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Friday, April 3, 2009
Yanks, Mets play first games at new digs

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- The fields were sloppy, the view was sweet.

Eager New York fans turned out on a damp Friday night to watch the Yankees and Mets test their plush and pricey new ballparks in exhibition games, a double debut in a city that hasn't had a new Major League Baseball stadium in 45 years.
New York Mets
New York Mets fans entered Citi Field via the Jackie Robinson Rotunda -- named so for the former Brooklyn Dodger second baseman.

The faithful were awed. Given what these places cost, maybe they ought to be.

"When I pass, I want my ashes to be buried here. That's how beautiful it is," John Zozzaro of Glen Cove said as he admired $800 million Citi Field in Queens, where fans lavished praise on everything from the brilliant green of the outfield to the cup holders in front of the seats.

Across town, Frank Sinatra songs played as fans took in the new Yankee Stadium, bedecked with old Yankees memorabilia and pictures of team titans such as Babe Ruth. At $1.5 billion, it is the costliest baseball stadium ever built.

"It looks great. I think the word is 'majestic.' It's awesome," said 39-year-old Mike Generose. He and his wife, Lori, 24, had driven to the game from their home in Allentown, Pa.

The Mets' first pitch came first, delivered by Livan Hernandez and taken for a ball by Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury. An hour later, Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Yankee Stadium before a boisterous crowd.

The festive atmosphere lasted right to the end as both teams came away with victories. The Mets beat the Red Sox 4-3, with new closer Francisco Rodriguez getting the save. The Yankees hit three homers, including a three-run shot by Cody Ransom, Alex Rodriguez's injury replacement, and beat the Cubs 7-4.

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Conditions weren't perfect for players or fans. It rained on and off throughout the day, and showers swept through the area in the evening, hitting both ballparks. The Mets game was delayed in the sixth inning.

Fans at both ballparks retreated from their seats to the warmth of the many restaurants and clubs at each spot.

But even before Derek Jeter started the Yankees' first inning with a double, the Hard Rock Cafe was jammed. Other fans were slow to get to their seats as the games started, taking time to wander through the concourses, snap photos and assess the buildings with a mix of excitement and nostalgia.

As a longtime Yankees fan who saw more than 200 games at the old House that Ruth Built, Mike Generose acknowledged feeling a bit sentimental about the Yankees' old park, still standing alongside the new venue.

"A little bit of your heart stays across the street," he said. "But I guess if you have to move, this is a good place to move into."

The Bronx stadium felt and sounded every bit like its urban setting, with elevated subway trains rumbling by within sight behind the outfield.

John Panzico lauded the ballpark's openness as he squeezed the new, cushioned seats.
New York Yankees
The Yankees played their first game at their new park a day after opening up the stadium for a public workout.

"I grew up in the old stadium. I brought my children there," said the 62-year-old Panzico, who was raised on Staten Island and now lives in upstate Monroe. "I hope I'll be starting a new tradition at this stadium with my grandchildren."

Even some of the visiting teams' partisans had nice things to say about the New Yorkers' new digs.

To Brian Lowder of Boston, Citi Field far outshone the Mets' former park, Shea Stadium.

"The nostalgia wears thin when you're jammed into those seats," Lowder said, comparing Citi Field favorably even to Fenway Park, the old home of his beloved Red Sox.

A few fans paused on their way into Citi Field to take pictures of the nearby pile of rubble that once was Shea. Before them was a new ballpark complete with both baseball tributes -- including a rotunda dedicated to Jackie Robinson -- and a seemingly endless array of eating and shopping options.

But for many fans, the focus was on the field.

Joseph Clemente applauded the zig-zagging outfield's "nooks and crannies." Rich Ruiz rejoiced in upper-deck seats he said had better sight lines than similar spots at Shea -- and didn't give him the pitched-forward feeling the old park's upper deck did.

Joe Sherman, 58, an attorney from West Orange, N.J., arrived at Citi Field so early that the gates were still locked.

A season ticket holder for 31 years at Shea, Sherman said he couldn't afford his old seats behind home plate at the new Citi Field. But he didn't care.

"I'm in the ballpark, and that's what counts," he said.

Over in the Bronx, meanwhile, Yankees fan John Kovacs was asked whether he was interested in checking out the Mets' new digs. He scoffed.

"I'll check it out when the Yankees play there," he said.