History teeming at new Yankee Stadium
Mystique, aura on display in Bronx as Yanks open at home
NEW YORK -- The only real chill on this spectacular and sunny mid-April day in the Big Apple was the one going down fans' and players' spines.
It happened everywhere you looked at Yankee Stadium on Thursday.
Not even a nine-run seventh inning for the visitors could change that.
"Today was about the new stadium," said Eddie Zeto, who made the four-hour drive with his wife Kim from Westchester, Pa., to see history happen. "It's insane. My wife bought us these tickets on MLB.com last Christmas, and it's the best gift I've ever had. It's a long enough wait for a baseball season, anyway, but especially for this. It wasn't about the score, it was about seeing a brand-new Yankee Stadium."
The 30th and final Major League Baseball home opener was finally here, Indians vs. Yankees, and John Fogerty came out to center field and serenaded everyone with "Centerfield." There were chills when Bernie Williams appeared on the giant screen behind him, and then the popular former center fielder for the Bronx Bombers came out onto the same spot and performed the same guitar version of "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" that appears on his new album.
Then, suddenly, fans started to chant "Ber-nie Wil-liams!" and everyone knew that it was just beginning. The pregame ceremony was about to go into full chill overdrive, with appearances by so many greats of the past. Fans realized right there and then that it was not really about a new ballpark, but it was about tradition.
The introduction of Yankees alumni began at 12:30, followed by the baseline introductions of the Yankees and Indians uniformed personnel. Then there was an introduction of the giant American flag, unfurled by West Point cadets, a flyover by the 174th Fighter Wing, presentation of colors by the NYPD/FDNY Color Guard, and the first national anthem by Kelly Clarkson.
She hit such a high note on the word "wave," it captured exactly the moment.
It's hard to imagine life without a Yankee Stadium. There has to be one, for those who love the Yankees and even for those who hate them. It represents the most famous franchise of the sport, and now it represents new beginnings.
"It's a new stadium, but I think they did a great job of bringing the characteristics over here," said Yankees captain Derek Jeter, who had the last Yankees at-bat in the old stadium and the first one here against reigning American League Cy Young winner Cliff Lee. "I think that has to do with our fans. I would expect it to be the same atmosphere here."
It is on this day, and that is what was most noticeable about being here. It is the gradual filling of the beautiful blue seats with Yankees fans, those who demand postseasons. It is those former Yanks who came out onto the field, and that very personal feeling that each fan gets over seeing different ones. This stadium is drenched in tradition, in the form of relocated Monument Park, the Yankee Museum, the Great Hall banners and more.
One of those legendary figures was here to throw the first pitch, and that would be the immortal Yogi Berra. He was told that Tom Seaver had just thrown the first pitch at Citi Field three nights earlier after working on his mechanics and even throwing in the bullpen to warm up. How did the Hall of Fame catcher plan to do this?
"I didn't even know I was gonna throw the first pitch," he said. "I hope I can make it reach. I'm gonna cheat, I know that."
He stood between the mound and home and threw one that hopped in, but did anyone really care? No. Yogi Berra was on the field at Yankee Stadium.
People around the Yankees still buzz about the stupendous clubhouses here, and Yogi was asked about that giant space for his pinstriped successors. "They got too much room in the clubhouse," he said. "To me, if you want to talk to a guy, you gotta walk half a mile."
The first words out of Yogi's mouth when he sat down in the interview room before the game actually were these:
"OK, let's go."
They were very appropriate.
That is it feels around Yankee Universe right now. It was a long winter of talking about the new ballpark and wondering about tickets and seats. They had the two-game exhibition with the Cubs last weekend for everyone to get acclimated, but it was just a tease. This was about as late as you could ever imagine playing a home opener, April 16, and after Seattle made it the 29th home opener, finally it was the Bombers' turn.
Cleveland was almost an afterthought this morning to many people here. There was so much to see, so much Yankee history to relive, so much buildup and anticipation and chills -- and then suddenly it is just baseball.
Sabathia vs. Grady Sizemore. Former Cleveland teammates at this time last year.
"I've never been a huge Opening Day guy," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "I think it's more for the fans and baseball enthusiasts. But this is different here. I'm a big believer in the history of baseball and how it affects our American history, and it's even international now. With the old Yankee Stadium and what it's meant to the game of baseball, to be here at the first game ever at the new ballpark, I'd be lying if I said it's not special. It's special to the game."
Everything is special about this day at new Yankee Stadium. The sun is shining. The chill is going down your spine again and again. George Steinbrenner was spotted in his box on the big screen, and he was applauded and then it showed the words "Pride of the Yankees." There is history teeming everywhere here. The franchise with 26 world championships has begun its home schedule, and now at last it is time for routines and regular baseball.
Sabathia threw a ball outside to Sizemore.
Bernie played his guitar in the outfield.
"Let's Go, Yankees!" was heard in a new acoustic setting.
The roll call was shouted from the bleachers in right.
Look at me, I can be, center field.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.