04/16/09 9:00 PM ET
Stadium's debut a success, result aside
Many marvel as fan favorites meet before inaugural game
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
The only thing missing for the Yankees on Thursday was a victory with which to christen their $1.5 billion cathedral, as the Indians batted around in a deflating nine-run seventh inning. But there were plenty of positive experiences to take away from the first of many, many games to be played on the new grounds.
With 78-year-old principal owner George M. Steinbrenner III looking on with his wife, Joan, the fans for whom Steinbrenner once promised he was building the new Yankee Stadium packed the facility 48,000 strong in the inaugural contest, clogging the arteries of the Major Deegan Expressway long before game time.
One fan rhythmically honked his horn to the same sequence heard in the ballpark, and another rolled down his window and yelled, "Let's go Yankees!" The legitimate excitement of not just Opening Day but the Opening Day palpitated throughout the Bronx as Steinbrenner's vision became a reality.
"I think he's pretty proud," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. "I don't want to speak for him, but he's the reason why we're here today. What he's done as an owner -- in my opinion, he's the greatest owner in the history of sports. Obviously, I'm a bit biased, but he's the reason were in this great facility, for all he contributed. I'm sure it's a proud day for him."
It was an emotional one as well, as the game was preceded by a celebration of the opening of the $1.5 billion Cathedral, with Berra tossing a ball to catcher Jose Molina after Williams and John Fogerty strummed their guitars in center field.
Speaking before the game, Berra joked that he hoped he could reach the waiting glove, saying that he'd cheat a little bit. Berra still bounced it, but no one seemed to mind. Perhaps the one constant Yogi can count on is that he'll always be warmly embraced, no matter where the Yankees play their home games.
"You've got to go with the times, and we're going to go with the times," Berra said. "It's a beautiful park. We've got the old scoreboard like we used to have in Yankee Stadium. It's terrific."
In a scene reminiscent of Yankee Stadium's final season, more than 40 former Yankees ringed the infield after being introduced from a third-base entry point. Whitey Ford and Don Larsen lingered from behind to scoop dirt from the pitcher's mound, as they had at the old building.
With pennants flowing above the distinctive frieze, Kelly Clarkson belted out a rendition of the national anthem that made the hair stand up on the back of Nick Swisher's neck, her high notes punctuated by the roar of a F-16 flyover.
"I have not been part of something that awesome before," Swisher said. "Not only bringing back all the greats from the past, but to open the Stadium, looking around and not seeing one empty seat -- the national anthem gave me goosebumps. I was proud to be a part of that."
The ceremonies continued into the game, as the bat used by Babe Ruth in the April 18, 1923, opener at the original Yankee Stadium was laid across home plate prior to Jeter's at-bat as the first Yankees batter.
Jeter feigned as though he might use the bat for a moment before handing it back to a batboy, commenting how heavy it felt. Later, when asked if he could have swung it, Jeter laughed.
"Not against [Cliff] Lee," Jeter said. "Maybe if it was [Tim] Wakefield."
The bookend seemed fitting. Jeter was also the final batter in the original Stadium's game on Sept. 21, 2008, grounding out to third base to end the bottom of the eighth inning against the Orioles. But he had plenty of hits there -- 1,274, in fact -- more than even Lou Gehrig.
That building sat empty and alone across the way as the first three hours and 56 minutes of the new ballpark ticked off, a deconstruction site destined to meet the wrecking ball. Manager Joe Girardi snuck a glance in, eyeing a curious tent erected in what used to be right-center field. Jeter also acknowledged sneaking a peek.
"It's the only place I've called home for 14 years," Jeter said. "You're going to miss the entire thing. But like I've said before, you move on, and hopefully, there's some new memories to come here at the new Stadium."
Toeing the same slab that Mariano Rivera threw Yankee Stadium's final pitch across the street, CC Sabathia threw the historic first pitch for the Yankees.
Almost as though harkening back to old-time baseball with his baggy pants and hearty workload, Sabathia carried a pitch count of 122 into the sixth inning -- the most pitches he has thrown in an April or May start over the course of his career -- departing with a strikeout and to a warm ovation.
"Just coming out of that bullpen and getting ready for the game -- coming out on the field for that first time and having the crowd behind us -- that was pretty cool," Sabathia said. "That was a big moment, coming out. You know Posada is there and Jeter is there. That will probably be a lasting memory for me."
The only run scored off Sabathia -- the new Stadium's first -- came in the fourth, as Kelly Shoppach doubled over the head of left fielder Johnny Damon, bringing home Ben Francisco. Jorge Posada answered with the first home run in the Stadium's history, a solo shot to straightaway center field off Lee in the fifth inning that landed on top of the netting that covers the relocated Monument Park.
The paid crowd called Posada out for a curtain call after the homer, the 223rd of his career, which moved him past Don Mattingly for sole possession of eighth place on the Yankees' all-time list. Posada said he hadn't even realized that he made history until he reached the dugout.
"I'm going to remember the home run -- no question about it," Posada said. "I'm going to remember. It's a great thing, I'm happy about it -- but right now, it's a little disappointing on our part."
The day was a downer only in outcome, the load shouldered by Jose Veras and Damaso Marte in a troubling seventh inning that provided a terrific opportunity for fans to check out some of Yankee Stadium's non-baseball amenities and attractions.
But baseball will be played across the street in the Bronx for a long time to come, and as they pen a new chapter in franchise lore, the Yankees vowed to come back ready to turn the page to a new day.
"It's not how you want to start out a stadium," Girardi said. "But one game is not going to make up the history of Yankee Stadium and of this year."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.