Power is on in Legends Field opener
Damon, Giambi please fans as Grapefruit League play begins
TAMPA, Fla. -- The heart of the Yankees' lineup put on a power display in the first two innings of their Grapefruit League opener on Thursday, creating a good show for a packed house and providing a tantalizing preview of what may come.
Johnny Damon took Twins starter Carlos Silva deep on his second pitch, part of a three-run first inning, and Jason Giambi added a two-run shot in the second inning. Seven of the nine Yankees starters reached base in the first two frames, and the team couldn't help but boast about its assembled wealth of offense.
"We've got guys up and down the lineup," Giambi said. "It can't be much fun for an opposing pitcher to go, 'Who's my out?'"
Wearing pinstripes in front of a Legends Field crowd of 10,231, Damon stepped into the box looking to smack a line drive. Instead, he turned on a low fastball and cracked it over the right-field wall, prompting jokes from the dugout about how his season could only go downhill from there.
"It's great," Damon said. "The whole lineup, after me, you've got to face all of these other guys. It's got to be scary for a pitcher coming in."
Damon said he had packed on a few pounds of muscle over the winter -- in addition to a little extra body weight that he called a "pooch" (ostensibly, he meant a "paunch") -- by working out at a gymnasium constructed within his Orlando-area home.
"I think building that gym was a big convenience," Damon said. "During the offseason, you're supposed to just be resting, but unfortunately you're pulled in directions for great causes or whatnot.
"There's a lot to do, and when the season starts, you have your schedule that no one can mess with. That's what makes coming back and playing baseball a bit easier."
An inning after working a walk, Giambi -- who reported no problems with his surgically repaired left wrist or his once-ailing left knee -- bashed his homer, creating a good indication for his year ahead.
"The wrist feels great," Giambi said. "I worked hard at rehabbing it all offseason, and I feel good up there. I'm taking pitches and seeing the ball. That's the most important thing for the first game."
The Yankees' offensive display impressed just about everybody in the building, except perhaps the Twins and Silva, who allowed five runs and four hits in a beleaguered pair of innings.
Even without such fireworks, Opening Day at Legends Field is always a touch above the rest of the Spring Training slate.
A festive set of introductions was reminiscent of a true season opener, with past Yankees ranging from Yogi Berra to Reggie Jackson to Rich Monteleone doffing their caps and enjoying a warm bath of applause. The loudest ovation was reserved for a flyover of four F-15 jets dispatched from Pensacola, Fla.
"It's unbelievable," Giambi said. "Yankees fans get excited about baseball, which they should. They talk about it all offseason -- the moves, they follow it -- and it's cool to be a part of it."
The aura of the ceremonies are not lost on the newest Yankees; in fact, Giambi fondly recalled his first Tampa experience in 2003, when he claimed to be so impressed that he was actually nervous to take the field for fear of fumbling a ground ball.
"Unbelievable," Alex Rodriguez said. "Sometimes you pinch yourself because we are so fortunate to play for this great organization. It's pretty amazing. You see it from guys who are here for the first time -- it's like a playoff game for them, you know?"
Then again, maybe the Yankees' rookies shouldn't be surprised. Thursday's events culminated the nearly three weeks of workouts that lead up to the Grapefruit League schedule, a sometimes-mundane mix of live batting practice and bullpen drills.
Even without nine innings of action, the Yankees still draw their fair share of spectators to Legends Field. Imagine the energy that takes over the building with actual game play.
And, as Damon reminded half-kiddingly, there's plenty more to come.
"We only have 210 more games, so I'm really looking forward to it," Damon said.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.