Overpriced tickets, empty seats, and clueless management

The fact that sports ticket prices are completely out of hand is far from a new revelation, and my favorite club in any sport, the New York Yankees, falls among the worst offenders, possibly even occupying the top spot.

Go team go!

Empty seats, especially in the premium sections, have become the norm, no matter how big the game, or how nice the weather. And as clueless as management at some of these teams can be, they are trying to remedy the problem. But are they trying hard enough?

I became a Yankees season-ticket holder (half-season through 2008, full season for 2009 and 2010) in 1997, and I gave my seats up after the 2010 season (click the link for the long list of reasons why). The Yankees have managed to treat me better as a former ticket holder than when I actually had the account active.

I have received several calls over the past few months from the Yankees ticket office, gauging my interest in rejoining the fold for the 2013 season. I am actually surprised that the club is putting that much effort into cases like mine. When I go to Dunkin’ Donuts, I usually drop the coins I receive as change into the tip jar. The $4,000 or so that my season tickets cost means less to the Yankees than those coins mean to me.

I don’t even bother answering anymore because, in all fairness to the Yankees, I am in no position to commit to tickets of any sort, and many of the factors have nothing to do with the team or its pricing. We are moving, which would make attending weeknight games virtually impossible, and our family expanded, which completely changes the priorities of our budget.

But the few times I did make last-ditch attempts to keep some kind of ticket plan, the seats they were willing to offer me at a reasonable price were pure crap. I may have tried to plead my case with Mrs. 9 if I could have gotten something in the first few rows of the 400 level, in the infield, but when I was offered high rows in the outfield, my response was, “Dude, I have a 50-inch TV. Why would I sit all the way up there?”

And it’s not just the Yankees: A good friend Is part of a group that splits premium (and I do mean premium) Mets tickets, and the Mets actually lowered their prices significantly. Still, the skeptic in me wonders: If the Mets had been a playoff team in any of the three seasons since moving to Citi Field, would they have extended that offer? My gut says no.

Another good friend stopped by tables that the New York Giants and New York Jets set up at an event, and he received the big-time hard sell from both teams. When they asked,” What’s it going to take to get you in these seats?” sounding like desperate used-car salesmen, his response was, “Drop the PSL.” Naturally, they refused.

For years, the only way to get Giants season tickets was to put your name on a waiting list and wait several years (my name was on one prior to the new stadium opening, and I was told to expect a 15- to 20-year wait). I find it almost laughable that I could pick up the phone today and become a season ticket holder if I wanted to, but that would require an investment beyond my means, especially when I don’t root for the team.

For those not in the know, PSL stands for “personal seat license,” which is the biggest scam in the sports ticketing industry. A PSL basically forces fans to pay a large lump sum of money, simply for the right to shell out more money for the actual tickets.

Some PSLs offer owners the right to purchase their seats for other events (concerts, other sports), but the Giants and Jets can’t even do that. When Bruce Springsteen plays MetLife Stadium, who gets the seat: The Giants fan, or the Jets fan? Those teams’ PSL holders receive perks, such as early access to ticket sales, but is that enough?

One of the most irritating things about PSLs is that teams pitch them to fans as investment opportunities, touting how much the fans can profit if they resell the PSLs. I realize running a sports team is running a business, but being a sports fan is an entirely different story. If someone is enough of a fan of the team to consider forking over several thousand dollars per seat for PSLs, selling those rights is the furthest thing from their minds.

Back on topic: It’s obvious that teams are recognizing the fact that the prices they are trying to charge in an economy that is still scuffling are completely out of hand, leading to the large pockets of empty seats in very visible locations (field level behind home plate for baseball, field level between the 40-yard-lines for football), but are they doing enough about it? My experience Saturday, which prompted me to write this blog post, suggests otherwise.

$275? Seriously?

A friend from college was nice enough to give me two tickets to Saturday afternoon’s Yankees game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and we took 0.9 to his first-ever Yankees game. They were fun seats, especially since I usually sit upstairs: section 117a (field level, behind the Yankees dugout), row 30.

However, when I looked at the ticket price, my jaw dropped. The face value of the tickets was $275 apiece. I am not by any means trying to sound ungrateful for the tickets, and I was happy to learn that my friend received them as a gift, so he didn’t shell out that ungodly sum of money for them, but seriously?

First of all, they were technically field level seats, but they were nowhere near the field. As I said, they were in row 30, but the Legends Suite seats are in front of the field level seats, so they were really about 40 rows up.

Second, they were in the back row, and the condiments station was directly behind us. I joked about getting something spilled on me when we first got there, and somebody with an $11.50 cup of Miller Lite soon obliged.

Third, the section to our right had a handicapped seating area in place of rows 26-30. I am all for ballparks having as much handicapped access and seating as possible, and I applaud the existence of this seating area, and all of the others in the ballpark. However, because of the location of this particular handicapped seating area, I could not see anything hit down the right field line.

Charging $275 for those tickets is beyond criminal. I would have been irate if I actually paid that silly price to sit there. And despite the beautiful weather and excellent opponent, there were plenty of empty seats around us.

Also, I have no way to prove this, but if you look at StubHub, there are usually thousands of tickets available for every game. In the case of Saturday’s game, there were more than 2,400 available on the morning of the game. Yet, despite the fact that StubHub users can assign any price they wish to their tickets, there are often large groups of listings at the exact same price, all for seats in sections like 117a, and all from a handful of user names. So, either a few people are rich enough to own several-hundred field level season tickets apiece, or the Yankees are flooding the secondary market with tickets they can’t sell. You decide. I already have.

Sports teams have a choice: Either take a serious look at your pricing policies, or continue to see more and more empty seats. But despite recent economic struggles, the teams’ management remains far too arrogant, for the most part, to admit that the current structure is out of hand. It will be interesting to see if this ever changes.

162 Games of HATE: A fast-paced fantasy baseball draft with some shocking picks

My third and final fantasy baseball draft of the 2012 season was an interesting one. Candidly, I am not happy with the job I did in this draft overall, but I am ecstatic with a couple of my picks and where I was able to select them.

I have been in enough drafts of all types, so I’m not making excuses, but the majority of players in this league auto-drafted, so the pace was blistering, and I had trouble keeping up with it at times. Plus, one person’s selections in the first two rounds blew my mind more than any picks I can remember in a fantasy baseball draft for quite some time. Again, I have enough experience that I should have been able to overcome both of those factors, but quite a few of my picks were rushed. I hope they work out, but I’m not supremely confident.

162 Games of HATE, the 2012 edition:

Round 1, Albert Pujols, 1B, LAA: I know it seems unheard of to be disappointed after ending up with arguably the best player in the game over the past decade, but I had the third pick in the draft, and the two guys I would have selected ahead of Pujols went first and second: Miguel Cabrera and Matt Kemp. It’s hard to complain about Pujols, though. He’s a skilled enough player to ease my worries about his transition to the American League, and the Angels are loaded.

Round 2, Roy Halladay, SP, PHI: Are you fucking serious? Halladay lasted until the 20th pick of the draft? Holy shit! The two picks before Halladay were Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander. I would have taken Halladay over either of those guys, but I can’t really argue with either pick. The two picks I can definitely argue about, however, came from the same person: CC Sabathia with the No. 10 pick in the draft, and Johan Santana with the No. 15 pick. My jaw dropped after both of those selections. I am still shaking my head.

