By RONALD BLUM
AP Baseball Writer
NEW YORK -- At the new Yankee Stadium, the best seats in the house have turned out to be the emptiest.
The most expensive spots in America's costliest ballpark have become an embarrassment packing a financial sting to the proud New York Yankees, as the Legends Suite section in the infield has been filled only once in the six games since the $1.5 billion stadium opened last week.
On most days, the seats that cost $500-$2,500 as part of season tickets and go up to $2,625 for individual games haven't been close to full. And as TV cameras pick up the patchy attendance with every pitch, it serves as a little tweak to the nation's richest baseball franchise.
"We're done talking about seats," Yankees president Randy Levine said Wednesday. "We're not talking about seats."
But fans sure notice.
"It's been pretty phenomenal," said Aaron Feldstein, a native Californian who lived in Brooklyn for a couple of years and now resides in Baltimore. He was part of the far-from-sellout crowd at the Yankees' 9-7 victory in 14 innings Wednesday over the Oakland Athletics on a showery, cold afternoon. The Legend Suite section was about 80 percent empty, and the upper decks -- which have been mostly full -- were a quarter empty.
"I remember watching and you couldn't find an empty seat at Yankee Stadium. And now right behind home plate there's 15 to 20," said the 29-year-old Feldstein, who scored a free ticket from a friend behind home plate -- an area that costs $325 as part of season tickets.
Another snapshot of the problem:
A count by The Associated Press totaled 1,895 seats in the Legends Suite, of which 146 were in the front row from dugout to dugout, costing $2,500 as season tickets and $2,625 individually.
-- On Tuesday night, only 64 of the 146 seats at the top price level were occupied in the bottom of the second inning. The outermost Legends Suite sections, which each contain 90 seats, were entirely empty until two fans finally emerged to sit in them during the late innings.
-- On Wednesday, in the third inning, just 37 of the highest-priced, front-row seats were occupied, although it was impossible to know if some fans had taken shelter in stadium restaurants.
Yet another sign of how the best seats have been overpriced is their resale level.
Legends Suite seats in section 27B, row 2, down the left-field line that originally sold for $500 were available for $225 early Wednesday on the online ticket broker StubHub.com. Tickets in section 23, row 7, behind the visitors' dugout could be had for $263, down from their $850 original price.
"Yeah, we understand it's not full. We actually understand why it's not," left fielder Johnny Damon said. "It's tough for, you know, business owners to justify those seats. It's either have those seats or lay off people from work, and I think that during this tough time, people are going to want to put it back into their companies and put it back into people instead of spending that type of money for seats."
A stadium built in boom times -- with top-end seats that give fans access to private clubs and an upscale duplex buffet from white-toqued chefs at carving stations -- the Yankees' front office doesn't seem to have counted on the recession dampening enthusiasm for the storied franchise.
The team refuses to talk about the financial impact of the empty seats, but if every spot in the Legends Suite were sold, the club would gross $1.63 million per game, according to AP's calculation.
"I think if anybody in any business had known where this economy was going to go, they would have done things differently," Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said before the team's first workout at the ballpark on April 2.
"Look, there's no doubt small amounts of our tickets might be overpriced. You know, we're continuing to look into that. But the bottom line is, the vast majority of them, it seems like they're right on because we've sold 35,000 full season equivalents, and a lot of the tickets have, you know, sold quite well."
MSNBC broadcaster Keith Olbermann, who owns $850-a-game Legends Suite season tickets in the seventh row between the dugouts, noted that the downturn has put the Yankees in a tricky position.
"I don't think this was foreseeable when they priced it. I don't think that it was foreseeable when we bought it," he said. "The question becomes what happens as the economy rebounds. To what degree does the economy have to rebound before that type of spending resumes?"
And what do the Yankees do until then? Drop prices now and anger fans who paid (very) top dollar? Or wait, endure the ribbing, and wonder what the effect on the actual game is?
All those empty cushioned seats with teak armrests translate to less crowd noise, making Yankee Stadium a less-intimidating place to play.
Oakland's Jason Giambi, who spent seven seasons with the Yankees, said the new stadium is "kind of bigger and more spread out than the other one."
In the old ballpark, it felt as if the fans "were on top of you," he said. "That made old Yankee Stadium so great."