Yankees awed by Stadium at workout
With familiar dimensions, field draws rave reviews by players
NEW YORK -- It may not be printed in any history books, but Derek Jeter indeed did hit the first home run at the new Yankee Stadium.
Wide-eyed and awestruck, the Yankees took their gleaming $1.5 billion ballpark for a test drive on Thursday, working out for more than two hours on a pristine diamond that sure felt a lot like the old one.
And yes, Jeter did become the first Yankee to hit one over the wall, taking his third batting-practice pitch into the left-field seats -- to a loud round of applause from the season-ticket holders and local schoolchildren who were granted free admission.
"I think everyone was excited to be out there and amazed at how big the stadium is," Jeter said. "Everyone is going to enjoy it -- from the coaches, the players and even more importantly, the fans."
The real thing doesn't begin until April 16 against the Indians, but the Yankees will play a pair of dress rehearsals on Friday and Saturday against the Cubs. Thursday was the warmup, and it left the Yankees hungry for more.
"I was really excited to get out there and see the field, see how it plays," catcher Jorge Posada said. "It looks like the dimensions are the same. We can't wait until they turn those lights on. It's in great condition."
Going through their Spring Training routines of general conditioning, fundamentals and batting practice, the players saw their gleeful smiles broadcast in high definition from the massive center-field video screen, which sits above the blacked-out glass of a restaurant.
"You get goosebumps just stretching," A.J. Burnett said. "You can't describe it until you're out there just playing ball. It's nice -- guys were out there shagging and running balls down. It was great."
Yankee Stadium never knew such luxury before. But there were twinges of the old stadium and its pre-1974 predecessor, depending on any vantage point.
"Really, it looks exactly like the old ballpark, when you just look from the dugout," left-hander Andy Pettitte said. "It looks like it's going to play big in left and a short porch in right. That usually works out pretty well for a left-handed pitcher, so I'm hoping that will be the case."
The pitchers paid particular attention to the mound area. Phil Coke beamed after climbing the rubber, commenting how much closer to home plate he felt.
That was an illusion due to the reduced foul territory behind home plate; infielders will also find that there is more foul territory behind first and third base compared to the old stadium.
"I talked to Andy about the mound, and he said it felt like they took the old mound from Yankee Stadium and just brought it over," manager Joe Girardi said. "It just looks beautiful, and to hear our pitchers feel like they've been on the mound already when they haven't been there is a good sign."
Sitting in a significantly larger dressing area, ornamented by a backlit façade and lockers equipped with touch-screen computers, Mariano Rivera said that the Yankees would quickly make this their home.
"It's like a house -- if you don't have a family, it's not a house," Rivera said. "I appreciate the size of the facility -- the locker rooms, the training room. It's great."
"There's so many places to go that I think you're going to play hide and seek with yourself," Joba Chamberlain said.
The Yankees actually got their first looks late on Wednesday after arriving on the team charter from Tampa, Fla., though rainy conditions kept them from exploring too much. Huddled in the home dugout as the No. 4 train rumbled past right field, players commented how much bigger everything looked.
"Last night when we walked in, I felt like it was Christmas morning, listening to the players talk about it -- the excitement of visiting every little nook and cranny in the ballpark and in our clubhouse," Girardi said. "It's an unbelievable building."
Teased with the new accommodations, Brian Bruney playfully griped with the schedule-makers, wishing the Orioles would come in on Monday rather than having the Yankees coming to them. If Bruney had his way, maybe the Yankees would play all 162 games at home.
"Every bit of this stadium has a 'Wow!' factor, and it's going to stink for us to go on the road," Bruney said. "Take a look around -- there are screens in your locker, which is three times the size of other places. We have cubbyholes. We have a chef -- crazy stuff. It's the best venue in any sport, I can guarantee you."
Jeter said that he never felt the pang of guilt in visiting this new, unfamiliar building, even as the old Yankee Stadium sits across the street, awaiting demolition. He did notice that the street he used to turn onto has been ripped up, and the old players' parking area is gone.
"It's a new house, and it's going to take you a while until you feel like you're home," Jeter said. "It may take one day, it may take one week."
But there was so much left to be inspected, even after the two-hour test drive. The Yankees will have more chances to open doors before and during the two exhibition games against the Cubs, but finding all of the hidden gems of this 1.3 million square-foot "living museum" might take all year.
"I still want to have the opportunity to walk around and look at everything," Jeter said. "I haven't been out to the new Monument Park. Just being out on the field was probably the best thing that happened today. You can talk about the amenities all you want, but for us, the field is the most important thing. Everything was better than I even expected."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.