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New York City FC to Yankees: Don't worry, be happy about stadium use

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Despite their outward bravado, there are signs that the team's continued residence in Yankee Stadium might be in jeopardy.

Will Yankee Stadium be ready in time for Sunday's historic home opener?
Will Yankee Stadium be ready in time for Sunday's historic home opener?
Jefferson Siegel/NY Daily News

"It's terrible for a field. Grass, dirt, everything gets messed up."

That was New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, when asked by the Wall Street Journal about New York City FC playing in their stadium.

For his part, left fielder Brett Gardner raised fears of injury. "[The] problem is the root system. After you put new grass down, there's no root system, so essentially you're running full speed on top of AstroTurf that's sitting on top of cement, and that grass will give way, and you blow something out—knee, ankle."

Despite the comments, New York City players like Chris Wingert were at pains to reassure Yankees fans and players about matters — and the importance, for them, of playing in a stadium like that.

"It's a dream come true for me," said Wingert. "My father grew up in Tarrytown, and he was a massive Yankees fan as a kid. So, seeing the big picture of Mickey Mantle — my dad's all-time favorite player — it's pretty special. It's going to be pretty special taking my nephew through, showing him the locker rooms and the fields up close."

When I asked him about the stadium's condition, Wingert was quick to respond. "These are things that i just don't concern myself with. I'm a big fan of baseball; whether or not we're going to "mess up the field", we know that the stadium has the best people in the business to maintain their fields, and we know that the field is going to be in the best condition possible. So, you know, we're not worried too much about that. We're just going to do what we can, and handle the things under our control."

For his part, head coach Jason Kreis was puzzled about the concern the Yankees' players expressed.

"My reaction [to the WSJ report] is one of non-understanding to be frank with you because I have never played baseball at that level," Kreis said Wednesday afternoon, during the club's media day. "I don't know what it means for the grass to be a certain way in baseball. I certainly know what it means to want the grass to be a certain way in soccer. We want the field to be as pristine as we can. Natural grass surface with a tightly mowed grass can be one of the most enjoyable surfaces to play on. We want the same thing for our surface, but for me to try to understand or comprehend someones comments who plays the sport at a high level is not my place, if that makes sense."

Regardless of how much care and responsiveness the Sky Blues express towards their stadium landlord's concerns, it's clear that this is going to be an ongoing story throughout the season. This was the Daily News' sports back page this morning:

daily news back page ystadium

The accompanying story raised concerns that the stadium wouldn't be ready for Sunday's historic home opener, and the photos, to be frank, showed a stadium that was far from ready for prime time.

Of even more concern was the news broken by New York soccer news site Empire of Soccer:

The fact that the stadium arrangement seems to be on a year-to-year basis, that's subject to review by the Yankees, raised hackles about the prospect of New York City potentially having to move to a different stadium, and leading a vagabond existence, at least until it builds a home of its own somewhere in the five boroughs.

In remarks to the Daily News, MLS Commissioner Don Garber was at pains to quell those doubts.

"No. No," Garber said. "We're confident the field will be ready. Clearly the bad weather hasn't helped, but I'm going to say this: if we didn't know the Yankees had a world class grounds crew, and if we didn't believe that going in, we might have thought about this differently, perhaps scheduled some games later in the month.

"But we've got confidence in them. The new sod is being laid as we speak. I'm hopeful the weather cooperates a little bit better than it has the last few months. But we look forward to north of 40,000 people being at that game. It's going to be a historic event for our league and for the sport of soccer in our country."

As far as the team moving way from Yankee Stadium, Garber dismissed that idea. "There isn't a timeline (of staying in Yankee Stadium)," Garber said. "We're obviously excited about playing in perhaps the most renowned stadium in the world. I know our players are excited because I've spoken to a bunch of them and I've attended a number of international soccer matches there. I know the stadium can handle it. The team, the Yankees, can handle the turnover. They have a world class grounds crew. We're confident it will work. How long it will work is too early to make any prediction on. We haven't played the first game."

That statement is at odds with the official record. When the initial announcement was made, both teams made it clear that New York City would be playing in Yankee Stadium for at least three years. But with greater dissatisfaction, that timeline looks like it might not be as ironclad as originally thought. Garber's comments add more weight to that notion.

So: if not Yankee Stadium, then where? We've already explored a few venues that might be considered, but in reality, outside of Yankee Stadium, the options are few and far between. Realistically, the only other option would be Columbia University's football stadium.

baker field columbia

This is Columbia University's football stadium. At first glance, the capacity seems ideal for an MLS team; while on the small side, it's easy to think of this place being packed, rocking out to a winning MLS team. It's located north of Yankee Stadium, and it is easily accessible by public transportation. So what's not to like?

Start by looking at the picture above. It uses an artificial turf field, it is lined for multiple sports, and is surrounded by a track — all things that would make an MLS front office, particularly one backed by City and the Yankees, go absolutely mental. A professional team playing here would scream minor-league, which is exactly the image the league is trying to avoid.

It goes beyond that, though. Start with the fact that there's next to no parking near Baker Field. What little parking exists is either taken up by Inwood residents or by the MTA's bus yards. Given Columbia's woes on the gridiron, it's not like the stadium is packed out most games. That changes with a presumably successful New York City FC, and you better believe that residents would be complaining.

There's a bigger issue, though. One of the reasons that MLS was so bullish on getting New York City FC off to a great start is that the team's games would be easier for people in Long Island and eastern Connecticut to get to. That's most certainly not the case if you put the team in Inwood. That area would be nightmarish for Long Island residents to get to, and despite it being in Manhattan, it's not particulary easy to get to from much of the city.

Whatever the situation, perhaps the Yankees continued ambivalence — and now open discomfort — about hosting New York City FC, even before a single game, is the swift prod the team's leadership needs in order to nail down a home of their own, so that their tenancy in Yankee Stadium can truly be temporary.