Now it’s the Angels’ turn to enter the apparent twilight zone in Yankee Stadium.
The new Yankee Stadium, that is, where the Angels tonight open the New York Yankees’ second homestand of the season and experience firsthand the weirdness in the Bronx.
There were 26 home runs hit in the six games of the Yankees’ initial homestand this month, the most ever in that span at a new park, with most hit to right field.
That has spawned various theories about whether the new $1.5-billion stadium, erected as a modern-day version of the nearby “House that Ruth Built,” has a design quirk that has made it a launching pad for homers to right.
“You try not to think about it,” said Angels pitcher Jered Weaver, who is scheduled to start Friday’s game. “It doesn’t get in my head. I’m excited to check it out.”
And this being the Yankees, the home-run flap emerged against the backdrop of another controversy, this one involving the stadium’s batches of empty front-row seats that had cost up to $2,650 apiece per game.
The Yankees, acknowledging they overreached in terms of pricing during an economic recession, said Tuesday that they slashed season prices on many of those “Legends Suite” seats by up to 50%. And fans who already had bought season tickets at the higher prices were eligible for additional free seats.
The baffling home run issue, meanwhile, has made physics as topical as fastballs as everyone tries to divine the rash of homers at the stadium, whose dimensions officially are the same as the old Yankee Stadium (including 314 feet to the right-field corner).
Among the theories: Maybe there’s a previously unknown wind pattern lifting otherwise routine fly balls into the stands. Maybe the stadium’s open concourses are to blame for a mystery jet stream that sends the balls out. Maybe the right-field fence actually is closer because of its curvature, creating a really short porch in right. Maybe this year’s batch of baseballs is livelier."Of course, we’ll get there and the wind will start blowing in,” quipped Angels third baseman Chone Figgins. “But that’s a whole lot of home runs. I might as well pop one up and get it out of there.”
The home run spree in the Yankees’ first homestand beginning April 16, against the Cleveland Indians and the Oakland Athletics, equaled an average 4.33 homers a game which, at that rate, would amount to 351 homers for the full 81-game home season. The existing record is 303 home runs hit at Denver’s Coors Field in 1999, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Balls were especially flying out of the stadium during the four-game series with Cleveland, in which the Indians scored 40 runs. The Yankees hit five home runs in their 6-5 win over Cleveland on April 17, and the next day the Indians pounded six home runs in their 22-4 thrashing of the Yankees.
Skeptics might simply suggest that pitching in those first six home games was under par and the whole thing was a fluke.
“We’ll see what happens,” Commissioner Bud Selig said recently. “A lot of strange things have happened with ballparks.”
But Greg Rybarczyk -- an engineer and baseball fan who runs the website Hittrackeronline.com -- is convinced it’s no fluke after spending hours studying videos of the homers and overhead photos of the old and new Yankee Stadiums.
“One of the things I’ve already figured out is that six home runs out of the 26 without a doubt would not have been home runs in the old park,” Rybarczyk said.
Why? Mainly because he is certain now that while the right-field fence of the old stadium had a slight dogleg, the new one does not, effectively bringing the fence in by an average 5.5 feet. And, he noted, several of the homers have barely dropped over that new fence.
Then there’s the wind issue, which Rybarczyk says he plans to study further with Alan Nathan, a University of Illinois physics professor, and the sports media graphics firm Sportvision Inc.
“The question that everybody has on their mind is, is there something about the shape of Yankee Stadium that is sort of funneling or amplifying the wind in certain areas,” Rybarczyk said. “That’s one of the things we’re trying to take a look at.”
Of the 26 homers hit so far, 17 were hit to right field, or 65%, with 11 hit by the Yankees and six by the visitors, according to Hittrackeronline.com.
Overall, the Yankees hit 14 of the 26 home runs off eight different pitchers, and the Indians and A’s combined to hit 12 homers off eight different Yankees pitchers.
Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman recently said that the home run flurry was “something we’re going to have to keep our eye on, because clearly the numbers don’t lie.”
But the team commissioned a wind study of the park before construction began, and “there was nothing in the study that indicated the ball would be jumping to right field,” Cashman said. “There was no indication that this stadium would play any different than the other ballpark.”
In the meantime, the Yankees are trying to fill more of the ritzy, blue-cushioned “Legends Suite” seats that come with teak arm rests, private restrooms and food and beverages, all of which the Yankees tout as “the most coveted ticket in sports.”
Apparently it isn’t. The rows of unfilled seats on TV broadcasts of the Yankees’ first few games were an eyesore, one the team tried to alleviate with its price cuts.
Team President Randy Levine declined an interview request, but the Yankees noted that about 85% of their “premium” season tickets had been sold.
But no matter how many are watching, Angels center fielder Torii Hunter is looking forward to playing there.
The billion-dollar park “won’t have the history like the old Yankee Stadium,” he said, “but I bet the locker rooms are nice.”