Round 3, Matt Holliday, OF, STL: He was the best hitter left on the board. I really wanted Ian Kinsler, but he was selected with the pick right before mine. I’m a little wary of the Cardinals’ lineup without Pujols, but Holliday has been a consistent performer over the years.

Round 4, Brett Lawrie, 3B, TOR: I may have made this pick a round or two early, but third base is an awfully thin position, and I love what Lawrie did in a couple of hundred at-bats last season. Plus, the Blue Jays’ lineup is stacked and should score a ton of runs. I thought about Shin-Soo Choo here, but I crossed my fingers and hoped he would fall into the next round.

Round 5, Shin-Soo Choo, OF, CLE: Holy crap, something actually worked. I like Choo a lot, and he was definitely the best hitter left on the board. I thought about another starting pitcher, but I decided to gamble that either Matt Cain or David Price would still be on the board with my next pick.

Round 6, Dee Gordon, SS, LAD: If Gordon can get on base consistently, he will lead the Major Leagues in stolen bases. And shortstop isn’t exactly a stacked position, either. I love this pick.

Round 7, Yu Darvish, SP, TEX: This pick was a gigantic gamble, and I’m really not sure why I pulled the trigger. Part of my thinking was that I wanted another starting pitcher, and none of the known quantities was really calling out to me. If he pitches anywhere near his potential, this could turn out to be a fabulous pick. But if the queen had balls, she’d be king.

Round 8, Matt Garza, SP, CHC: There was no doubt in my mind that I was picking another starting pitcher here, just in case Yu Darvish turns out to be the next Kei Igawa. Although the Cubs are awful, Garza was the best starter left on the board.

Round 9, Jemile Weeks, 2B, OAK: It was way too early for this pick, but the pool of second baseman was drying up in a hurry. This was a dreaded potential pick: If he reaches his potential, it will work. If not, I am hosed.

Round 10, Alex Avila, C, DET: I was thrilled with this pick. Avila is one of the few serious offensive threats at catcher, and he can be a force in the Tigers’ lineup.

Round 11, Sergio Santos, RP, TOR: The run on closers was in full effect, and he was the best one left.

Round 12, Brandon League, RP, SEA: Speaking of the run on closers …

Round 13, Jason Motte, RP, STL: OK, I think I can stop worrying about saves now.

Round 14, David Ortiz, DH, BOS: I hate this guy’s guts, but this was a great value pick. The only bad thing about him from a fantasy baseball standpoint is a complete lack of flexibility, as he only fits into the utility spot. But his season last year was one of the few bright spots for the Red Sox, and if I can get 30 home runs out of a pick in round 14, that ain’t too shabby.

Round 15, Delmon Young, OF, DET: He did not have a great season last year, but I’m hoping for a bounce-back and some decent power numbers.

Round 16, Brandon McCarthy, SP, OAK: I can’t believe he was still around this late in the draft. Oakland sucks, but he is a quality starting pitcher and, with the way his ball club cleaned house during the off-season, my hunch is that he will be traded to a contender at some point.

Round 17, Sean Marshall, RP, CIN: Yes, I know, I said I was done with closers, but Marshall puts up fantastic numbers year after year as a setup guy, and I couldn’t pass him up here.

Round 18, Daniel Bard, SP, BOS: This pick was a bit of a risk, much like Boston’s decision to convert a reliever with closer stuff to a starter is a bit of a risk, but none of the “safe” picks at starting pitcher excited me in the least. Plus, if the experiment fails and Bard goes back to the bullpen, I will have some serious trade chips for teams that are short on closers.

Round 19, Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/3B, TOR: He is an excellent backup at both corner infield positions, hitting in a stellar lineup.

Round 20, Phil Hughes, SP, NYY: I try not to let spring training play a big role in my drafting, but he looked like the 2010 Hughes in spring training, so I took a shot with this pick. Hell, it’s the 20th round.

Round 21, Austin Jackson, OF, DET: Depth, speed, and the leadoff hitter in a good lineup. He needs to get on base more. If he does, I will find a way to start him.

Round 22, Aaron Hill, 2B, AZ: I would like to say that I’m hoping for a repeat of the one fantastic year Hill had with Toronto, but truthfully, this was a backup pick, barring unforeseen circumstances.

Round 23, Alcides Escobar, SS, KC: A solid, under-the-radar, backup pick.

Round 24, Ben Revere, OF, MIN: If he is ever in my starting lineup, I am in a heap of trouble. Still, his potential was worth the risk of a final round pick.

The 2012 Dropkick Ellsburys: Maybe auto-draft isn’t so bad

Jacoby Ellsbury

I had to rely on auto-draft for the second of my three fantasy baseball drafts this season. With a little one on the way, I am only playing on one softball team, and I will be missing part of the season for obvious reasons, so I elected to play softball and let the computer do the dirty work.

This league is fairly competitive, but not as much as the Section 39 Fantasy League. That being said, I have had no success, and I’ve been in this league quite a few years. These were my drafts in 2011, 2010, and 2009.

Part of the blame goes to injuries (Josh Johnson being a notable example a couple of seasons ago), part of it goes to bad luck, and, admittedly, part goes to poor drafting decisions on my part. Here is my latest attempt to climb out of the second division and into contention.

Three players are kept every season in this league, and players are only keeper-eligible for three seasons before being thrown back into the pool.

Without further ado, your 2012 Dropkick Ellsburys:

Keeper, Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, BOS: His combination of power and speed were matched by very, very few players in Major League Baseball. While it may be optimistic to expect a repeat of his 2011 power numbers, he is still an excellent all-around player, at the top of a solid lineup.

Keeper, Jered Weaver, SP, LAA: He is a top-10 starter, if not top five, and an excellent anchor for a fantasy pitching rotation. Plus, barring injuries, the Angels are stacked. Keeping Weaver was a no-brainer.

Keeper, B.J. Upton, OF, TB: Upton is by far the weakest of my keepers, and he became a keeper by default. I wanted to keep Ryan Howard, but that changed when he crumpled to the ground at the end of the National League Division Series last year. Most reports don’t have Howard coming back from his torn Achilles tendon until June, and most reports also say that he looks like he ate Greg Luzinski, so I couldn’t risk what amounts to a draft pick in the first three rounds on half a season of a possibly healthy but possibly overweight Howard. Upton is a threat for 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases, but his inconsistency is maddening.

Round 1, Hanley Ramirez, SS, MIA: If I were live-drafting, I probably would have chosen Cliff Lee here, but since I was on the softball field, I had no say in the matter. I drafted Ramirez in my other league, as well, and my reservations and hopes are the same. He is coming off his worst season, and there are rumblings that he is unhappy about moving to third base to accommodate the Marlins’ signing of Jose Reyes. But if Ramirez comes close to a typical Ramirez season, he can dominate a generally weak position.

Round 2, Elvis Andrus, SS, TEX: This is where live-drafting comes back to bite you in the ass. I like Andrus as a player, and I love his stolen bases as a fantasy pick, but there is no way in hell I would have drafted two shortstops with my first two picks. If I can acquire enough speed elsewhere, he is definitely trade bait.

