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Ringing In The New Season at the Stadium

I’ve been at every home opener since 2000 except 2009, which got rained out and so I drove back to Boston in tears instead of staying in the city another day to go to the make-up game.

Today made up for it.

My two favorite Opening Days of the past decade were in 2001, seeing the actual raising of the Championship Banner and the “ceremonial golf cart ride” to Monument Park, and in 2003, when after the game was delayed one day by snow, Matsui finally took the field in pinstripes for the first time and hit a grand slam.

Today might top both of those.

First of all, it’s not every day that I cry before we even get to the National Anthem. The ring ceremony began with a tearful Gene Monahan receiving his first off, and the players hanging back to honor him for all he has done. Gene-o, as he is called, has been Yankees trainer for my entire life, and for longer than the Steinbrenners have owned the team (by one year). He has throat and neck cancer, had his tonsils removed in January, missed spring training, and had his 30th radiation treatment today. He also received a standing ovation, much deserved.

Yogi and Whitey handed out the rings, along with Joe Girardi, who has changed his number from 27 to 28 to reflect his next goal for the franchise, their 28th championship. Jerry Hairston, Jr. was there, in a suit, to receive his. And then they worked their way through the Yankees’ roster, from the highest number (91, Alfredo Aceves) to the lowest. Alex Rodriguez received one of the loudest ovations from the fans when things got to him, about the same loudness as Mariano Rivera received. I got a little teary watching how happy Alex looked. And of course #2, the captain, Derek Jeter, came last, to thunderous applause.

Except he wasn’t last. There was one ring box on the table, and it was for the World Series MVP, Hideki Matsui, who was in the third base dugout, wearing the uniform of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Matsui received the loudest cheers of all, including chants of MVP! MVP! and his name. He looked a bit teary eyed, too, as he stood on the top step, waiting to come out.

The Yankees broke ranks as soon as Matsui had shaken hands with Joe Girardi, all gathering around him for a group hug/mass congratulations. They looked excited and happy, and it reminded me of the 1999 All Star Game at Fenway Park where the players gathered all around Ted Williams. I cried. My friend Lori cried. Another friend of ours who had come along to the game but who doesn’t know baseball (isn’t from the USA), was flabbergasted that we got so emotional. Then she looked around and saw that all the guys in our section were crying, too. Once again we proved the Game of Their Own adage wrong. Matsui was one lone red hat in a sea of pinstripes.

Oh, and then there was a game to play. How fitting that Andy Pettitte took the mound today, and that Mariano Rivera got the save, even though it looked for a while like no save situation would be required.

Pettitte was frisky, meaning he was leaving the ball up, but pitching with some extra oomph, so he got a lot of fly balls (harmless) and strike-outs, rather than his usual ground balls, although he escaped a two-men on jam with a ground ball, pop up and strikeout in the fifth, and then in the sixth escaped men on the corners one out with a nice 6-4-3 double play. That was probably the turning point of the game for me–if he gives up a 3-run bomb or walks Howie Kendrick to load the bases, the whole game could have fallen apart, but instead, quite near to his pitch limit, he got the big twin-killing when he needed it.

The Yankees scored early and often. Every Yankee starter reached base at least once, Teixeira twice by the walk, Gardner once, the rest with hits. Nick Johnson homered in the first, Jeter in the third. They threatened in every inning.

They took a 5-0 shut out into the eighth inning, when Chan Ho Park gave up his second homer of the year to Kendry Morales. The batter before him was Matsui, whom the crowd kept expecting to do something great like hit a home run. If he had hit one then, he would have been cheered. Instead, I think he was humbled by the moment. He grounded to second base–another usual Matsui outcome.

The Yankees tacked on two more runs in the 8th, so it was 7-1 going into the ninth inning, and David Robertson came on to finish the job. Kendrick led off with in infield single on a ground ball deep in the hole that Jeter snared but couldn’t get to the bag in time. Then Mathis followed with an infield bunt single, putting two men on. Typical pesky Angels. Brandon Wood, the #9 man, followed with a fly ball to the wall in right, almost caught by Randy Winn (who came in as a supposed defensive replacement?), but ending up a single to load the bases.

Robertson gathered himself to strike out Erick Aybar, but then came Bobby Abreu, and blam, one swing, four runs, and all of a sudden it was a save situation.

Mo didn’t mess around, striking out Torii Hunter to bring that man again, Hideki Matsui, to the plate. Many in the crowd oohed and aahed… would Matsui do it this time? Nope. Mo popped him up and the game was in the bag, 7-5 Yankees.

(Photos to come…)

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