Millions of rabid New York Yankees fans, many with overstuffed bank accounts and outsized fine-trimmed lawns, and not a one has sprung for a prized piece of memorabilia that would turn a front yard into the coolest ballyard on the block.
The 20-by-20-foot section of turf behind home plate at the old Yankee Stadium, spray-painted with the interlocking white "NY", was considered so precious by the team and memorabilia partner Steiner Sports that after the stadium was demolished two years ago it was covertly transplanted to the premises of DeLea Sod Farms on Long Island.
"It's kept at a top-secret location separate from the rest of the stadium grass," says Jim DeLea, the company's owner. "Everybody was worried that an overzealous Yankee fan might go looking for it."
The Yankees might have overestimated the zealotry. The turf is still there, unsold, and sod shoppers walk past it daily, oblivious to its purported value because grass grows and the spray paint has long since been mowed. The same goes for at least half the 100,000 square feet of stadium sod put up for sale in one-square-foot, $120 pieces, the price point of a new pair of top-drawer sneakers. It's tended to by DeLea, who admits, "It's no longer the blades of grass A-Rod ran across."
Steiner and the Yankees won't divulge how well other stadium memorabilia is selling, including the 50,000 or so seats, priced from $400 to $1,500. Foul poles were shaved into tiny, marketable pieces. Lockers and home plates and bricks from Monument Park and letters from the marquee outside the stadium are for sale. So is dirt.
As the two-year anniversary of the demolition approaches, commemorated by a highly watchable National Geographic documentary in its "Break It Down," series, much of the memorabilia sits on shelves.
The Yankees paid the City of New York $11.5 million for the rights to all stadium memorabilia before the demolition, prompting an outcry that taxpayers had been fleeced, that the Yankees would make as much as 10 times that amount selling the stuff off.
The franchise has likely recouped the $11.5 million -- the 50,000 square feet of sod sold brought in about $6 million alone -- but for all the work it took to remove, label and authenticate each item, it's probably safe to say the team that most exemplifies greed in baseball hasn't made the killing it envisioned.
Not yet, anyway. In the quirky world of sports memorabilia, perhaps slow sales aren't the worst scenario.
"We do have inventory left, but some of this stuff will become more valuable over time," says AJ Romeo, Steiner Sports' director of team partnerships. "We're still creating new products, mixing and matching."
Some of the seats have been turned into office chairs and bar stools. Next up will be a replica of the front façade of the stadium's ancient Gate 4, constructed out of pieces of the iconic frieze that circled the top of the bleachers.
As for the leftover sod, Steiner and the Yankees have come to the realization that selling outfield grass two years after the fact compromises authenticity. Romeo says the company has stopped selling the one-by-one pieces, although a shopper can still stumble onto an ad for it on the Steiner and Toys "R" Us websites. Smaller pieces of freeze-dried sod, however, are still actively marketed.
As for the 20-by-20 patch that once included the NY logo, if any fan musters up $50,000 of zealotry, Steiner would contact DeLea, who would carefully cut and roll the sod and dispatch it via overnight mail, along with a stencil for the logo and a couple cans of spray paint. Authenticity is assured by hologram chips embedded in the topsoil.
The new owner would have to shake the cans and do the painting himself.