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Legends Field renamed to honor Boss

Legends Field renamed to honor Boss

TAMPA, Fla. -- Say goodbye to Legends Field. Say hello to "The Boss."

The Yankees' Spring Training home was officially renamed in honor of principal owner George M. Steinbrenner on Thursday prior to the club's Grapefruit League exhibition against the Pirates.

"This is a great day," Steinbrenner said. "It really makes me proud."

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On a clear, sunny afternoon, the 77-year-old Steinbrenner helped unveil the new moniker of a ballpark named in his honor, 35 years after his surname first became synonymous with the most recognizable franchise in baseball.

After a brief tribute video, Steinbrenner -- wearing dark and sunglasses dressed in his trademark blazer and a white dress shirt -- stood alongside his sons, Hank and Hal, his daughter, Jennifer, and son-in-law, Felix Lopez, watching as a blue tarpaulin was unveiled atop the scoreboard in left field.

Legends Field got a few extra seconds of life as a few extra tugs were required, the group yanking on two dangling white ropes that skimmed the surface of the warning track.

"I kept telling Hank, 'You're pulling too hard. You're pulling too hard,'" Hal Steinbrenner said.

With the stubborn covering finally pulled over the wall, the words "George M. Steinbrenner Field" glistened in the sunlight, displayed in a white typeface over a striking midnight blue backdrop. The display prompted a standing ovation from the crowd as fireworks exploded above the ballpark.

Frank Sinatra's rendition of "New York, New York" rang through the stadium loudspeakers and Steinbrenner received another standing ovation as his golf cart slowly circled the warning track, allowing Steinbrenner to wave to the fans before coming to a halt in front of the Yankees dugout.

"It's an emotional day," Hal Steinbrenner said. "We've been here over 30 years and we're part of the community. It's a great honor. It's hard not to be emotional. ... There's probably part of him that's a little uncomfortable with the recognition, but he absolutely appreciates it. I know he's honored and I know he's emotional. You can take a look at him and see that."

Later, escorted through the lobby of the ballpark on his way to watch the game, George Steinbrenner said, "It was good. It was a great ceremony."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi presented Steinbrenner's wife, Joan, with a bouquet of roses. Derek Jeter gave flowers to Jennifer Steinbrenner, and Alex Rodriguez offered them to Jessica Steinbrenner. At one point, Steinbrenner slung his left arm around Jeter's shoulder, speaking into the shortstop's ear.

"Well deserved," Jeter said. "Not only for the Yankees organization, but what he's done for the community in Tampa, he gives back so much. I know he does a lot of things that aren't publicized as well. It's more than people know. It's a special day."

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Later that hour, the Yankees captain would homer, re-christening the new ballpark with its first home run. Many other Yankees players leaned on the top step of the dugout, watching with captivation as the events played out.

"He's kind of a legend, especially to some of these younger players who never really had much contact with him," Hank Steinbrenner said. "It's pretty cool for them."

"I think it's wonderful," Andy Pettitte said. "He's always been great to me and I always appreciated him. It seems like the older he's gotten, the more emotional he is. It's going to be a real neat thrill for him. He's done an awful lot for this area and community."

The ceremonial first pitch, the first toss at Steinbrenner Field, was fittingly delivered by Steinbrenner's wife, Joan. Standing in front of the mound wearing a lime suit jacket, Mrs. Steinbrenner one-hopped the toss to Jorge Posada, grinning with the catcher as she walked off the diamond.

"I think it's great. It's a wonderful day," Girardi said. "Mr. Steinbrenner has done an enormous amount for baseball. I think it's awesome."

The stadium renaming was approved in February by two unanimous resolutions from the Hillsborough County Commission and the Tampa City Council, endorsing the honoring of Steinbrenner for his many charitable donations on behalf of youth activities, hospitals and the arts.

Hank Steinbrenner said that the stadium renaming is something that the local area has wanted to honor his father with for several years, but Steinbrenner had never agreed. Now that Steinbrenner has "allowed the young elephants into the tent," so to speak, by handing off day-to-day control of the team to Hank and Hal, the timing seemed more appropriate.

"In the past, he resisted it," Hank Steinbrenner said. "I told him a month ago that it was something the city wanted to do, and he got very emotional."

Among Steinbrenner's most recognizable contributions was the founding of The Gold Shield Foundation, which ensures that the families of police officers and firemen killed in the line of duty receive early financial assistance and are guaranteed a tuition-free college education. The resolutions recognized that Steinbrenner has stepped forward at critical times to help influence and improve the local community.

"It's long overdue," Hal Steinbrenner said. "We're just real proud. It's a great day for him and a great day for the family. We gratefully thank the community, because this was their idea, their call."

With a street already named after Steinbrenner in Tampa, the area also plans to adorn an educational facility with the name of baseball's longest-tenured owner. George M. Steinbrenner High School will open its doors in 2009 in Hillsborough County, north of Tampa.

"That's just as great an honor," Hank Steinbrenner said. "It's pretty amazing when you start getting high schools named after you. It's a great honor for him and one he certainly deserves for all he's done in this area."

Tampa City Council member Charlie Miranda and Hillsborough County Commissioner Rose Ferlita were on hand as guest speakers for the ceremony, which also featured a flyover by three helicopters from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and the Tampa Police Department.

The facility formerly known as Legends Field has been the Spring Training home of the Yankees since 1996, and has the same field dimensions as Yankee Stadium in New York.

It has been recently subject to improvements and modifications, including the addition of the right-field Tampa Tribune deck that has permitted the Yankees to increase total stadium seating capacity to 11,076 for the 2008 Grapefruit League season.

Once the Yankees go north for the regular season, the facility continues to serve as a home for the Class A Tampa Yankees of the Florida State League. Thursday's ceremony ensures that no matter what, "The Boss" will always be looking over the Yankees of the future.

"The name is going to be up there for many, many years to come," Hal Steinbrenner said, "and we're proud of it."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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