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Opening Day at Yankee Stadium – Everything Perfect but the Score

By Brian | April 17, 2009 | Share on Facebook

As I predicted in my post about Citi Field’s Opening Day, the New York Yankees once again showed Major League Baseball, and the world, what it means to have an historic team in an historic ballpark.

The day began with the West Point Marching Band playing John Phillip Sousa marches out in centerfield (back in 1923, Sousa himself led a band into centerfield of the original Yankee Stadium, playing his famous marches). Then, a familiar voice from a missing friend. Bob Sheppard (recorded) saying, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Welcome to the New Yankee Stadium,” which is what he used to say back in 1976, after the renovation, when I used to go see games there as a kid. If you’re a Yankee fan, you’ll understand how special that was. If you’re not, I’ll never be able to explain it to you.

Then there was John Fogerty performing “Centerfield” on a guitar shaped like a baseball bat, while video of some of the Yankees’ most famous centerfielders ran on the big screen – Bobby Murcer (who, having passed away recently, was on everyone’s mind amidst all the hoopla), Joe DiMaggio (who is mentioned in the song), Mickey Mantle, and Bernie Williams.

Then Bernie Williams himself took up his familiar position in centerfield, this time to play his own, classical-guitar arrangement of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

After that, forty-six Yankee greats, spanning from the 1940′s to the 2000′s, took the field. Forty-six. As a reminder, the Mets fielded exactly two: Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza, one of whom went to the press box after the ceremony and the other of whom went home to “spend more time with his family.” In contrast, at least one former Yankee, David Wells, took a seat in the bleachers and had some beers with the fans (yes, Virginia, you can drink beer in the Yankee Stadium bleachers again).

The present followed the past, as both the visiting Cleveland Indians and the hometown Yankees were introduced. Then, Kelly Clarkson sang a stirring rendition of the National Anthem, complete with giant American flag and fighter jet flyover (the Mets, need I remind you, had a bunch of unknown Broadway singers, improperly mic’ed).

Then, the game began. The pitching rubber and home plate were the same ones used in the last game at the previous Yankee Stadium, and were removed after this game for immediate placement in the Yankees Museum, located on the premises of the new Yankee Stadium. One might have thought the pomp and circumstance was over at this point, but no – the Yankees had one more trick up their sleeves. On loan from Dr. Richard Angrist of Point Pleasant, NJ, owner of the largest game-used baseball bat collection in the world, was the bat that Babe Ruth used to hit the first homerun in Yankee Stadium back in 1923. It was laid down across homeplate and announced. Derek Jeter, the Yankee Captain and leadoff hitter, picked it up and jokingly handed his actual bat to the bat boy, as if he was going to hit with the Bambino’s lumber.

Perhaps my favorite moment of the day, though, was when the bat boy brought the Babe’s bat back into the dugout. Every Yankee on the bench picked it up and feigned a couple of practice swings with it – as if just holding it in their hands might help conjure some of the Babe’s magic. Even Hideki Matsui (the “Babe Ruth of Japan”) took a turn examining the artifact.

The game itself was a genuine pitcher’s duel until the seventh inning, when Jose Veras and Demaso Marte joined together to give up 9 runs, including a grand slam homerun to Grady Sizemore and turn the game into a rout.

As for the “firsts:” Johnny Damon got the first hit. Jorge Posada got the first homerun. People lamented that it wasn’t Jeter, but he’s already redeemed himself by hitting a game-winning homerun in today’s game (#2 in the new Stadium) in the bottom of the 8th inning, paving the way for Mariano Rivera’s first appearance and first save.

And as for the rest of the comparisons to the Mets: the first visiting batter did not hit a homerun. The first Yankees pitcher to fall off the mound is an as-of-yet unclaimed honor, as is the first Yankee pitcher to balk in the winning run.  The Yankees have yet to see their first random animal running around the field during the game, and we haven’t had any reports of fans who can’t see the field from their seats.

One can only dream…

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