Round 3, Shin-Soo Choo, OF, CLE: Bless you! (Thank you, I’m here all week, tip your bartenders!) The Indians are a weak team, but he is a solid ballplayer and puts up solid fantasy stats. If I were live-drafting, I might have taken Matt Cain here, although I might not have, because as I said earlier, I’d probably have taken Cliff Lee in round one. When I took at the hitters drafted around this pick, I like Choo.

Round 4, Madison Bumgarner, SP, SF: Like Ramirez, I also have Bumgarner in my other league. I like him a lot and think he’s a stellar starting pitcher in a pitcher-friendly ballpark. My only fear is that the Giants’ offense will fail to score and cost him wins. It’s hard to say if I would have been thinking of a starting pitcher here if I live-drafted, but if that was my direction, he would have been my choice.

Round 5, Adam Wainwright, SP, STL: This pick is a huge risk, as Wainwright did not throw a pitch last season due to injury. But I love the value in round five if he returns to form. It’s a gamble, but it’s a gamble I would probably have taken if I were live-drafting. The two starting pitchers taken directly before him were Josh Johnson, who also has a bad recent injury history, and Yu Darvish, who is still an unknown quantity, although my hunch is that Darvish will not be a bust like some of the other pitchers who have come to MLB from Japan.

Round 6, Joe Mauer, C/1B, MIN: In what is becoming a familiar team, in the same way I would not have taken shortstops with my first two picks, there is no way I would have used back-to-back picks on players coming off huge injuries. As I said about Wainwright, if Mauer returns to anywhere near his pre-injury numbers, this pick is a steal, especially with catcher being a weak position. But two consecutive gambles are a little dicey for my blood. I probably would have drafted Rickie Weeks here.

Round 7, Nick Markakis, OF, BAL: I somehow end up with Markakis every season, and his lack of power while playing in Camden Yards, where everyone else seems to launch homer after homer, frustrates me to no end. He always ends up posting decent numbers, but the lack of power and the fact that I’ve lost with him before means there’s no way I’d have picked him here if I were live-drafting. There was a little bit of a run on closers going on, so I might have joined that run.

Round 8, Ike Davis, 1B, NYM: I really like this pick. Davis was on his way to an excellent season before getting injured last year, and the Mets moved the fences in at Citi Field. I would have taken Billy Butler or Kendrys Morales here, but both were selected before my pick. And I certainly wouldn’t have taken Morales if I already had Wainwright and Mauer, because there’s only so much injury risk one team can bear. Davis is also on my other team.

Round 9, Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/3B, TOR: I like Encarnacion, but I don’t know if I’d have picked him this early. Still, his bat showed a lot of life last season, the Blue Jays have a strong lineup, and I like the fact that he qualifies at both corner infield slots. And he is yet another member of my team in the other league.

Round 10, Chase Utley, 2B, PHI: I am a huge Utley fan, but with his recent injury history, there is no way in hell I would have picked him, especially with all of the other walking wounded on my roster. I just have to sit tight and hope he comes back healthy, but I hate this pick.

Round 11, Kenley Jansen, RP, LAD: He was the best closer left at this point, and I’d have picked him here without hesitation. He has a live arm, and I think the Dodgers will be an improved team this season.

Round 12, Sean Marshall, RP, CIN: I absolutely love this pick. I have picked up Marshall the past couple of seasons in a middle relief role due to his excellent strikeout, ERA, and WHIP numbers. If the Reds don’t let him close, they are morons, so add saves to the rest of his stats, and this is a great pick.

Round 13, Clay Buchholz, SP, BOS: I apparently missed the auto-draft setting that said, “Draft every player who was hurt last season.” What the hell? Still, as I’ve said about some of my previous picks, Buchholz was having an excellent year before getting injured last season, and if he bounces back, this is a fantastic pick at round 13. There are way too many injury gambles on this roster, though.

Round 14, Addison Reed, RP, CHW: I like this pick. I am assuming he gets the closer role for the White Sox and pitches well enough to keep it, but he has a bazooka for an arm.

Round 15, Edwin Jackson, SP, WAS: Jackson is solid, but not spectacular. I had him last season, and I have to keep my eye out for a rut, because when he gets into one, it takes him a while to pitch his way out of it. Since Brandon McCarthy was chosen with the pick before mine, I’d probably have taken Trevor Cahill here.

Round 16, R.A. Dickey, SP, NYM: I don’t love this pick, and I probably would have looked at another position here. Yes, Dickey has been solid for two seasons, but I’m wary of someone who doesn’t “get it” until he is well into his 30s. Knuckleball pitchers are ageless, but the Mets are not a good team, and their offense will likely cost him wins.

Round 17, Delmon Young, OF, DET: I’m pretty happy with this pick at round 17, but Young’s OBP is putrid. Still, he’s good for about 20 homers, and the Tigers’ lineup is stacked, so his numbers may rise.

Round 18, Chase Headley, 3B, SD: I like this pick, especially this late. It’s based on potential, but I think Headley started to turn it around last season. The one negative is that he plays in a ballpark that is very unfriendly to hitters, but hey, it’s round 18.

Round 19, Aaron Hill, 2B, AZ: With Utley on the shelf, I hope he remembers what he was doing in his outstanding season for Toronto. I’d have never taken Utley, and I’d have taken a second baseman a lot earlier than this, but it is what it is.

Round 20, Michael Brantley, OF, CLE: He is a solid last-round pick, also based on potential. If everything clicks for him, this could work out well. If not, well, he’s my last-round pick.

Overall, I’m happy with the team, but there are a few too many players coming off serious injuries. If they can all bounce back, this team will contend. If not, I will have to rely on the waiver wire and the trade market to shore up some holes.

Hoboken Nine, the 2012 edition

Ryan Braun

The Section 39 Fantasy Baseball League held its draft last weekend, and I was a participant for the fourth consecutive season. It’s a very competitive league and, while I have not finished in the money, I’ve held my own, finishing fourth, fourth, and fifth in a 12-team league.

Last season was my most disappointing, as I just couldn’t find any consistency. I vaulted into second place in August on the strength of two consecutive 100-plus-point days, driven my wins from all my starting pitchers and a bunch of wins and saves from my relievers, but I couldn’t stay with the pack.

Here are my round-by-round picks (I had the No. 8 pick out of 12), along with my reasons for choosing the players I selected.

Round 1, Ryan Braun, LF, MIL: This pick was a bit of a risk after the news during the offseason that Braun had failed a drug test. His suspension was overturned, and everything I’m reading suggests that he won’t be suspended again, but there’s always the chance. And, if he really was on performance-enhancing drugs, how much did it help him during his MVP campaign last season, and how will it affect his numbers this season? Still, I thought he was a steal with the No. 8 pick in the draft, and he would have been in the top three if it weren’t for the suspension (big if, I know). I actually thought about Roy Halladay here, but I’m hesitant to take a pitcher in the first round (even one as dominant as Halladay) because if there’s an injury, they just don’t bounce back the way hitters do.

Round 2, Hanley Ramirez, SS, FLA: I was all set to grab Halladay here, but he was chosen with the pick right before mine. This pick was also a little bit of a gamble, with Ramirez coming off his worst season, and with rumblings that he is unhappy about moving to third base to accommodate the Marlins’ signing of Jose Reyes. But if Ramirez comes close to a typical Ramirez season, he can dominate a generally weak position.

