Yankee Stadium was transformed from a baseball field into a football stadium for the Rivalry 150 game. (Kelsey Alpaio/ B&W Photo)

The transformation of Yankee Stadium

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Crowds from all around engulfed the historic Yankee Stadium in a mixture of brown, maroon and white Nov. 23 as Lehigh and Lafayette squared off in the 150th game in their storied rivalry.

Yankee Stadium is home to one of baseball’s most celebrated franchises: the New York Yankees. During their more-than-100-year history, the Yankees have won 27 World Series titles. Since 1976, the Yankees have called the Bronx home. In the original Yankee Stadium, they captured six World Series titles before unveiling their new $1.5 billion stadium in 2009.

The new complex provided a historic stage to match this keystone game in the longest rivalry in college football. However, converting the baseball diamond into a football field is no easy task for the members of the Yankee Stadium grounds crew. The process required several weeks of preparation for the historic game.

For all football games, the end zones are placed by home plate and in the outside, respectively. This layout allows for the greatest amount of space. The two primary concerns for the grounds crew are the baseball infield and dugouts. The infield in major league stadiums is groomed to perfection to ensure the highest level of performance for the players. A baseball infield consists of both grass and dirt, with the dirt representing the base paths. To prepare for a football game, the grounds crew digs out the infield and replaces it with sod.

Dugouts, where baseball players sit during the games, also need to be dug out to guarantee more space on the field. This is a labor-intensive, time-consuming process. However, the Yankee Stadium staff is not fazed.

“We are proud to work with the greatest grounds crew not only in Major League Baseball, but in sports,” said Emily Hamel, executive director of non-baseball events for Yankee Stadium. “Our grounds crew works very diligently to transform that field. They are very good at their craft.”

Since its opening in 2009, the grounds crew has had its fair share of experiences with transforming the baseball diamond into a football field. Their first football game was in 2010, when the Notre Dame University Fighting Irish defeated the Army Black Knights 27-3. In 2011, the Black Knights were back at Yankee Stadium and fell to the Rutgers University Scarlet Knights 27-12. Finally, Yankee Stadium has played host to the Pinstripe Bowl, an annual bowl game between playoff-bound teams, since 2010. This year, the representatives will be from the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and Big Ten Conference.

“They have perfected this over our last few football games,” Hamel said.

According to Hamel, one of the greatest difficulties the grounds crew faces is weather. Due to the fragility of the infield sod and the outfield grass, it is necessary to be diligent and careful to ensure that the field is not damaged. Consequently, weather conditions such as snow and rain present difficulties in the process. Leaving the grounds crew several weeks for preparation safeguards against these circumstances so they do not alter the arrangement for the game in any way.

While Saturday provided a once-in-a-lifetime experience for players and fans alike, it was just another day in the office for Yankee Stadium employees. Hamel said that employees arrived at around 8 a.m. Saturday to begin the process of preparing for the game. Such tasks included unloading equipment and placing it in locker rooms for the teams.

“It’s just another day here at Yankee Stadium,” Hamel said. “Everyone is working together to make that happen.”

Those who were fortunate enough to be among the 48,000 fans, alumni and players at Saturday’s game had an experience that they will never forget, regardless of the score. With fans sporting their respective colors and rallying with playful, crazy chants, the atmosphere at Yankee Stadium was certainly one that fans will remember for a long time.

Watching the game at the legendary Yankee Stadium, where some of baseball’s greatest icons have left their mark, served as an appropriate stage for the most-played rivalry in college football.

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