The Yankees took their $1.5 billion Cathedral for a test drive earlier this month, hosting the Cubs for two exhibition games at the conclusion of Spring Training. Immediately upon entering the roomy, oval clubhouse, the Yankees quickly learned they now reside in a building like no other.
The clubhouse is 2 1/2 times the size of its predecessor at the old Yankee Stadium, a historic facility but ultimately antiquated in terms of creature comforts. Entrenched beneath the field-level seats, the Yankees clubhouse now stretches from home plate to right field.
Blue backlighting illuminates the room, tucked behind a replica of the famed frieze that rings the grandstand on the field, and a plush blue carpet spattered with hundreds of interlocking "NY" logos welcomes the players in.
The wide-eyed Yankees entered the 30,000-square-foot clubhouse area on April 2, marveling at the touch-screen ThinkPad computers installed in each locker and stowing their valuables in personal safe-deposit boxes.
"Take a look around," Brian Bruney said. "There are screens in your lockers, lockers that are three times the size of other places. Cubby holes. We have a chef. It's just crazy stuff. It's the best venue in any sport, I guarantee you that."
By the end of the two-game exhibition series, players had taken to customizing the wallpaper on their computers to reflect their personal tastes, as though they were hanging posters in a high school locker room.
Come the regular season, there will be practical purposes for the screens: players will be able to use them to order tickets for guests, check timetables for workouts and bus trips, watch video of games and receive electronic messages from team personnel.
"There's really no comparison," Joba Chamberlain said. "It's unbelievable. The space, the amenities and everything that goes on. ... You have to have areas where guys can hang out and watch TV, and we've got all that here. It's going to be great for our team."
The plush lounge may be inviting, but the Yankees will also have ample room to conduct their game training. The new stadium features improved and expanded video rooms, weight rooms, training rooms and batting cages that are now located adjacent to each clubhouse.
"It's just a lot more convenient," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "The thought of players walking down to the cages last year in spikes was always a concern. It's easier for players if you're going to pinch-hit or you're going into the game really quickly to get ready."
Behind closed doors, many Yankees raved about the Swim-Ex hydrotherapy pool, which contains an underwater treadmill complete with sub-surface windows so trainers and doctors can watch the workouts.
Eventually, Girardi said, the Yankees may not need to send an injured player to rehab in Tampa, Fla. because everything he needs will be available in New York.
"I'm a big-time whirlpool guy," said Andy Pettitte, "and we've got unbelievable facilities, as far as the Swim-Ex in there, where I can get my whole body loose, and hot tubs. It's unbelievable."
On the ceiling of the much larger Yankees workout room, an inspirational Muhammad Ali quote looks down upon players as they complete their routines: "The fight is won or lost far away from the witnesses -- behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights."
"We have no excuses that we don't have the facility to promote winning baseball," Mark Teixeira said.
The visiting facilities aren't bad, either. The Cubs made themselves comfortable as the first opposing team to pay a visit to the new building, setting up in a smaller clubhouse under the third base side.
It is certainly more than hospitable, with four flat-screen televisions viewable from the spacious lockers. It was nice, Girardi joked, but the staff didn't necessarily need to feed the visiting teams so well.
"The visiting clubhouse, it's wonderful," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "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.
"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 from one of those new technological machines for about a half-hour."
The dugout is much larger and wider -- and there is no longer a need for the blue ceiling padding that Don Zimmer conked his head on while leaping up to watch Aaron Boone's home run. The area is supplemented by a second row of benches so players can get a closer view.
"There's no back support, so I'll have to work on my posture in those seats," Burnett said. "But those dugouts are big. The seats are good. It's going to be crazy, it's going to be nice."
As the year goes on, the Yankees will certainly become more familiar with the stadium and it will begin to feel like home. Eventually, the Yankees hope to stop ducking in the wrong doors -- Girardi wound up in the laundry room by accident and found himself marveling at the size of the dryers -- and figure out how to use their stadium to create a true home-field advantage.
"I think everyone is going to be a little bit spoiled," Jeter said.