Steinbrenner's vision finally a reality

Steinbrenner's vision a reality

NEW YORK -- I walked onto the field at spanking new Yankee Stadium on Thursday morning and for a moment thought I was in the House that Ruth Built.

It's almost as if all those marvelous memories had made the trip across the street.

No, this isn't the house that opened in 1923 with Babe Ruth blasting a home run.

This is the House that George Built, a $1.5 billion playground that ekes with ambience and comfort, a ballpark in all its splendor but yet to define itself.

A lot of the characteristics and architecture of the old Stadium, the most well-known sports venue in the world that closed last September, are here, and it was even scary once the recorded voice of immortal public address announcer Bob Sheppard blared over the loud speakers. Sheppard was home recovering from a long-running bronchial infection.

It was an eerie sight in the bright April sunshine seeing this new Stadium next to its predecessor which still stands tall, if not empty.

Hall of Famer Yogi Berra threw the ceremonial first pitch after four F-16C Falcons thundered overhead on the festive, weather-perfect day, and then it was the Yankees vs. the Cleveland Indians.

Before the first pitch, Yankees manager Joe Girardi and captain-shortstop Derek Jeter said they were excited about all the pomp and circumstance leading to the opening of new Yankee Stadium, but both told me they'll be glad to put the distractions behind.

Don't blame them if they feel even more that way today.

After both teams walked a 1-1 tight rope for six innings, the Yankees bullpen imploded, leading to a 10-2 embarrassment.

The Indians erupted for nine runs in their seventh, propelled by Grady Sizemore's third career grand slam and a solo homer by Victor Martinez.

Then many in the sellout crowd of 48,271 who'd paid enormous prices for tickets to be part of a historic Opening Day headed for the exits.

When the 3-hour, 56-minute drubbing finally came to a close only a third of the seats were occupied.

Frankly, the game wasn't as close as the score.

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, the force behind this new Stadium whose determination made it possible, was in attendance. The Boss, in failing health, made no public appearance, but I know him well enough that in his prime he would have had unkind words to say about the jarring setback.

After all the buildup, being blown out 10-2 would not have been acceptable to a vintage Steinbrenner.

Somewhere up there Babe Ruth had to be looking down, maybe sad his palace is finally replaced, but even more unhappy about Thursday's outcome.

When Jeter, the Yankees leadoff batter, came to the plate as part of the opening ceremony, the bat Ruth used at original Yankee Stadium's opener on April 18, 1923, was placed on home plate.

Jeter grabbed it and teased for a moment that he was going to use it before giving it to a batboy. Maybe he should have kept it. Ruth blasted a three-run, third-inning homer off Boston's Howard Ehmke that provided the margin of victory in a 4-1 Yankees win.

"This is not what we hoped for today," said Girardi. "I thought the pregame ceremonies were awesome. And the game was a pretty good pitchers' duel [Cliff Lee vs. CC Sabathia] until the seventh inning when we gave up nine runs. It was hard to watch. When you start off an inning with a walk, usually bad things happen. It got real bad."

So, even though this was a hugely important day in Yankees history, would Girardi and his players just as soon forget it?

"No, it's a day that I'll remember," he said. "Whenever you open up a season at your home ballpark, I think you remember all of them in a sense. To be a part of history at the closing of [old] Yankee Stadium and to then be part of history at opening new Yankee Stadium, I'll always remember this.

"I consider myself very fortunate to have this opportunity and be part of the new history we want to start here."

Pausing, almost in reflection, Girardi added: "This is not something you want to hang your hat on. Yes, it is disappointing because we were in a 1-1 game going to the seventh. It's not how you want to start out a new Stadium, but one game isn't going to make the history of this Yankee Stadium or this year."

The Yankees sent their $161 million pitcher, Sabathia out to start the game, and although he lacked consistency, he left with two outs in the sixth inning with the score tied. The only run the left-hander allowed in his 122-pitch effort scored on a double by Kelly Shoppach moments after a brilliant stop and throw by third baseman Cody Ransom cut down Jhonny Peralta at home plate.

Sabathia said throwing the first pitch at the new Stadium, "Was great. It was a lot of fun out there today. The energy was great. The whole experience, except for us losing was great.

"You know the history of the Yankees, you know everything that comes along with it."

He said pitching in the new Stadium, "Still had that feeling because this park looks like the old Stadium. Yet it was a weird feeling going out and starting a new era in Yankee baseball."

When Girardi looked out from the dugout, he, too, almost felt like he was across the street.

"Everything is really similar," he said. "The dimensions and the surface are pretty much the same. It's the same feel. It's a little different where the manager sits [in the dugout] because there are two rows of seats. It felt pretty normal."

Indians manager Eric Wedge said, "It really reminded me of the old Stadium. I haven't had a chance to see all the bells and whistles that the fans got to see, but it really reminds you of the old place -- everything except that big high-definition screen in center field."

Years ago when there was talk the national treasure that is Yankee Stadium needed to be replaced, Steinbrenner stood firm. How can you tear down Yankee Stadium?

After years of haggling, his dream was that a new, modern park must be almost a clone to the original House that Ruth Built. Anything less would be a travesty.

The House that George Built is everything he wanted and more.

Now, all the Yankees have to do is win a few games and add some more championships.

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.