)

While ballparks are full of fancy new treats, the classic Nathan’s hot dog is always a welcome bite between innings, especially since it leaves one hand open to grab a foul ball. Grab one and slather it with mustard — you have just completed ballpark dining 101.

Black angus short rib grilled cheese
Black angus short rib grilled cheese

9. Grilled Cheese at Pressed by Josh Capon (Section 125, Citi Field)

A new addition to the lineup this year is this stand from Burger and Barrel’s Josh Capon. Go for the black angus short rib grilled cheese sandwich served on brioche toast. Because everyone is a winner when brioche is involved.

8. Shackburger at Shake Shack (Section 139, Citi Field)

A New York classic. Opt for a Shack Burger and try to avoid getting a sauce stain on your David Wright jersey.

Ice cream helmet
Ice cream helmet

7. Ice cream out of a souvenir cup (multiple locations, Yankee Stadium and Citi Field)

There’s no better way to rally your team spirit than by eating soft-serve ice cream out of a small helmet. Yes, it will probably melt all over you, but it’s one of the few economical options on offer at either park. Plus, you get a memento at the same time.

Steak at NYY Steak
Steak at NYY Steak

6. Steak from NYY Steak (Gate 6, Section 221-B, Yankee Stadium)

Fans of living and dining large have their pick at this stadium steakhouse, where any one of the prime steak options is befitting of the most decorated baseball team of all time. Grab a meal fit for the Great Bambino.

Cannoli
Cannoli

5. Cannoli at Mama’s of Corona (sections 105 and 415, Citi Field)

Cannoli make a great mood-booster should your favorite team be down a few runs, particularly if you’re accustomed to biting on your nails during extra innings. These sweets from the owners of Leo’s Latticini will save you a trip to nearby Corona — though heading out to the Lemon Ice King after a day game isn’t a bad idea if you came in a car.

Green mole chicken salad
Green mole chicken salad

4. Green Mole Chicken Salad at El Verano Taqueria (Section 139, Citi Field)

Fans of lighter fare no longer have to bring their own lunch through the security gate, as tasty salads are in ample supply. Opt for El Verano’s version; the mix of cilantro, black beans, and cotija cheese make this a hearty, flavorful dish that won’t have you sweating the thought of the seventh-inning stretch.

Steak frites
Steak frites

3. Pat LaFrieda’s Steak Frites (multiple locations, Citi Field)

Waffle fries are delicious in their own right, but when topped with black angus beef and Vermont monterey jack cheese, they go to another level. New to Citi Field this year, this dish makes a massive meal. The best part: Crispy potatoes topped with juicy steak ensure your throat isn’t too dry to scream at the umpire.

Parm at Yankee Stadium
Parm at Yankee Stadium

2. Chicken Parm Sandwich at Parm (Section 104, Yankee Stadium)

Mario Carbone and the Torrisi Brothers may not offer every Parm sandwich at their Yankee Stadium outpost, but they serve one of the most important: the chicken parm. The breaded chicken is coated in fresh mozz and tomato sauce.

Beef bratwurst with pimento cheese and barbecued onions
Beef bratwurst with pimento cheese and barbecued onions

1. Beef Bratwurst at Blue Smoke on the Road (Section 140, Citi Field)

Deciding between sausage and hot pretzel is no longer an issue with Blue Smoke’s Southern twist on a stadium classic. This one comes served with warm, gooey pimento cheese, sweet barbecue sauce, and grilled onions. The soft and salty pretzel roll helps sop up the spicy cheese while giving your hand a steady vessel to hold that sausage.

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DAMN, YANKEES!

Before you despair about the Yankees‘ upcoming season, keep two things in mind: First, there is no clear favorite in the A.L. East this year; the Orioles, who owned last year, lost a lot of power. The Red Sox and Blue Jays have acquired some gaudy free agents, but there’s still no clear indication that they’re going to be contenders. The second: that in Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia, the Yankees could have one of the best 1-2-3 starting combos in baseball. There are never guarantees, but at least the potential is there. And while you’re praying for those three, say one for Iván Nova as well. What the heck, pray that Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltrán, and A-Rod don’t get hurt, then maybe that Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury will have some bats to drive them in. Anything can happen, but it’s probably true that the earlier in the season you go, the better.

