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Heroes will be born at Yanks' new home

Heroes will be born at new Stadium

NEW YORK -- They had packed the new building on the banks of the Harlem River for three innings, crowds swelling beyond the intended capacity of the triple-decked marvel, when Babe Ruth stepped to the plate.

On that date, April 18, 1923, the Bambino slugged a home run that helped the Yankees beat the Red Sox and started the entire legend of "The House that Ruth Built." Who will step up as the first hero at the new Yankee Stadium?

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The long-anticipated Opening Day for the gleaming cathedral is here. New York will meet the Indians today in the first regular-season game at the stadium, a living museum paying homage to the franchise's rich history.

"Every year you look forward to the home opener. It's a big deal," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. "You're proud to be a part of it. You're really looking forward to it. It's special. A Yankee Stadium home opener is special."

This year's festivities will be memorable like no other, with celebratory opening ceremonies scheduled to begin at 12:10 p.m. ET. The stadium's first pitch will be thrown -- quite fittingly -- by none other than Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra, who raved about the building on a recent visit.

"When we played at the old ballpark, I thought that was big," Berra said. "This is bigger. The locker room is bigger than the old one. We thought we had a tremendous locker room when we played there. But things change."

With 78-year-old principal owner George M. Steinbrenner expected to be in attendance at the 52,325-seat building, so begins the Yankees' quest to establish a new home-field advantage, having bid farewell to their familiar but obsolete facility across 161st Street last September.

"I'm looking forward to the whole experience," manager Joe Girardi said. "Waking up, the anticipation of driving to the ballpark, getting there, doing our thing -- just the whole day. That's always great when Yogi throws out the first pitch. I always look forward to that. That's a real special memory for me, because he was there when David Cone threw his perfect game."

In the emotional final game last September, Jeter looked up into the crowd of 54,610 and urged them to "take the memories from this stadium and add them to the new memories that come to the new Yankee Stadium, and continue to pass them on from generation to generation."

They can start doing so on Thursday, as a gathering of more than 40 Yankees legends and dignitaries -- all of whom are honored in some place or another within the building's walls -- will help to carry the tradition into the new place.

"We have to build it up," catcher Jorge Posada said. "We have a lot of things that we want to accomplish. We want to do it here, and all the memories and all the things that we did across the street, obviously we have to do it over."

The same pitching rubber that Andy Pettitte stood on as he recorded a 7-3 victory over the Orioles last year will be re-installed for a day, as will home plate. Though Pettitte won't be pitching this time, yielding those duties to ace CC Sabathia, he said that he might even be able to appreciate the experience more.

"Pitching the finale for the final game last year was obviously one of the most special things I've been able to do here as a Yankee," Pettitte said. "But I didn't get to really enjoy it because of the stress of just wanting to win. And I'd struggled so badly down the stretch. It was a stressful time for me, really, instead of being able to enjoy it. So, this is going to be nice."

As a sort of dry run, Yankee Stadium hosted two games on April 3 and 4, with the Yankees defeating the Cubs twice. The games didn't count, but in the dress rehearsal, the reviews of the stadium were positive.

"The field, the clubhouse, everything is great," Mariano Rivera said. "But the most important thing is that the field is in good condition. The mound is good, the bullpen is outstanding."

"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."

"Every bit of this stadium has a wow factor, and it's going to stink for us to go on the road," Brian 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."

Sure, there were bugs to be worked out -- in the second game, the public address system blanked out for the late innings, leaving public address announcer Paul Olden no way to announce names and rendering the video screens silent.

In part to correct whatever kinks there were, Major League Baseball's scheduling sent the Yankees on a three-city road trip to begin the season, visiting Baltimore, Kansas City and St. Petersburg while the finishing touches were put on the stadium.

In all three cities, the Yankees jogged to a baseline, taking part in that stadium's opening festivities. But the Yankee Stadium opener should trump all in magnificent fashion.

"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."

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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