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In Bronx, fans can't get enough

In Bronx, fans can't get enough

NEW YORK -- For a group of three Yankees fans, Hideki Matsui has provided the bookends for eight consecutive home openers.

Clayton Borchard, Rick DeNicola and Dave Laurano have attended the Yankees' past eight home openers together. Their streak began at Yankee Stadium for Matsui's 2003 home debut, a game in which the Japanese import hit a grand slam to help his new club to a 7-3 win over the Minnesota Twins.

That streak also includes Tuesday's game, a 7-5 win over the Angels that was the second home opener at the new Yankee Stadium. Prior to the game, the team awarded rings to members of the 2009 championship team. The last man to receive his ring Tuesday was '09 World Series MVP Matsui, who signed as a free agent with the Halos this past offseason.

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"Absolutely awesome," DeNicola said of the ceremony. "I think Matsui's accepting the ring and the team coming out to hug him was one of the best Yankees moments I've ever seen in my life."

As for game moments, all three friends agreed that the game featuring Matsui's grand slam was the favorite of their contests witnessed together.

"With all of the buildup before he joined the team, the way Godzilla delivered in his first game was great," Borchard said.

They've had plenty of good memories to choose from, too. With Tuesday's win, the Yankees have won 12 of their past 13 home openers, including a Major League-record streak of 11 in a row that was snapped last year against the Indians.

A ring ceremony at the home opener is a new wrinkle. As shortstop Derek Jeter pointed out before the game, the Yankees of his generation have waited until later in the season before receiving their hardware.

Celebrating a championship isn't the only reason fans love coming to the first game in the Bronx each spring, but it does provide some extra incentive.

"I've been coming to Opening Day for the last 15 years," DeNicola said. "Always with family and always with friends. I love the Yankees, love being here, love the atmosphere -- especially when the Yankees are raising the flag."

DeNicola isn't the only one with a streak going. Jeff Goldberg from Rockland County, N.Y., has attended all but one home opener since 1977.

Goldberg's wife, Sharon, has come with him for every one since they met in 1990. Asked if she enjoyed it as much as her husband, she laughed and said, "Yes, unless it's too cold. It's nice. After the holidays, it's something to look forward to before the summer."

Jeff Goldberg described the new Yankee Stadium as "more fan-friendly and a lot more comfortable" than its predecessor, which is now being torn down across 161st Street.

"The old stadium had its charm, but this is a truly modern stadium," Goldberg said.

His wife agreed: "It definitely has a lot more concessions -- a lot more things to look at when you get here early."

"And shorter restroom lines," Jeff Goldberg added.

The new stadium is winning its converts, including those who worried about a loss of the atmosphere from across the street. Last season, especially in the early months, fans and media alike described the new stadium as quieter than the original one. A World Series run may have helped change that.

"Honestly, the first part of the year, I think it was quiet," said Carlos Lopez. "It got better as the season went on. Toward the end of the season and especially in the playoffs, it was a lot more like the old stadium."

Home openers even bring together some odd couples. Keith Cashman and Mike Alfieri have worked together for 18 months, so attending a home opener together seems harmless enough. But of the two, only Alfieri is a Yankees fan. Cashman says he roots for the Red Sox and Mets. That didn't stop him from coming out to the Bronx for his first Yankees home opener.

"He has season tickets, and I love baseball," said Cashman, who attended the Mets' season opener last week. "So I figured I'd come out here."

"He says he hates the Yankees," Alfieri said, "but he knows more about the team than most Yankees fans. No matter what he says about hating the Yankees, he's still a fan of the game."

Alfieri wore a Yankees jacket, but Cashman decided to leave his Red Sox paraphernalia at home.

"If I wear something Red Sox, a Yankees fan cannot -- I mean cannot, cannot -- walk by me and not say something," Cashman said. "It's impossible."

Asked if he invited Cashman only on the condition that no Red Sox gear be worn, Alfieri laughed and said that wasn't the case.

Cashman, who says he does wear his Boston gear when attending Red Sox-Yankees games, didn't feel the need to wear it to the opener.

"I love my team, but I'm not stupid," Cashman said. "That's just asking for trouble."

A win and a ring ceremony make for a pleasant enough day, but Yankees fans could politely be described as insatiable. Jeff Goldberg, no doubt expressing the view of many other of the 49,293 fans in attendance, had one eye on the past and the other on the future.

"It's nice," Goldberg said of the ring ceremony. "But last year was last year. It's time to just do it again."

Thomas Boorstein 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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