Yankees relish touring Army campus

Yankees relish touring Army campus

WEST POINT, N.Y. -- The Yankees are usually content to play the gracious host, but Saturday gave America's most successful pro sports franchise a chance to be the wide-eyed tourist.

The Yankees toured the grounds of the United States Military Academy on Saturday morning, meeting with cadets and learning about one of the nation's oldest college campuses. Everywhere they turned, it seemed, there was a statue commemorating a great American or a crucial historical moment.

Just behind Doubleday Field, for instance, lay statues of American Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and George Washington, and the baseball field itself is named after a famous Civil War general who purportedly invented the game of baseball. For manager Joe Girardi, whose father served as an airplane mechanic during the Korean War, it was an experience without parallel.

"When you pull into this place, you see the beauty," said Girardi. "For me, it's [about] what the military does for us. We're here to play a game and they're here to protect us. Every day that I wake up, I feel safe. And in a lot of places, that's not true. Enjoy this day. I think our guys are having a blast."

Indeed, the day started with a quick tour of the campus, allowing the players to learn some of the basics of American history. West Point, situated on a crucial curve of the Hudson River, was considered a vital place in the Revolutionary War and became the home of the military academy in 1802.

The players started in the Kimsey Athletic Center on Saturday, touring the Army football team's locker room and seeing the school's Sports Hall of Fame. The Yankees later carried through the Foley Athletic Center and visited the Cadet Chapel and Trophy Point before meeting at the Mess Hall.

"What a campus," said southpaw Andy Pettitte. "It was good to be able to sit in there and meet some of these kids. I sat right next to a freshman in there who's 19 years old. It's interesting to be able to know that these guys and girls are here doing this, and it's cool. ... It's a pretty special place."

Army's baseball field usually seats around 800 fans, and the school's athletic department had to erect temporary bleachers with 4,800 more seats when the Yankees came to town. The entire day took on the atmosphere of a carnival, but Girardi wanted his players to take everything in and remember it.

"I'm glad we can do that, but I think it's more important to recognize what our military does for us on a daily basis," he said. "You come up here and you see the history, and you're able to have lunch with the cadets. You see the different stripes on their uniforms and you get an understanding of what they go through every day. Their summers aren't summers like normal students. They're training exercises. I think it's important for people to understand what these kids go through and how important it is."

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