Round 3, Curtis Granderson, CF, NYY: I love the combination of power, especially with 81 home games at Yankee Stadium, which is tailor-made for his swing, and speed. Yes, I am a die-hard Yankees fan, and yes, I was always a Granderson fan, going back to his days with the Tigers, but I don’t let my rooting interests get in the way of my drafting. I was ecstatic that Granderson fell to the third round.

Round 4, Hunter Pence, RF, PHI: I really wanted a third baseman here, but I was hesitant to pull the trigger on Alex Rodriguez, partially because I hate him, but mostly because he is a big risk coming off an injury. David Wright also scared me a little here, although the fact that they moved the fences in at Citi Field tempted me. But if Chase Utley and Ryan Howard can come back healthy, Pence is an excellent hitter in an excellent lineup, and he has 81 home games at homer-friendly Citizen’s Bank Park.

Round 5, Madison Bumgarner, SP, SF: Again, I seriously thought about Wright with this pick, but I was also wary of not having a pitcher yet, and I liked Bumgarner and pitcher-friendly SBC Park better than anyone else who was left. I would have drafted his teammate, Matt Cain, but he was selected just before my pick.

Round 6, Brandon Phillips, 2B, CIN: He is an excellent all-around ballplayer at a relatively weak position, and I thought he was the best value pick left on the board. I thought about another starting pitcher here, but decided that Phillips was my best option.

Round 7, Matt Garza, SP, CHC: Once again, the guy I wanted here was chosen with the pick just before mine, Jeremy Hellickson. I’m a little concerned about Garza because I think the Cubs are a weak ball club, but he’s a solid pitcher. I thought about Tommy Hanson here, but decided on Garza.

Round 8, Aramis Ramirez, 3B, MIL: I felt that there was a huge drop-off at this position after Ramirez, so I decided to grab him. The next third baseman on my list was Mark Reynolds, and I had him last season. Reynolds is an all-or-nothing, feast-or-famine player, and he is frustrating as all hell from a fantasy standpoint. I didn’t want to go through that again.

Round 9, John Axford, RP, MIL: I apparently made a subconscious decision to be a big Brewers fan this season. I don’t like drafting closers this early, but, much like my pick of Aramis Ramirez last round, I thought there was a big drop-off after Axford, so I decided to pull the trigger here.

Round 10, Sergio Santos, RP, TOR: There is usually a run on closers, but that wasn’t the case in this draft. Similar to my choice of Phillips, I just thought he was the best value left on the board, and I also believe the Blue Jays will be solid this season, which will give him ample save opportunities.

Round 11, Miguel Montero, C, AZ: As I said about closers, I also don’t like drafting catchers early, but in what seems to be a theme for me during this draft, he was by far the best catcher left on the board, with good power numbers.

Round 12, Cameron Maybin, CF, SD: I didn’t really need another outfielder here, especially with my lack of a first baseman at this point, but I love this guy’s potential. Petco is not a hitter’s park, but it is a good park for speed guys, and I can see Maybin racking up doubles and triples, and putting up good numbers in runs scored and stolen bases.

Round 13, Ike Davis, 1B, NYM: I finally got my first baseman, but once again, the person picking before me swiped the guy I wanted, Gaby Sanchez. I actually take this trend as a good sign, because she (yes, SHE) knows her shit and has won the league before, so it’s good to see that we were thinking along the same lines. I really like Davis and am not sorry I ended up with him. Now, how far did the Mets move the fences in?

Round 14, Clay Buchholz, SP, BOS: He was off to a good start last season before getting injured, and, while I am obviously counting on a bounce-back, I am very happy with this pick in round 14.

Round 15, Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/3B, TOR: Lacking a superstar at either position Encarnacion is eligible for, I thought this was a smart pick if Aramis Ramirez or Ike Davis falters or suffers an injury. Encarnacion will likely DH, which will probably help his hitting in a strong Toronto lineup.

Round 16, Brandon McCarthy, SP, OAK: I love this pick and was stunned that he was still on the board in round 16. Oakland is not a strong team at all, but he is an excellent pitcher who seems to get better every start.

Round 17, Adam Lind, 1B, TOR: This was more of a value pick than a need pick, and the strong Toronto lineup definitely influenced me.

Round 18, John Danks, SP, CHW: I was very happy to get a solid starting pitcher this late in the draft. He’s not a superstar, but he eats innings and gets the job done.

Round 19, Jason Bay, LF, NYM: I thought he was a great risk pick this late in the draft. Bay has had two miserable seasons since joining the Mets, but if he can get back to anything like what he used to be (remember those shorter fences?), this will be a great pick. And if the Mets really struggle, he could be good trade bait.

Round 20, Jonathan Broxton, RP, KC: I’m pretty confident he will win the Royals’ closer job, and he throws some serious gas. I love this pick.

Round 21, Francisco Liriano, SP, MIN: This pick was very similar to the Bay pick: Liriano has been a disappointment for a couple of years, but I thought a pick in round 21 was a worthy gamble on his potential.

Round 22, Ian Desmond, SS, WAS: I thought this was a fantastic value pick, and Desmond is a solid backup if Hanley Ramirez slumps or gets injured.

Round 23, Homer Bailey, SP, CIN: This was another pick based purely on potential, and not results, but Bailey has been a highly touted prospect for a while, and I’m hoping he delivers. If he doesn’t, it was a pick in round 23.

Round 24, Delmon Young, LF, DET: 20-plus homers from a backup outfielder made this decision for me. I hope I never have to use him at left field, because it would mean something bad happened to my first-round pick, but he’s good to have on the roster, and a potential fill-in at the utility spot if Maybin slumps or gets hurt.

Round 25, Kurt Suzuki, C, OAK: We are not allowed to cut or acquire players until after the first week of the season, so most teams draft two catchers just in case their starter gets hurt, to avoid the possibility of a zero at that position for the week. Most teams also cut their backup catcher at the first opportunity, but I may hold onto Suzuki and his decent power numbers, unless I really need the roster spot.

I feel pretty good about my draft. I’m not cocky about my team, and I don’t look at my roster and think I’ll run away with the league, or anything along those lines, but I think it’s a solid team that will keep me in contention. If I get into August with a chance, I’m happy. Let the chips fall where they may.

As much as I hate to say it, giving up my Yankees season tickets was the right move

Whenever a long, emotional relationship ends in a breakup, there’s always a tendency to question whether it was the right move, and whether more should have been done to salvage the relationship.

$95? Not worth it.

My breakup with my Yankees season tickets was no exception. Ever since I made the decision in January (see link above for the reasoning behind it), I’ve had lingering doubts as to whether it was the right move, and whether I should have done more to try to keep my seats.

The Yankees are now midway through the first home stand of this young 2011 Major League Baseball season, and there is no doubt in my mind that I made the right move, although I still wish I wasn’t driven in that direction.

I posted an entry last month about how the Yankees ticket office — usually abrupt, condescending, and not the least bit flexible — has been changing its tune. Now I see why.

The number of empty seats in the field level (and not just the Legends Suite ultra-expensive seats, but throughout the 100 level) is embarrassing. And the huge pockets of empty seats in the terrace (300) level have been equally embarrassing.

My theory: People who had field-level seats in the real Yankee Stadium were priced out when the team moved across the street, and many were fortunate to grab seats in the main (200) level. The same goes for people who had seats in the tier boxes (600 level) in the old ballpark, and were able to secure the only affordable seats in the new stadium, the grandstand (400 level).

