Bronx New York—–The Yankees baseball season unofficially began on Thursday night in mid-town Manhattan with the annual Welcome Home Dinner. More than 1,000 fans attended and $1,300,000 was raised for charity. Yankee greats of the past such as Reggie Jackson, Tino Martinez, Tommy john and the beloved icon Yogi Berra were present. Also present were devoted Yankees fans like Bill Stimers. He was also present the next afternoon for his 47th Opening Day. Of the event, he remarked, “I am thankful to be back at Yankee Stadium. I am excited to see the start of another baseball season in the Bronx. I belive the Yankees can again win a championship this year.”
At 11 am on Friday the 13th, the doors at Yankee Stadium opened to welcome fans for the start of the new season in the Bronx. Fans throughout the metropolitan area as well as the players on this year’s team were eagerly awaiting the start of baseball in the Bronx.
The sun was shining and the temperature was ideal for the 49,386 fans that filled the ballpark for the afternoon opener. As takes place at every Yankees opener, the ceremonies were quite impressive.
The 30 minutes prior to the first pitch of the game were filled with festivities. The players on both teams were individually introduced and lined up along the base lines. The two remaining members of the Core Four, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, received the most prolonged ovations. Both previously spoke of the meaning of a Yankee Stadium Opening Day to them.
The Yankee captain enthused, “It just never seems like the season officially gets under way until you have the home opener. That’s how I always felt. It’s special. It’s fun. It’s a great atmosphere. It’s something we all look forward to. It just doesn’t feel like it [the season] gets under way until we get the one [opening game] at home.”
The less loquacious Rivera expressed the same feelings in fewer words, “[Now] the season will start for us.”
Moving patriotic ceremonies have been a hallmark at Opening Day under the Steinbrenner ownership of the Yankees. A huge American flag was unfurled by West Point cadets in the outfield. The colors were brought on the field by the West Point Color Guard. Jeremy Jordan of the Broadway show “Newsies” ably performed the National Anthem. The pre-game military ceremony concluded after a flyover by a Navy F-18 Super Hornet.
The focus was again on baseball as the recently retired Jorge Posada alighted from the Yankee dugout to throw the ceremonial first pitch. On the previous night, Posada was awarded the Pride of the Yankees Award during the annual Welcome Home Dinner. Strange to the eyes of Yankees fans of the past two decades, Posada headed to the mound rather than the plate as he was the one who would throw rather than receive the pitch. The pitch was especially meaningful as it was received by Posada’s father.
At a few minutes past 1 pm, the 37 year-old Yankee hurler Hiroki Kuroda went to the mound to deliver his first pitch for his new team in a stadium in which he never previously competed. Because his first Yankee start was disappointing, Kuroda expressed some concern, “Rather than being excited, I’m more worried about how I’m going to perform. I really have to do the best I can. I think I will.”
Kuroda’s performance on the mound was far better than he or the fans could have expected. He pitched eight innings plus to one batter in the ninth. He shut out the Angels, surrendering only five hits and two walks. He fanned six batters. He left the field to a standing ovation of which he remarked, “It’s the greatest feeling in the world. I really appreciate what the fans did.”
He minimized his sterling performance by saying, “When you have that kind of run production, you’re able to be more relaxed.”
The Yankees power and clutch hitting brought five runs across the plate. After a single by Alex Rodriguez and walks to Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira in the first inning, a double to deep center by Nick Swisher cleared the bases.
The final two runs were scored on solo homers. A-Rod hit the first pitch in the bottom of the third into Monument Park in center field for his 630th home run. The blast tied Ken Griffey Jr. for fifth place in career homers in the majors. One day, a monument to Rodriguez will almost surely be placed in the area where his homer landed.
With one out in the fifth, Curtis Granderson planted the ball in the rightfield seats to score the final run of the game.
After the game, Yankee skipper Joe Girardi aptly commented, It doesn’t get any better.”