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Official Review by David Hanson, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Tucked away in a remote nook of the Baker Athletic Complex at the northernmost tip of Manhattan on 218th Street, Robertson Field at Satow Stadium is home to the Columbia Lions baseball team. Befitting Manhattan’s trademark space-efficient design, Satow Stadium abuts the school’s football stadium, Wien Stadium, along the third base side and the softball field and parking lot along the first base side. The outfield wall borders Spuyten Duyvil Creek, which connects the Hudson and Harlem Rivers, and the Marble Hill neighborhood of the Bronx serves as the backdrop for fans, catchers, and batters.
The Baker Athletic Complex opened in 1921, though it is unclear which year the baseball stadium opened. It is certain, however, that America’s first televised sporting event was held there in 1939, a Columbia-Princeton contest at what was then known as Andy Coakley Field. Coakley, a member of the 1908 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs (he did not play in the Series), coached a young Lou Gehrig at Columbia, though Gehrig’s time at the school occurred when the team was still playing at South Field, now part of Columbia’s campus approximately 100 blocks south of the current stadium.
Andy Coakley Field was renovated in 2007 and re-named Robertson Field in honor of 1981 graduate Harold Robertson, a football and baseball player in his time at Columbia. In 2010 Columbia honored Phillip Satow, a 1963 graduate and Lion baseball player, by dubbing the diamond Robertson Field at Satow Stadium.
Satow Stadium has four sections (plus one additional strip of two seats per row) with seven rows each of stadium-style plastic seats. The playing surface is FieldTurf, which makes sense given the cold Northeast climate, as it is not conducive to early spring grass growth. The seats, field, and press box are very modern and professional, as are the dugouts. The seats are asymmetrically located from the 7 o’clock position of home plate to approximately half-way up the first base line, with plenty of room to stand on the stadium’s wide concourse. The seats on the first base side abut the fence, while those behind the plate and to the left are slightly farther away. The outfield features a full-color scoreboard displaying photos of each batter as his personal walk-up music plays over the stadium’s PA system.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There is no food or drink for sale at Satow. A deli and coffee shop are located across 218th Street from the main entrance to the Baker Complex, a few hundred yards from the Satow entrance. These are the closest places to get anything to eat or drink.
Fans are allowed to bring in any food they would like. Though alcohol is specifically banned, one otherwise well-behaved fan was spotted drinking beer in his seat out of a blue plastic Solo cup. A few fans set up tables to eat and drink in the parking lot, though this was far from an SEC football-style tailgate scene. Many fans arrived with coffee and other hot drinks on this snowy March day.
There is not a single bad seat in Satow Stadium, though there are only approximately 360 of them. Because the seats are so close to the field, and because you wouldn't have to raise your voice very much for everyone in the stands to hear you, there is a small feeling of community to the proceedings. The security staff, who appear to be student volunteers, are friendly and non-intrusive.
Columbia has an interesting 147-year baseball history. Unfortunately, you would never know it from visiting Satow Stadium. There is nary a mention of Andy Coakley or Lou Gehrig to be found, and even the plaques commemorating Robertson and Satow themselves are located on a ramp to the visitor's dugout on the third base side that is closed to spectators. The only acknowledgement of previous Columbia teams comes in the form of dates signifying NCAA Tournament appearances and Ivy League Championships on the outfield walls.
The field at Satow is sunken below the rest of the broader complex, and both baselines feature tall, unsightly cement walls running nearly to each foul pole. The walls serve as a not-so-subtle reminder that this stadium is crammed very tightly into a much larger complex in America's most densely-populated metro area. The stadium is also dwarfed to the left by Robert Kraft Field at Lawrence Wein Stadium, the school's 17,000-seat football stadium, which also serves Columbia's lacrosse and track and field teams.
The visitor's dugout is cut into the wall on the third base side, nestled below the track surrounding the football field. These physical limitations, coupled with the strange outfield configuration (the center field fence is actually closer than the left and right field walls) dictated by an unswimmable river combine to give the stadium a somewhat claustrophobic feel.