Throughout this home stand, the 100 and 300 levels have been virtually deserted, while the 200 and 400 levels, along with the bleachers, have been packed. And it will likely stay that way. On Opening Day, during the fifth inning, I counted exactly 10 people in one of the Jim Beam Club sections, behind home plate in the 300 level. Seriously?

I realize it’s only the first few games of the season, and baseball attendance throughout the league tends to heat up in tandem with the weather, but, Opening Day aside, the Yankees have enjoyed comfortable weather, along with games against two stellar, playoff-caliber opponents (the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins).

The biggest issue, in my opinion, is that a lot of the tickets are just plain overpriced. I recognize that the Yankees have the highest payroll in baseball, and that no other team has been in contention every single season since the strike-shortened 1994 campaign (you could argue that 2008 doesn’t qualify, but it’s not like the club finished 62-100). But when it comes down to it, $95 to sit in fair territory in left field on the field level is ridiculous. You are a minimum of 350 feet from home plate, and the only thing you have a good view of is Brett Gardner’s ass. I am a huge fan of Gardner as a ballplayer, but I don’t roll that way. Even if I wanted to look at his rear end, his size-nine head would likely distract me.

$55? Why bother, when I can sit in the same section for $15. Hello, StubHub!

The same goes for the terrace level. The 300 level in the new Yankee Stadium is higher and further from the field than the tier boxes at the old park, and one of the reasons why I gave up my tickets was that I felt that sitting that high and that far simply wasn’t worth $55 per seat. I would have gladly moved to the grandstand or the bleachers, but the latter are thoroughly sold out (at $12 per seat for season tickets, there’s no need to explain why), and the available seats in the former were in the top rows in the outfield. As much as I love going, I’d rather sit on my couch or in a bar than behind the foul pole, four rows from the top of the stadium.

I mentioned in my earlier blog post about giving up the seats that by basically forcing people into buying season tickets, the Yankees created a culture of “ticket brokers.” Those ticket brokers are getting their asses handed to them.

I looked up my old section (314) on StubHub for tomorrow night (Wednesday, April 6). The forecast is quite comfortable (59 degrees, no rain), and CC Sabathia, the clear ace of the staff, is pitching against the Minnesota Twins, a perennial playoff team. My old seats were in row six, and the face value was (and still is) $55. Yet, if I wasn’t going bowling that night, I could sit in row eight for $15, in my old row for $17, in row three for $17, or in row two for the princely sum of $19. Translation: The people selling these seats are taking losses of $36-$40 per ticket on $55 tickets.

A common argument whenever I bring this subject up is the opportunity to sell tickets to the “big” games at a hefty profit. Yes, that opportunity exists, but one of the main reasons why fans want season tickets in the first place is to be guaranteed seats for Boston, or the Mets, or Philadelphia, or Tampa. Being forced to sell them in order to make up for losses on other games defeats the entire purpose, and the same applies to the postseason. Guaranteed playoff tickets are one of the biggest attractions of season tickets, but some of us would actually like to go to the games, and not sit around monitoring StubHub and figuring out how much we can make.

I’d love to think that the Yankees will have an epiphany and realize that the pricing structure is completely out of whack, similar to what happened with the most expensive seats in the ballpark during the inaugural 2009 season. The thought of hooking up with an old flame again is truly appealing. But I know that sort of thinking is completely unrealistic.

The New York Yankees ticket office is now humble and flexible? Did anyone down in Hell order an ice scraper?

I got an interesting phone call yesterday from none other than the New York Yankees, regarding my cancellation of my season tickets. As I suspected, I am clearly not the only person to go in that direction. The woman I spoke with was thoroughly professional and polite, but judging by the answers to a couple of my questions and some of the concessions she was willing to make, I sensed a trace of desperation.

Section 314, Yankee Stadium

I’m not going to rehash the numerous reasons why I am no longer a season-ticket holder. For those who aren’t regular readers, click here. And while the compromises the Yankees were willing to make were definitely a step in the right direction, they didn’t make enough of a difference in my particular situation (through no fault of the ball club).

But it was almost gratifying to have an organization that has historically conducted itself with extreme arrogance toward its fan base — even in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the team was God-awful — going out of its way to sell tickets like used-car salesmen. For the record, the arrogance comment does not apply to the person who became my personal ticket representative during the migration to the new ballpark. He was always helpful, friendly, and a pleasure to deal with. Sadly, he was the exception.

One of the concessions offered by the Yankees was offering the chance to buy “full” season tickets that didn’t start until the end of April. My guess is that many season-ticket holders complained that it is easier to sell a six-week-old rotting container of potato salad than it is to sell tickets to night games in April against marginal teams in 40-degree weather.

One of my biggest issues with the stadium relocation was the fact that brand-new ticket buyers willing to purchase full-season tickets immediately jumped ahead of longtime plan-holders in the queue. I thought that was a stab in the back, and I still feel that way.

It’s coming back to bite the Yankees in the ass, though. My hunch is that I am far from the only person who was basically forced into buying a full-season plan, and then found that they couldn’t afford it, or that they got tired of acting as de facto ticket brokers on StubHub, or both. The notoriously inflexible Yankees ticket department is suddenly quite flexible.

The funny thing is, when I was a kid, my ultimate dream was to have season tickets to the Yankees. However, when I envisioned those tickets, I also envisioned myself being married, with two kids, a healthy income, and a nice house. The married part came true, and it has been nothing short of outstanding. The kids will hopefully follow soon. But going without a full-time job for nearly two-and-a-half years and blogging for about one-third of my previous salary wasn’t part of that pretty little picture, and it doesn’t help pay for tickets.

And sadly, being a full-season-ticket holder wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Of course, if I experienced a drastic change for the better in my financial situation, I’d jump at the chance to rejoin the club, but I’m not counting on that.

How the mighty have fallen.

Ticketless Basterds: Trying to draft my way out of the fantasy baseball second division

I had my draft Sunday for the fantasy baseball league that I’ve been in the longest. Unfortunately, it’s also the league I’ve had the least success in. And I’m already starting at a disadvantage because we keep three players every season, and my keepers are absolute garbage.

I’m trying to reverse season after season of bad decisions, decisions that seemed good at the time but backfired, injuries, and just about any other form of bad luck that can inflict a fantasy baseball team.

I think I did a better job than last year, but looking back at last year’s draft, I am amazed I didn’t finish in dead last. What a shit show. What the hell was I thinking with some of those picks?

Josh Johnson

Without further ado, I present the 2011 Ticketless Basterds:

Round 1 (keeper): Josh Johnson, SP, FLA: Johnson is the only one of my three keepers who could remotely be considered someone who might be selected in the first three rounds. I traded for him late last season with an eye toward keeping him, and he proved that he belonged on my team by immediately being shut down for the rest of the season. All reports indicate that he’s healthy. He’s a top-level pitcher. Can the Marlins score enough runs when he pitches?

Round 2 (keeper): Alex Rios, OF, CHW: Rios has power and speed, but he is by no means a player who belongs in the first three rounds. Neither was my other keeper (below). My team was so bad last year that, Johnson aside, I was basically choosing from the best cat turds in the litter box.

Round 3 (keeper): B.J. Upton, OF, TB: If potential ever became reality, he would be a legitimate keeper. He has great speed and has shown some power. I’m hoping that being surrounded by a decent Rays lineup will help, and that he finally takes that last step to stardom.

