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11/21/08 1:07 PM EST

Yankee Stadium nearing completion

New home for Bombers about 90 percent built as winter knocks

NEW YORK -- A chilly wind whipped across 161st Street in the Bronx this week, blowing out the old and bringing in the new as early winter weather began to set in.

By the time March rolls around toward another baseball season, the new Yankee Stadium north of 161st will be ready to open, while the old ballpark just to the south may be coming down girder by girder. The Yankees turn over the old Yankee Stadium to the city of New York on March 1, and by the end of that month, demolition could begin.

Meanwhile, the Yanks are supposed to have access to the new ballpark by Feb. 17. Even though the main work at the new facility appears to be done, there's a lot of hustle and bustle ahead with the handoff little more than 12 weeks away.

"That's the way it always is in these big projects," said Harry Olsen, the project manager for the site from the beginning. "You scramble right up to the end, but it gets done."

The Yankees have already scheduled dry-run exhibition games against the Chicago Cubs on April 3 and 4, with Opening Day slated against the Cleveland Indians on April 16.

The sod is now in waiting, completely planted in October. This week, a bulldozer turned over the infield dirt and a landscaper trimmed the infield grass with an old-fashioned power mower.

Across the way, the plaques and monuments have been removed from the old stadium and are stored in a truck. In the new stadium, Monument Park will be in dead center, behind and above the fence. Visitors will have access through a glass-enclosed box directly above it and within the batter's eye.

For safety and security reasons, the monuments and plaques now stored in the old stadium will be among the last objects moved across the street.

The new stadium is opulent in its immensity. It is a throwback to the times when ballparks were called stadiums, and rightfully so.

Overall, construction is about 90 percent complete, down now to the trim and the finishes. Almost all of the dark blue seats have been installed, save for the lower-deck club seats and the Legend boxes located down the foul lines.

The construction appears right on target and the privately funded $1.3 billion stadium -- which was the brainchild of Yankees chairman George Steinbrenner -- should be nothing short of spectacular.

The new stadium pays homage to the original edifice erected across the Harlem River from the Polo Grounds. The Yankees shared that old horseshoe-shaped park in Manhattan with the Giants from 1913-22. They inhabited the old stadium for the last 85 years, save for two seasons -- 1974-75 -- when the Yanks played at Shea Stadium while the ballpark was undergoing a $160 million renovation paid for by New York City.

Farewell Yankee Stadium

The original stadium was built by Yankee ownership at the cost of $2.5 million. Since the renovation, it has been operated by the New York Park and Recreation Department, which will make the decision when to tear it down.

The Yanks are currently negotiating with that entity to sell the seats and other objects from the old stadium.

In the case of Shea Stadium, which is already under demolition, Park and Recreation is salvaging toilets and other fixtures to be used in parks throughout the city, while the Mets have been selling the seats and almost everything else.

Save for the monuments -- and home plate, which was moved to the new stadium earlier this month -- the old Yankee Stadium stands pretty much intact, its 55,000 faded blue seats waiting to endure another winter.

At the new park, Yankees officials dug up those initial Yankee Stadium architectural plans and from it relocated the famous curved and striped "frieze" that hovered high above the bleachers in the renovated ballpark back to where it once was: running around the stadium below the lights on the fringe of the upper deck overhang from left field all the way around to right.

The new stadium is airy and open, with complete views of the field from every concourse, rest room and concession stand, no matter what level. The congestion in the concourses and the problems of ingress and egress in the old stadium are now left in the past.

Like the original stadium, the auxiliary scoreboards are located on the fences in left-center and right-center fields. Those scoreboards are hand-operated, and the one in left-center was installed this week.

The new yard will seat 53,000, but every one of those seats has an unencumbered view of home plate, even though the new stadium reaches about the same height as the old one.

Most of the seats are much closer to the field than the old stadium, where the catcher squatted about 70 feet from the backstop. In the new park, that distance is about 50 feet.

The field dimensions are identical to the old stadium: 318 feet down the left-field line, 314 feet down the right-field line, 408 feet in dead center, 399 feet in left-center and 385 in right-center.

Around the concourses, the concession stands are in and the cleanup is under way. In five months, it will be alive with crowds and there will be baseball to be played.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.