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Yanks players absorb park's significance

Yanks players absorb park's significance

NEW YORK -- It was early, still hours before first pitch at the new Yankee Stadium, when Nick Swisher considered just what was about to happen here.

"If you can't get ready for today," Swisher said, "then you've got problems."

The Yankees were ready. And though they didn't perform quite as well as they would have liked, dropping a 10-2 game to the Indians, they did stand in awe of their new home.

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"It's a new Stadium," Derek Jeter said, "but I think they did a tremendous job as far as bringing a lot of the characteristics of the old Stadium over here."

Most of those characteristics, by this point, have been well-chronicled. There's the frieze running around the upper deck, a throwback to the copper model at the original Yankee Stadium. There is the outfield fence, with dimensions identical to those in the 2008 version of the original park. Most importantly, there are the people populating it, and they were bundled up on Thursday afternoon in Yankees sweatshirts and jackets.

"Our fans remain the same, so I would anticipate the same type of atmosphere over here at the new Stadium as there was across the street," Jeter said.

Though the surprises of playing in a new park had vanished -- the Yankees experienced them earlier this month in two Spring Training games against the Cubs -- the historic impact of the afternoon was not lost on the players. Not since 1976 had the Yankees experienced a home opener even resembling this, and not since 1923 had they opened a completely new building in the Bronx.

In both of those previous openings -- that of the old Yankee Stadium in 1923 and the renovated park in 1976 -- the Yankees won, sparking successful seasons. Thursday's home opener may not have become a proper succession of those two, but it did feature all of the pomp and circumstance that the Yankees have grown to expect.

Yankee legends of years past -- including Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson and so many of their contemporaries -- gathered on the field prior to the game. John Fogerty was on hand to perform his baseball classic, "Centerfield." Pop star Kelly Clarkson sang the national anthem. Ronan Tynan, a staple at Yankees games for years, performed "God Bless America."

And the Yankees -- some of whom have seen this drill many times, some of whom haven't -- all watched with admiration.

"I think there was a lot of anticipation for this day," manager Joe Girardi said. "Guys were really excited."

The whole pregame ceremony seemed awfully familiar to those who have stepped foot time and again into the old Yankee Stadium -- one that had a history of hosting important games. And although the Yankees did their best to recreate the old park, some of them -- most vocally Jeter, who spent 14 years of his life milling in and out of the old clubhouse, down the old tunnel, into the old dugout -- said that the old Stadium will always hold a special place in their hearts.

"I'm going to miss everything about the Stadium," Jeter said. "I'm going to miss the entire thing. But you move on and hope that there are some new memories that come here to this Stadium. I'd be lying to you if I said I wouldn't miss it.

"I think the whole experience of being at Yankee Stadium is something that you miss."

Yet some, such as free-agent acquisitions CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira, had never experienced the old Yankee Stadium while wearing pinstripes. The adoration and the fanaticism, this was all new to them. And Thursday gave them their first real chance to embrace it.

"You know the history of the Yankees -- you know everything that comes along with it -- and it still has that feeling because the park still looks like the old Stadium," Sabathia said. "You still get that feeling. It's a weird feeling, too, going out and starting a new era of Yankee baseball."

"The Yankees always do a great job," Teixeira said. "It was spectacular."

Perhaps no one, however, enjoyed the experience more than, another newcomer, Swisher, who received a roaring ovation prior to the game. And when the Yankees' bullpen gave up nine runs in the seventh inning, fans chanted their desire for Swisher -- who made his pitching debut in a blowout game earlier this week -- to take an encore on the mound.

For Swisher, it was all part of one of the most memorable days of his baseball career.

"I have not been part of something that awesome before," Swisher said. "Not only bringing back all the greats from the past, but looking around and not seeing one empty seat, and the national anthem gave me goosebumps. It was tremendous, and I was glad to be a part of that."

Anthony DiComo 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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