Round 4: Ryan Howard, 1B, PHI: Welcome back, big fella. Players can be kept for three seasons in this league, and I had Howard for almost three, as I traded him late last season. His power numbers will always be there, but, as I’ve learned with Howard, you have to really pay attention when he starts slumping, and you can’t be afraid to bench him. When he hits one of his two-week ruts, they are really, really bad ruts, and production is nonexistent. But when he’s hot, he can carry both the Phillies and the Ticketless Basterds.

Round 5: Jered Weaver, SP, LAA: I have never had elite pitching in this league, and one of my goals coming into this draft was to change that. Johnson and Weaver represent a formidable one-two punch, with strikeouts galore.

Round 6: Pedro Alvarez, 3B, PIT: I probably took him about two rounds too early, but according to my value sheet, he was the only decent third baseman left. He showed a lot in a half-season with the Pirates last year, and I’m banking on continued progress.

Round 7: Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, BOS: Ellsbury, Rios, and Upton should keep me at the higher end in the stolen base category. Ellsbury doesn’t bring too much else to the table, but I really didn’t like the other outfielders available here. As evidenced in my other draft this season, I seem to be allergic to drafting outfielders.

Round 8: Kendrys Morales, 1B, LAA: I generally don’t like taking another player at a position I already have covered (Howard), but he was by far the best player left on the board. I just hope that when Morales added an “s” at the end of his first name, he also added the common sense to not break his fucking leg by jumping into the celebratory pile after a walk-off home run. He’s a great power hitter, and I will plug him into my infield or utility slot, as well as using him to replace Howard when he slumps.

Round 9: Clay Buchholz, SP, BOS: I wanted a strong rotation, and this pick was a big step toward achieving that goal.

Round 10: Brian Roberts, 2B, BAL: His spotty health scares me, but I needed a second baseman, and 75% of Roberts was better than 100% of anyone else left on the list. Of course, he’s already hurt.

Round 11: Phil Hughes, SP, NYY: I didn’t think any of the remaining shortstops or catchers were worth burning a pick for, and I am a big fan of Hughes and believe he gets better with every start.

Round 12: Joe Nathan, RP, MIN: The inevitable run on closers began, and the healthy elite closers were gone by the time I picked, so I opted for gambling on a previously elite closer returning from an injury, rather than a closer with a spotty hold on the job.

Round 13: Josh Beckett, SP, BOS: Beckett cannot possibly be as bad as he was last year, could he? I thought a pick in round 13 was worth finding out.

Round 14: Starlin Castro, SS, CHC: I had him during the latter part of last season, and he was a surprisingly strong producer on a scuffling Cubs team.

Round 15: Joel Hanrahan, RP, PIT: Some reports have him closing, while some lean toward Evan Meek. I needed a second closer, and he was the best of what was left, as long as he gets the job.

Round 16: Edwin Jackson, SP, CHW: He put up very solid numbers last season, and I was surprised he was still available. Granted, he’s not a big-name guy, but I was very happy to get him this late in the draft.

Round 17: Aroldis Chapman, RP, CIN: His talent is unquestionable, but this pick could backfire because it doesn’t look like he’ll start or close. But if he throws a bunch of innings out of the bullpen, the strikeouts will come, along with an occasional win or save.

Round 18: Grady Sizemore, OF, CLE: A pick in round 18 was totally worth gambling on this guy getting healthy. He’s likely starting the season on the DL, but I’m not concerned, yet.

Round 19: Kurt Suzuki, C, OAK: Another returnee who performed very well for my squad last season.

Round 20: Tsuyoshi Nishioka, 2B/SS, MIN: I made this pick based on potential (his only stats are from Japan) and on the fact that I can plug him in for Roberts or Castro. I just hope he’s more like Ichiro and less like Kaz Matsui.

Round 21: Austin Jackson, OF, DET: More steals, and a solid backup outfielder.

Round 22: Koji Uehara, RP, BAL: Another potential closer, and his numbers were excellent last season.

Round 23: Alfonso Soriano, OF, CHC: How the mighty have fallen. I remember when he was actually in the mix for No. 1 overall pick. With Sizemore starting off the year on the DL, I wanted some power to plug in. Hell, it was round 23!

The 2011 Hoboken Nine: Third time a charm? Pick-by-pick analysis of a fantasy baseball draft

Saturday afternoon marked my third draft as a participant in a very competitive fantasy-baseball league made up of Yankee Stadium bleacher creatures and, after fourth-place finishes in 2009 and 2010 — and especially after being knocked out of third place and money on the last day of the 2010 season — I’m hoping to take the next step.

I had pick No. 11 in a 12-team draft, for the second year in a row. The draft order goes back-and-forth, so I pick, the No. 12 team picks twice, I pick again, and then I sit idle for far too long, scratching player after player off my want list. I’m not complaining — it’s pure luck of the draw (in this case, names picked out of a hat), and someone who has been in leagues as long as I have should be able to work out of any draft position. Plus, while the draft is obviously a major component of the fantasy season, moves made during the year can make a difference, as well.

Miguel Cabrera

Without further ado, I present the 2011 edition of the Hoboken Nine:

Round 1, Miguel Cabrera, 1B, DET: For some reason, I have never been a fan of Cabrera, even though he has been a steady, durable fantasy producer. He was by far the best offensive player left on the board at this point, though. If Roy Halladay had been available, I would have considered going against my usual strategy and drafting a starting pitcher in the first round. Felix Hernandez was still up for grabs, but I had a strong feeling I could get him in the second round (it only involved one person passing on him).

Round 2, Felix Hernandez, SP, SEA: For the second consecutive season, King Felix was my second-round pick. He is, without question, a fantastic performer, both in real-life and fantasy ball. But the drawback is that the Mariners are not a strong ball club, so he doesn’t earn as many victories as he should, often losing frustrating 2-1 games. Wins (and saves) are huge in our league, accounting for eight points apiece and often making the difference between an average day or session (two-week periods for which the winner gets cash), and a stellar one. The next pitcher on my board was Cliff Lee, and I just didn’t feel comfortable taking him in the second round.

Round 3, Matt Kemp, CF, LAD: Kemp is coming off a down year, but he puts up numbers in every category, and I’m hoping for a bounce-back year, aided by a new manager for the Dodgers, Don Mattingly. Plus, I didn’t want to make the mistake I made last season, when I waited until the sixth round to draft an outfielder, and the first one I chose turned out to be a disaster (Jason Bay).

Round 4, Jered Weaver, LAA: I really wanted two outfielders with my third and fourth picks, but I just didn’t see fourth-round value in the outfielders who were left, and I thought Hernandez and Weaver represent an incredibly strong 1-2 punch. I had to forgive him for being Jeff Weaver’s brother, but that’s all water under the bridge now.

Round 5, Victor Martinez, C, DET: There are so few quality catchers out there. I didn’t want to overshoot like I did last season, when I took Joe Mauer in the first round and he had a disappointing season, but I couldn’t pass up Martinez here. I believe the Tigers’ lineup will be stellar, and I like having both Cabrera and Martinez, although on the days when the team doesn’t score, I may not quite feel that way.

