First playoff set at new Stadium historic
Yankees faithful flock to ballpark to be part of excitement
NEW YORK -- The sign carried by a face-painted Yankees fan said it all -- "2009: Back and Better than Ever."
As the Bronx faithful flooded the new Yankee Stadium on Wednesday afternoon, ready to make history in the Bombers' first playoff game in their brand-new ballpark, there was a special feeling in the windy October air.
"I just keep thinking what it's going to be like 50 years from now and how you can say you were at the first game," said Robert Cole of Hackensack, N.J. "It would be pretty cool to be at the game in 1923 when the other stadium opened. Hopefully, [the Yankees] win, but either way, it's going to be great."
For some fans, it was a mix of nostalgia and excitement, as the remnants of the historic old Yankee Stadium are just a stone's throw away on River Avenue.
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"It feels a little bit different, we're so used to the [ballpark] across the street," said Colen Reiser, a 15-year season-ticket holder clad in Yankees apparel. "But it is the inaugural postseason, so that's really exciting."
The Westchester, N.Y., native showed up for Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Twins hours before the gates even opened, and he was joined by his brother, Marc, at the legendary Stan's Sports Bar.
"The fans have been let down the last few years," said Marc. "So I think everybody has the feeling that the Yankees are going to [win the World Series] this year."
The Yankees' playoff "drought" lasted just one season, in 2008, but it was enough for native New Yorkers to get restless. This year's team overcame a slow start and roared to the AL East title with a 103-59 regular-season record.
As fans lined up to get into the gates and swarmed souvenir shops for the latest Yankees trinkets, there was a contagious confidence with each purchase of a "Mission October" T-shirt purchase or a shiny new AL East championship hat. Those in attendance for Wednesday's historic game were confident second-year manager Joe Girardi could deliver the promise on the back of his jersey: World Series championship No. 27.
"I'm ready for our next world championship," said Bronx native Frank Prudenti.
A former bat boy with the Yankees from 1956-61, Prudenti got a firsthand look at some of New York's legendary teams, and was confident the '09 club could cement an equal place in history.
"This is the first step," Prudenti said. "We have 11 giant steps, and this is step No. 1 to our 27th title. And I'm very much looking forward to it. What a great way to open up the new Yankee Stadium and start a great tradition. But we have to win."
And while fans' predictions ranged from a tough five-game battle to a three-game sweep of the Twins, there was one thing they all agreed on: 2009 is the Yankees' year.
"We are hungry," Kenneth Do said. "It's a drought. Imagine [Derek] Jeter, how devastated he must have been [missing the playoffs last season]. It seems like the rite of October for him to be in the playoffs every year. It was a nightmare last year. But for this series, the fan atmosphere will be double what it was before. I have no doubt."
True to Do's word, the "Let's go Yankees" chants started around 4 p.m. ET and didn't let up, stopping only to listen to their beloved pinstriped players being announced on the field.
"I think Joe DiMaggio is the one that said it, 'Thank God that God was a Yankee fan,'" said Prudenti. "Because God is a Yankee fan. This team is blessed with players like Jeter and some of the guys we picked up [in the offseason] like [Mark] Teixeira and [Nick] Swisher -- they all come through for us.
"It's truly a special thing."
Brittany Ghiroli is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.