Now that fans have had a few months to feel out the surroundings of both Citi Field and Yankee Stadium, reports are that both venues aren't friendly to the autograph seeker. Autographs and baseball games have gone hand in hand, as children and adults have attempted to get their scraps of paper, programs, baseballs and gum cards signed as mementos of a brief encounter with one of their heroes. These chance encounters are part of the attraction of attending a live game, and part of the culture surrounding the national pastime.
A recent New York Times article entitled "New Yankee Stadium is Tough for Autograph Hounds", details some of the difficulties surrounding the quest for signatures at the new Yankee Stadium. Some of the roadblocks encountered include: a parking lot for the players that is out of the reach and view of the fans, and no access to pregame batting practice near the $1,250 dugout level seats (this was the entire field level until last month when fans were allowed to view batting practice from the field level box seats in the outfield).
The situation at Citi Field isn't much better. According to the Mets website, "Fans on the field level are permitted to seek autographs along the Field Level railings where permitted during batting practice from 2½ hours before game time ... until approximately 1 hour before game time." These permitted areas are also farther down the outfield lines, and if you are lucky enough to be inside of those areas, you will have to deal with the extended press boxes and the handrails in between every 2-3 rows if you are trying to move laterally. There is also private seating behind home plate that is gated off. In regards to attempting to access the players entering and exiting the players parking lot at Citi Field, one fan said, "It is as if they were protecting government officials instead of baseball players. The parking lot security guards are quick to barricade the area once they spot fans attempting to get autographs, six hours before game time!"
With both teams facing large payrolls, is this a ploy by both New York MLB teams to force the fans to the expensive parts of the stadium, for the increased chance of getting an autograph? Is this even a valid strategy in the midst of one of the worst economic situations in United States history, with thousands of empty seats in both stadiums each night? Will fans that are shut out from the autograph experience outside of the ballpark go inside, or not show up at all? Will we see an increased presence of autograph seekers at the hotel because the players are inaccessible at the ballpark? I have heard that alot of players are telling fans that they will only sign at the ballpark and not the hotel. Is this another tactic that has been passed down by management to lure seekers to games which they cannot afford?
Is begs the question, "Who are the teams catering to?" The chosen few that can afford the luxury seating, or the blue-collar workers who fill the majority of the stadium? I hope that the front offices of both teams recognize the importance of this autograph connection at the ballpark, because it is a component of what makes the fans more than just casual followers.
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