On a chilly night in the Bronx borough in the fall of 2017, the anxious eyes of the nearly 50,000 faithful on hand at Yankee Stadium watched as their pinstriped heroes trailed 3–0 in the top of the first inning. The team faced elimination by the Minnesota Twins in the American League (AL) Wild Card game, and the tension was palpable throughout the venue, especially given that the Yankees had to mount their comeback against right-hander Ervin Santana, a 2017 all-star.
Then, in the bottom of the first, Didi Gregorius found himself facing a 3–2 count with runners on the corners. The Yankees shortstop had hit 25 home runs during the regular season, but none were arguably more important than the 391-foot shot he drove to right field that night. Having tied the game at three, the Yankees went on to win 8–4 and advance to the AL Division Series.
Off the field, Doug Behar shared the joy that erupted throughout the stadium. A lifelong Yankees fan and now senior vice president of the team’s stadium operations, Behar has had a front-row seat to some of the most memorable moments in Yankee history—including Gregorius’s home run—since starting with the organization in 2000. “To see the energy that night in the stadium really took me back to when I first started with the organization and we went on that historic World Series run,” Behar says.
When Behar last spoke with American Builders Quarterly late last year, he recalled the joy of watching the Yankees’ new stadium open back in 2009. But, with last year’s playoff run and a strong roster, the team was facing some high expectations—both on and off the field—entering the 2018 season. Behar and his team had already introduced a series of new amenities around the stadium last year, including the Kids Clubhouse and the Masterpass Batter’s Eye Deck. Behar and his team set a high standard of excellence, and it’s one his outside partners are more than happy to contribute to.
“Unity Electric continues to be a proud partner in maintaining Yankee Stadium’s infrastructure,” says Joseph Margiotta, assistant superintendent at Unity International Group. “Doug sets the bar high with his work ethic and vision for Yankee Stadium’s future, and Unity is honored to be a part of it.”
Now, on the cusp of the 2018 season, it’s a good time to look at some of the other changes that have been made at the home of the 27-time World Series champions. From new social gathering areas in the left and right field concourses to a safer fan experience in the stands, American Builders Quarterly took a trip around the stadium with Behar to understand some of the additional improvements he has made to the legendary venue without losing sight of its rich history.
AT&T Sports Lounge
Location: Left Field, Section 130
Size: Accommodates up to 72 guests
In the left field concourse, one of the most recently opened social gathering areas in Yankee Stadium is the AT&T Sports Lounge. Featuring DIRECTV services, the lounge evokes a sports-bar atmosphere on the stadium’s main concourse, in section 130.
“Our vision was to try and not only create these communal spaces but also take spaces in the stadium that we thought would be best suited for these types of places,” Behar says. “With AT&T, we transformed an underutilized area in a prime location and created a destination point that is easy for fans to find and easy for fans to access.”
The lounge includes a menu of craft beer, cocktails, and an array of food options. And, thanks to DIRECTV, its patrons are able to view other nationally televised games, from every sport, while still keeping an eye on their home team.
“It’s a fan experience that’s more than just coming here to sit in a seat and watch a game,” Behar says. “It’s a really cool sports bar right inside of Yankee Stadium.”
The Judge’s Chambers
Location: Right Field, Section 104
Capacity: Accommodates up to 18 fans
Aaron Judge has made a sizable impact since his 2017 debut—both literally and figuratively. The 6-foot-7 right fielder not only broke Mark McGwire’s rookie record for most home runs in a season, with 52, but he also earned honors as the AL Rookie of the Year. He has quickly become a fan favorite, inspiring many to show their support by wearing robes and white wigs to resemble judges.
Now, Behar and the Yankees have given those fans an official courtroom: the Judge’s Chambers. Made up of three rows in section 104, the area features faux wood paneling to resemble a jury box. “Aaron Judge, at the beginning of the year, showed signs of being a real star, and our vice president of media relations had this great idea to create a space to embrace his stardom—one that fans could participate in,” Behar says.
Fans who are selected to sit in the space can also show their support with foam gavels and robes that feature Judge’s jersey number on the back. “We always want to make sure that the fan experience here is engaging on every level, which is why the Steinbrenners have always invested in putting the right players together to try and bring home the championship year after year,” Behar says. “It’s also about creating spaces that are current and a part of the trends in our industry. Our goal is to make sure that our fans have an experience that transcends the game itself.”
Location: Either side of home plate
Height: Extends nine feet above the dugout roofs and 5.5 feet above the short walls that run down the foul lines
When designing for fans in the stands, Behar and his team keep safety top of mind. During the off-season, they took the opportunity to evaluate the stadium’s protective netting and decided to extend it beyond the dugout and farther down the foul lines in left and right field. The netting will provide increased protection for fans without obstructing views of the game.
“We wanted to make sure that we not only created a safe environment but also an environment that would be the least obstructive to our fans,” Behar says. “We were careful in choosing the color of the net and how it would be engineered and rigged to provide the most optimal setup.”
The color is in fact a composite of all the colors that a fan sees beyond the netting, resulting in a matte green tone, Behar explains. “The idea is to help camouflage the net as best as possible so that fans are getting the true baseball experience,” he says.
The extended netting and the debut of more fan amenities may be new, but what hasn’t changed is the rich history and tradition synonymous with the Yankees. Whether the team is creating new chapters in its history with events such as Gregorius’s game-tying home run or reliving old ones such as Joe DiMaggio’s seemingly unbreakable 56-game hit-streak record, its legendary moments will never be forgotten, and its new spaces will continue to evolve.
“Everything that we do should feel authentic and part of the Yankees,” Behar says. “We want our fans to enjoy the modern, fan-friendly aspects of these spaces, but we always make sure to present them within the context of our traditions and unique history, which we’re all very proud of.”
Photos: Gillian Fry, New York Yankees