Round 6, Brandon Phillips, 2B, CIN: Much to my dismay, I am heading down the same path I did last season when it comes to outfielders. But once again, I looked closely at the remaining outfielders and thought I would get much better value out of another position. Phillips is one of the top second basemen and, while I was sad to say goodbye to Ian Kinsler, a member of my first two Hoboken Nine squads, I’m very happy with Phillips.

Round 7, Andrew Bailey, RP, OAK: One of the disadvantages of picking very early or very late is that when a run starts on a specific position, you are often caught at the tail end of it. This happened to me with closers. All the elite closers were gone well before my pick, so I took the best one left. Bailey is far from a slouch, though, so I don’t feel bad about this.

Round 8, Jimmy Rollins, SS, PHI: It seems that at least once every draft, I make a pick that I know I’m going to hate myself for, and Rollins was this season’s entry. Once again, I thought drafting any of the remaining outfielders would be sacrificing value to fill a position, and Rollins was the best shortstop left on the board. He’s also coming off a down year, but I’m hoping that if the Phillies are as successful as everyone is projecting, success will be contagious.

Round 9, Phil Hughes, SP, NYY: I was very happy to fill the No. 3 spot in my rotation with a guy who put up 18 wins last season and seems to be improving more and more with every start. Yes, I am a Yankees fan, so I am slightly biased, but I don’t let my rooting interests get in the way of my fantasy drafting. I thought Hughes was a solid pick here.

Round 10, Mark Reynolds, 3B, BAL: Outfield? What’s an outfield? Reynolds holds the Major League Baseball record for strikeouts in a season, but since strikeouts don’t count against you in fantasy baseball, I chose to ignore the gale-force breezes created by Reynolds’ bat and instead focus on the prospect of someone who has clouted 40 home runs in the past playing at Camden Yards, which has been a home run factory over the years.

Round 11, Nick Markakis, RF, BAL: Markakis and I have an abusive relationship, and I just keep coming back. I have had him on so many fantasy teams, and for the life of me, I still don’t understand how he can play in Camden Yards and not top 20 homers. He’s a solid hitter, but the power numbers just never seem to be there. I thought it might be a good idea to finally start filling in my outfield spots, and he was the best one left, so either he finally develops power, or I hate myself in October.

Round 12, Juan Pierre, LF, CHW: Wow, did I hate this pick. I felt that I had to round out my outfielders here, and that I couldn’t afford to wait until the draft snaked its way back to me, but Pierre is the classic one-category player. The only statistic he is good for is stolen bases, and his on-base percentage sucked last year. As the old baseball cliché goes, you can’t steal first base. I have a strong feeling Pierre will not last long in my starting lineup.

Round 13, Jeremy Hellickson, SP, TB: I seem to have a thing for taking young Devil Rays starting pitchers, as I selected David Price in the 15th round last year, and that couldn’t have possibly turned out better. Price was obviously off the board for quite some time at this point, but Hellickson is a highly touted prospect who moved through the system quickly and pitched well in the Majors after a September call-up, so I feel pretty good about this pick.

Round 14, Colby Rasmus, CF, STL: On the plus side, Rasmus is a solid No. 4 outfielder and option for the utility spot in the lineup. On the minus side, he only qualifies at center field, and Matt Kemp is the only one of my starting outfielders I actually feel good about. I still thought he was the best offensive player left, so I went with him.

Round 15, Matt Thornton, RP, CHW: A secondary closer run had begun, and even though Thornton wasn’t guaranteed the closer’s role, I didn’t like any of the other options. I didn’t know this during the draft (it was announced today), but the White Sox signed Thornton to a two-year extension, which made me feel much better about the pick.

Round 16, Angel Pagan, LF/CF/RF, NYM: Pagan is a solid, steady player who qualifies at all three outfield positions. I thought about taking him instead of Rasmus in round 14, but I had a feeling he would slip another couple of rounds, especially in a room full of people who hate the Mets.

Round 17, Edwin Jackson, SP, CHW: Jackson quietly had a great season last year, and I’m hoping for a repeat. And depth in the starting rotation is always key.

Round 18, Vladimir Guerrero, DH, BAL: I normally don’t like drafting players who only qualify for the utility position, but Guerrero was a sick value this late in the draft, and Camden Yards can only help his numbers.

Round 19, Chase Headley, 3B, SD: I feel much better having Headley to slip into the lineup if Reynolds falters or gets hurt than I would having to scour the waiver wire. Third basemen are hard to come by, even more so as the season goes on.

Round 20, Howie Kendrick, 2B, LAA: Kendrick is a good backup for Phillips and a dark-horse candidate for the utility spot on occasion. He is a very streaky player, and if I can catch one of his hot streaks, I will be very happy.

Round 21, Chris Coghlan, LF, FLA: Coghlan had a very good season, and I have a strong feeling either he or Pagan will replace Pierre in my starting lineup.

Round 22, Evan Meek, RP, PIT: He is the front-runner for the Pirates’ closer job right now and, while the Pirates probably won’t win many games, a likely closer in round 22 isn’t a bad pick.

Round 23, Dallas Braden, SP, OAK: He tailed off big-time after his perfect game, but he’s got good stuff, and I thought he was well worth a flyer this late in the draft. I wonder if I can get him to send me a “Get off my mound” T-shirt.

Round 24, Freddie Freeman, 1B, ATL: I was pleasantly surprised that Freeman was still available in round 24. If he ends up having anywhere near the success of last year’s highly touted Braves prospect, Andrew Heyward, this is a great pick. And if he doesn’t, this is a 24th-round pick.

Round 25, Chris Sale, RP, CHW: This guy has sick, insane stuff, and he has an outside shot at the closer job for the White Sox if Thornton doesn’t work out. The downside to this pick is that if he doesn’t close, he probably won’t start, and will pitch out of the bullpen. Wins and saves are vital in our league, and he may not have much of an opportunity for either. But I thought Sale was a solid gamble for my final pick of the draft.

Once again, I feel like I royally failed when it comes to outfielders, but I’m hoping that’s something I can fix during the season. I’m ecstatic with my rotation, and pretty happy with the rest of my offensive players and my closers. Play ball!

I am now a former New York Yankees season-ticket holder

A long and glorious era ended this afternoon with a quick, painless (but at the same time, incredibly painful) phone call: For the first time since Opening Day of the 1997 Major League Baseball season, I am no longer a New York Yankees season-ticket holder.

I knew my days were numbered when the new Yankee Stadium became a reality. New sports facilities are 100% geared toward corporate clients, leaving the real fan in far worse seats than they enjoyed in the older buildings. Just ask anyone who has upper-deck tickets for the New York Jets or New York Giants. The new Meadowlands Stadium is probably fantastic for those who can afford to shell out the price of a new car for each PSL, and pay exorbitant ticket prices on top of that. But for fans of average means, the upper deck is awful, with “comparable” seats that are actually 40 feet higher and 40 feet further away from the field.

The view from Box 611 at the REAL Yankee Stadium

I had a great run in Box 611 in the real Yankee Stadium. I had my tickets there from 1997-2008, and the Yankees made the playoffs every season except the last one, winning the World Series three consecutive seasons from 1998-2000 (although only clinching the 1999 Fall Classic in the Bronx).