Mon., April 6, 1 p.m., 2015

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OLD COLLEGE TRY

Since you can forget about pro football in New York this season, get your football fix with a college game in, of all places, Yankee Stadium. Army Black Knights vs. UConn Huskies is the first-ever college football matchup at the new stadium, and may be an antidote for those still missing the baseball postseason. The origins of Army’s West Point cadets are unlike any other: Their colors were inspired by gunpowder: charcoal, potassium nitrate, and sulfur — black, gray, and gold. And while this may seem politically incorrect today, don’t forget that not only did West Point inspire John Ford’s The Long Gray Line, the academy was around to graduate the likes of Ulysses S. Grant, Douglas MacArthur, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Even its mascot, the mule, was chosen because of its usefulness in military operations of old.

Sat., Nov. 8, 3:30 p.m., 2014

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DAMN YANKEES

In recent years, two things have basically been wrong with the Yankees–Red Sox rivalry, which has thrived on mutual hate since Boston sold Babe Ruth to New York, in 1919. First, Boston wins too much. Second, it’s really hard to hate the Red Sox and their fans when they do things like give Mariano Rivera a terrific farewell, including a seat from the original Fenway, bearing the number 42, and honor Derek Jeter with a standing ovation when he hits a home run, as they did at Fenway on Aug. 1. Even the Boston Globe has jumped in on the lovefest, with veteran sports guy Bob Ryan proclaiming, “If I had the choice of one major league baseball player who has put on a uniform during the past 30 years, my choice would be Derek Jeter.” Speaking of the Captain, if you haven’t seen him on his farewell tour, you’d better hurry. Ticket prices are skyrocketing as his last game — Sunday, Sept 28 at, appropriately, Fenway Park — draws near. Bonus for Yankee fans: Hiroki Kuroda, the only starter to make it the entire season, pitches. Kuroda has had a tough year, without much support from the lineup and deserves better than the 8-8 record he holds as we go to press.

Wed., Sept. 3, 7 p.m., 2014

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Romeo Santos

Romeo Santos is a hero to many kids beyond just the Bronx for his lush, R&B-textured bachata music. Setting out on his grand adventure two decades ago, Santos ventured forth from the shadows of Yankee Stadium on a quest for fame and glory. Working his way into the hearts and car stereo systems of millions, first as the lead-singer of the groundbreaking bachata boy-band Aventura, and now as a solo artist, Santos has come full circle and will headline a two-night stand in Yankee Stadium this Friday and Saturday–the first Latin artist to perform at Yankee Stadium since the Fania All Stars graced the old grounds in 1973. This is a huge boon to his hometown community in NYC, where his two Formula albums have been on heavy bump in the summer heat, cooling hot heads with slices of Quisqueyan breeze. For two nights, Romeo’s claim to be the King of Bachata will be absolutely undisputed.

Fri., July 11, 8 p.m.; Sat., July 12, 8 p.m., 2014

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ICE STORM

What a unique idea the NHL Stadium Series is: Play hockey outdoors when it might even be snowing. All four area hockey teams will battle it out in this new event, which marks the first time hockey has been played in The House That Ruth Built. On January 26, the Rangers play the Devils in a matinee, followed on January 29 with the Rangers and Islanders facing off. Get your tickets soon; the first game in this national series, at Michigan Stadium, sold out to a crowd of around 100,000. Tickets to the Rangers-Devils game were snapped up right away through the conventional outlets, but there are plenty of tickets to both games available on StubHub, where seats start at $123. Pricey, but who knows when we will see another outdoor NHL game?

Sun., Jan. 26, 12:30 p.m., 2014

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GAME TIME

Just when we thought football was over for New York, our favorite gridiron venue, Yankee Stadium, hosts Notre Dame and Rutgers for the Pinstripe Bowl. The Irish, who were 8-4 this season, have a long history of playing in Yankee Stadium with an overall record of 16-6-3 in the Bronx. They beat Army 12-6 at the original Yankee Stadium in a game made famous by coach Knute Rockne’s “win one for the Gipper” speech. This will be the second Yankee Stadium appearance for the 6-6 Scarlet Knights, who won the George M. Steinbrenner Trophy in 2011 against Iowa State. Fans are advised to get their tickets early; last year’s Pinstripe Bowl, in which Syracuse beat West Virginia, drew a crowd of more than 41,000.

Sat., Dec. 28, noon, 2013

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WINTER GREENS

Christmas is a time for traditions, and the New York Botanical Garden’s annual holiday train show is one of the best that the city has. For the occasion, the institution (which not only hosts its fair share of day dates but also grants PhDs in coordination with a handful of nearby universities) turns the final 
quadrant of its Enid A. Haupt Conservatory into a miniature alternate New York, one 
in which model trains weave through plant-made replicas of everything from Yankee Stadium to the Empire State Building. 
This year, the landscape around the conservatory will be dotted with different verses from former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy 
Collins — just one more reason to head inside and check it out.

Sun., Dec. 1, 10 a.m., 2013