Compared to most of the country, the area surrounding Satow Stadium is teeming with options for pre and postgame dining or entertainment. Compared to the rest of Manhattan though, the area is fairly quiet. The stadium is located in the Inwood neighborhood at the northern tip of Manhattan, far from the hustle and bustle of New York City's more touristy areas. Even the heart of Columbia's campus sits a cool 100 blocks (5.5 miles) to the south, which seems to preclude students with no personal ties to any players from attending. Anything you would come from somewhere else and visit Manhattan to do is a long subway ride away.
The neighborhood feels very safe, but aside from the deli and coffee shop on 218th Street, everything in sight of the Baker Athletic Complex entrance is fairly industrial, including several auto-body shops, closed storefronts, and raised train tracks running above Broadway, the closest major thoroughfare. Within a five-minute walk down Broadway are a handful of restaurants and sports bars. A few grocery stores are also only a few minutes away by foot.
Crowds typically attract a friends and family-heavy affair, with a few faculty types in the mix, as well. The aforementioned tailgaters mostly appeared to be parents and younger siblings of players on either team. All that said, the chatter mostly revolves around baseball (though not necessarily the game being played) and the crowd cheers loudly at every hit and third out.
While a small-time Ivy League baseball crowd doesn't have the same atmosphere as those you might find at South Carolina or UCLA or some other baseball powerhouse, there are moments that remind you that college kids are college kids, no matter their school's Princeton Review ranking. During a recent visit, a group of five young men sat together in the sixth of seven rows behind home plate. One of them asked the others where he could get a tin of Skoal and, upon receiving no helpful answers, demonstratively said he would "get a pledge" to bring him one. About 20 minutes later, a young man in a black North Face jacket arrived to deliver a tin of dip to the requesting gentleman. Some things never change.
Parking is free at the Baker Athletic Complex, and the 54-space parking lot is located adjacent to the Satow Stadium entrance. Softball and women's lacrosse games may also be taking place at the same time as the Columbia baseball game, and there should still be empty parking spaces available. Parking at the far end of the lot closest to the softball field is not advised, as multiple foul balls land there.
As with all things in Manhattan, parking is not the true measure of access. The complex is located within an eight-minute walk from the uptown terminus of the A-train, which runs (mostly) express down the island's west side to Midtown and beyond, including JFK International Airport. The 1 train, which runs local from the Bronx to South Ferry at the southern tip of Manhattan, is also a short walk from the complex and stops every 8 blocks or so through Harlem and the Upper West Side. Because of its frequent stops, the 1 train takes much longer to reach Midtown Manhattan than the A, which reaches Port Authority in just over 30 minutes (the A also stops at Penn Station for those arriving on Amtrak, Long Island Railroad, New Jersey Transit, and elsewhere). To get from Satow to Columbia's campus, one can take the A seven stops to 125th Street and then either transfer to the B or C to go one stop to 116th Street or simply walk from 125th Street.
There are no bathrooms at Satow Stadium, though the bathrooms at the football stadium are located in clear sight of the Satow entrance and are well-marked and decently maintained. From the most distant seat at Satow, the walk to the bathroom can be accomplished in less than 90 seconds. The stadium is also wheelchair accessible, and the concourse is in plain sight of the field.
Admission and parking are both free, so any investment is one of time and $2.75 for a subway fare (for those who do not drive). Despite the stadium's cramped configuration, the stadium has its charms. Free double-sided programs with Columbia's schedule and the rosters of each team are available in a small stand by the entrance, and everyone is free to sit wherever they please. When Satow's 360-odd seats are full, there is ample room to stand and a set of bleachers is located at the edge of the football stadium overlooking the diamond. The fans are friendly and, at times, fairly involved. The feeling of attending a Columbia game as someone with no ties to either team or school is fairly odd, as nearly every fan seems to personally know at least one player. There is also a certain lack of attention to detail, as a baseball and a lacrosse ball were found in the stands that nobody seemed to know what to do with. Random equipment, specifically the netting that protects batting practice pitchers, is simply left in the spectator area.
What you see is what you get at Satow Stadium, and you don't see a lot. There aren't really any extras to speak of.
Hardcore stadium chasing aside, there is really no reason to attend a game here if you don't have any ties to Columbia or the opponent, and the stadium is located in a remote area (by Manhattan standards). The Baker Athletic Complex itself is fairly charm free, essentially a larger scale version of a suburban high school with chain link fences everywhere. That said, if you're a real baseball junkie and live in New York City, admission is free and Satow Stadium is just a subway ride away.
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