Not only were the seats fantastic, but there was a sense of community in Box 611. Many of the people in the section had the same tickets for years, and I never felt alone at a ballgame on the occasional day or night when I couldn’t find anyone to take my second ticket. We laughed together when the Boston Red Sox choked year after year (until 2004, but let’s not get into that). We cried together when people experienced tragedies, like the loss of the father of one of my best friends during the 1999 World Series. We drank together (BOY, did we drink together!), and we enjoyed the entire experience, whether it was a cold, rainy night against the then-inept Tampa Bay Devil Rays, a beautiful summer afternoon matinee against the hated Red Sox, or time for the intensity of the postseason.

Although the new Yankee Stadium exceeded my expectations when it comes to appearance, the atmosphere has never been the same. As I said earlier, the real fans were pushed higher and further away from the field, leaving embarrassing acres of empty seats on field level, and basically destroying any kind of home-field advantage. Why did this happen? Many fans, myself included, were forced into buying full season tickets in order to get anything resembling a decent location — the seats I was offered to remain in a half-season plan were thoroughly and completely unacceptable. So we all turned into ticket brokers. After all, how many people do you know who can actually go to 81 games, or 41 games?

Since the new ballpark opened its doors, StubHub has been flooded with tickets. Sure, some of them are from people who wouldn’t know a baseball if they swallowed one, and who are just looking to turn a profit. But a healthy chunk of them are from people like myself who are just trying to get some money back on tickets we were basically forced into purchasing and can’t use. The easy access to tickets means two things: Season-ticket holders like myself end up selling tickets at a loss, unless they’re for premium games like the Red Sox, the Philadelphia Phillies, Opening Day, or Old Timer’s Day — you know, exactly the type of games that represent the reason most people buy tickets in the first place. And the number of opposing fans in the ballpark borders on irritating.

The view from Section 314 at the new Yankee Stadium

Another side effect of the StubHub frenzy: Unlike the community feel of Box 611, there is zero sense of community in the new Yankee Stadium. I went to about 30 games in my 2010 seats in section 314, and I recognized people in the section a handful of times, if it was even that many. Every time I struck up a conversation with someone in seats around me, the answer was the same: “Oh, yeah, I bought them on StubHub.” Managing the season tickets became a part-time job, and an often unrewarding job, at that.

I’m far from alone in feeling this way. Ross Sheingold from NYY Stadium Insider expressed many of the same frustrations in his very well-written blog post.

However, when all is said and done, the main reason why I didn’t keep the tickets was simple: I have been unemployed since October 2008 and, while I have been making some money by blogging, it’s nowhere near enough to justify buying the tickets. I refuse to let a balance accumulate on my credit card unless it’s an absolute, critical, unavoidable emergency, which Yankees tickets don’t qualify as, no matter how much I love having them. A lot of my friends who were regulars are in equally crappy situations where they can’t get to anywhere near the number of games they used to attend. And my wife and I are trying to start a family, which will add more strain to an already-stretched budget, leaving no room for the kind of financial commitment the Yankees require.

Still, if the Yankees were still playing in the original ballpark across the street, I know things would be different. If I still had my seats in Box 611, I’d fight tooth and nail to keep them. My wife and I never, ever fight, but if Box 611 were still in the picture, the truce may have been broken. I just don’t have the same passion for my seats in the new Yankee Stadium. I hate saying this, but they simply weren’t worth fighting for.

I’ll still go to a bunch of games, via StubHub, tickets from friends, and what-not. But not having season tickets for the first time since 1997 feels like a divorce. It’s been a part of my fabric for so long, that there’s just an empty feeling right now. This sucks.

Box 611, missed more and more with every passing day 😦

A boring Monday night suddenly turns into one hour of absolute craziness: Why I LOVE sports

This past Monday night, I settled into the recliner, laptop at the ready, to watch the two Monday Night Football games (the Giants-Vikings game got moved to Monday night, and to Ford Field in Detroit, due to the collapse of the Metrodome roof in Minneapolis) and monitor my two fantasy-football playoff match-ups.

Derrick Mason

I had pretty much given up on one, as I went into the night five points down with only Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin remaining, while my opponent had two stellar running backs: Ray Rice of the Ravens and Ahmad Bradshaw of the Giants. My suspicions were correct: I got smoked.

But in my other league, I had a lead of around 13 points (stupid Yahoo! leagues and their fractions of points) and the better Ravens WR, Derrick Mason, while my opponent had Matt Schaub, the quarterback for the Texans.

Things started going my way, as Mason caught a touchdown pass, while the Ravens’ defense absolutely smothered the Texans. Mason caught his second touchdown pass early in the second half, and I had a lead of more than 20 points, so I felt pretty safe and confident.

And then, suddenly, the big, bad Baltimore Ravens defense absolutely forgot how to play football. Schaub started completing pass after pass, including two for touchdowns. I still had a lead, and the Ravens had the ball with just over two minutes to go, facing a third-and-two. The Texans had no time-outs remaining, and the Ravens had been running the ball down their throats, so I figured they’d dial up one more running play, pick up the first down, and kill the clock, both on the Texans and my fantasy opponent.

I figured wrong. They attempted a pass on third-and-two that was nowhere near complete, stopping the clock and putting the ball back in the hands of the red-hot Schaub, who then proceeded to march the Texans down the field, cutting into my lead in the process. I quickly calculated that as long as he didn’t throw another touchdown pass, I’d barely hold on, but the Baltimore defense was completely gassed, and he found a wide-open receiver in the end zone, making the score Ravens 28, Texans 26, and giving my fantasy opponent the lead.

Now I had to switch gears and root for the Texans to make the two-point conversion, even if Schaub was involved, because if they didn’t convert, the Ravens would just run out the clock and, while they would win, I would lose. The Texans converted, and the Ravens just killed the clock, setting up overtime.

Cliff Lee

While all of this was going on, I had Seesmic, the Twitter client I use, up and running, and noticed a trickle of Tweets about Cliff Lee, that quickly became a steady stream, and then a downpour. And I’m talking about Tweets from legitimate sportswriters, not dumb-assed fans.

First, news broke that a third team was in the running, joining the Yankees and Rangers. Then came word that the Yankees were out. It was revealed that the Phillies were the third team and, moments later, winners of the Cliff Lee bidding, and Tweets galore spelled out contract terms, his reasons for picking Philadelphia, and what-not.

So, while dying a slow fantasy-football death, I was also following the Cliff Lee saga, and I was very disappointed, although not the least bit angry, that he didn’t sign with the Yankees. Meanwhile, in the football game, the Ravens got the ball first in overtime and did nothing with it, punting and pinning the Texans deep in their own territory. I was still down about two points, and it wasn’t looking good at all.

Suddenly, lightning struck and, for once, it was in my favor. Schaub dropped back to pass out of his own end zone and threw a perfect bullet, right into the hands of Ravens defensive back Josh Wilson, who returned it for a game-ending touchdown. The final score was Ravens 34, Texans 28, but, much more important for yours truly, I consulted our league rules and discovered that interceptions mean a loss of three points for quarterbacks, meaning that my fantasy squad had just clutched victory from the jaws of defeat. The final score that really mattered was 124.54-123.22. And yes, Yahoo! really needs to lose the fractions.

Everything I just wrote about took place in roughly one hour, and nights like this are why I will always be a rabid sports fan. The emotional roller-coaster ride was fantastic, and I was both burned out and refreshed when the final whistle blew on my evening, despite the split decision (winning my fantasy-football playoff game, but the Yankees losing out on Cliff Lee). To the sports haters: Can opera do that? I don’t think so.