Yankees open stadium with win

April 3, 2009 7:22:49 PM PDT
Unlike the Babe and the House he Built, these New York Yankees and their palatial new stadium were given a practice run. The Hard Rock Cafe in right field was packed at game time Friday night, a birthday party was going on in NYY Steak above it, and the carpeted corridors outside the $850,000-a-year luxury suites were busy as people picked up drinks in the lounge.

There were few lines at the sushi stand for $15 rainbow rolls, but much longer ones for Mike's Arthur Avenue Italian Deli and the Latin Corner. An amused crowd watched through glass behind third base, finding it hard to believe a butcher from Lobel's was carving a huge rack of ribs.

Tommy Bahama's martini bar one level up behind home plate was filled with fans, and Mohegan Sun Sports Bar in center field was packed with spectators looking at the field through the smoked glass. In the Legends Suites Club, people sipped from oversized Chardonnay glasses at tables topped with white tablecloths while dozens of chefs in tall toques stood by carving stations.

Oh, baseball was played, too.

In the first game at a $1.5 billion stadium, Robinson Cano and Hideki Matsui hit two-run homers, and Cody Ransom hit a three-run shot to lead the Yankees to a 7-4 exhibition victory over the Chicago Cubs before 48,402.

From the granite-and-limestone exterior to an art gallery, memorabilia store and three team shops, the stadium oozes an "If you've got it, flaunt it" style of moneyed Old New York updated to the 21st Century.

"The visiting clubhouse. it's wonderful. It's got every imaginable amenity that you would want. In fact, you wonder if the players will be ready to play ball at 7:05," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said before the game. "About the only thing that I missed was the old coffee pot. I messed around and fiddled around trying to get a cup of coffee about one of those new technological machines for about a half-hour."

On a drizzly night, both New York teams tried out their new ballparks. Over in Queens, the Mets played the Boston Red Sox before a crowd of 37,652 at $800 million Citi Field.

In the Bronx, the Yankees built a stadium like no other. The field has the same dimensions the old stadium just across 161st Street used last year. But after playing in baseball's most famous park from 1923 and winning 26 World Series titles, the Yankees wanted the revenue boost of a new stadium.

While tickets cost up to $2,625 during the regular season, this weekend's two-game exhibition series was capped at $50. Grandstand seats cost $1.10 and bleacher tickets were 25 cents - matching the prices for the 4-1 victory over Boston that opened the original stadium on April 18, 1923, when Ruth christened America's first three-deck ballpark with a home run.

The new stadium restored many of the elements stripped from the original during the 1974-75 renovation, including the famous frieze hanging from the roof and manual scoreboards on the fences.

Much is modern, including a 59 feet by 101 feet color video board above the Bleachers Cafe and a 3 by 1,279-foot ribbon board at the front of the terrace level. Fans bought food and merchandise under the translucent ceiling of the 31,000-square-foot Great Hall on their way in, then came out to view a field lit by far brighter lights than at the old ballpark.

Players drove right into the stadium, without having to interact with fans. The Yankees' clubhouse stretches from home plate to right field and including a swimming pool, SwimEx spa, dining area and lounge.

"I can go see our manager, our manager can call a player into his office and you guys would never know about it," general manager Brian Cashman said to a reporter. "You guys can't look into our trainer's room now. And you wouldn't know about - hey, this guy is icing his knee or icing his shoulder. So we're much more efficient in terms of doing business.

"The video room is right by the batting cage and the batting cage is right behind the dugout. The weight room is contained within the clubhouse. People aren't having to walk a mile to go different places. The trainer's room can overlook the weight room, so we have double protection. If a player is in there doing something he shouldn't be doing, there's Plexiglass, so our trainers can look right in to it."

With rain falling in the middle innings, about half the fans retreated to the concourses, which have an average width of 34 feet, or the clubs and restaurants. The Legends Suites seats, which cost $500-$2,625 for regular-season games, were about half-filled, with many of those ticket holders sitting inside the duplex Legends Suites Club behind home plate, the Ketel One Lounge behind first or the Left Field Lounge, the three exclusive areas for those holding the tickets in the nine rows closest to the infield. Perhaps the more seats will be filled for the regular-season opener, on April 16 against Cleveland.

"I think what will make it feel like Yankee Stadium is when the people are in the stands, and the energy from the people," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

After Reggie Jackson threw out the ceremonial first pitch, the Yankees hit three homers off Ted Lilly, with Cano connecting in the second, Matsui in the third and Ransom in the fourth. Matsui's home run clanked off the right-field foul pole and the drive by Ransom off the left-field pole.

Derek Jeter, the Yankees' captain and most popular player, got the first hit, a double to left leading off the bottom of the first. Chien-Ming Wang allowed four runs and six hits in five innings, giving up a sacrifice fly to Derrek Lee in the first, a two-run double to Aaron Miles in the second and an RBI grounder to Ryan Theriot in the fourth. Miles replaced former-Yankee Alfonso Soriano, scratched just before game time.


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