Yankees enjoy first day in new $1.5 billion home

NEW YORK — Derek Jeter stepped out of the dugout and gazed up at those massive grandstands, five booming decks of blue-and-white splendor reaching high into a clear Bronx sky.

Welcome home. This is the new Yankee Stadium.

“It’s a lot better than I think anyone even expected,” Jeter said. “You know, I tried to come here, not ask too many questions about it, just wanted to experience it for the first time. But this is — it’s pretty unbelievable.”

Jeter and his teammates moved into their fancy new digs Thursday, working out at the $1.5 billion ballpark before a dazzled crowd of 20,070.

The place is a baseball palace, with modern luxuries everywhere for players and fans alike. But it’s also a tribute to history, featuring familiar characteristics from the old Yankee Stadium that opened in 1923.

Monument Park is now directly behind the center-field fence, beneath the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar. The famous frieze rings the upper deck, a replica of the original ballpark roof that was removed during the mid-1970s renovation.

“The stands, obviously, are a lot bigger than the old stadium, but I think they did a tremendous job incorporating qualities from the old stadium into this one,” Jeter said.

The Yankees have a spacious, oval clubhouse — complete with ThinkPad computers mounted in every wood-paneled locker. Players can use them to watch replays, order tickets for family members or even receive electronic messages from team officials.

Such amenities might not have been much use to Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle.

“I definitely don’t Facebook,” new slugger Mark Teixeira said, glancing at his gadget. “I check my e-mail about once a week.”

New York players can park in an underground garage and go directly into the ballpark, meaning they don’t even have to pass by autograph-seeking fans before or after games.

They have a huge training room, weight room, swimming pool, SwimEx spa and cozy lounge, giving them plenty of places to “hide” from reporters, as Jeter pointed out.

“I think everyone is going to be a little bit spoiled,” he said.

Still, it might take awhile for the Yankees to feel completely at home here after moving from their old digs across 161st Street.

“It definitely feels awkward. It definitely feels weird,” pitcher Andy Pettitte said. “Everything is different.”

Standing on the field, the ballpark looks similar to the remodeled Yankee Stadium. Plush green grass, a warning track of reddish clay, the padded blue fence. The outfield dimensions are the same, too.

But then, you look up at the 52,325 seats (down from more than 57,000 in the previous stadium) and the enormous video board in center field, 59 feet high and 101 feet wide, flanked by two smaller screens.

“It’s unbelievable,” Teixeira said.

Fans gawked as they soaked in the warm sun and festive atmosphere Thursday, many arriving with cameras and kids they pulled out of school. Season-ticket holders received ducats to the workout, and the Yankees gave thousands of tickets to Bronx community groups.

Former Yankees star Bernie Williams played guitar at opening ceremonies for the Hard Rock Cafe in right field. As the team practiced for nearly two hours, rock ‘n’ roll greats from the Ramones to Jimi Hendrix blared over the sound system.

Indeed, this place was built to host a big party every night — albeit an expensive one.

“This is spectacular. It is beautiful. Beyond my expectations,” said Paola Murphy of Fairfield, Conn., who stood in the front row of first-base stands with her husband and two boys. “It’s really majestic.”

Patrick Butler, a Boston fan wearing a Red Sox jersey and cap believe it or not, went even further.

“I’ve been to a lot of major league baseball stadiums around the country and by far this is the best,” said Butler, who drove nearly three hours from Providence, R.I., with his 18-year-old son, Gregory.

The first games at the new park will be exhibitions against the Chicago Cubs on Friday night and Saturday. New York’s regular-season home opener is April 16 against Cleveland.

Of course, all these amenities cost money. The most expensive individual-game seats go for $2,625 and the cheapest ticket in the lower deck between the bases is $350.

That’s pretty stiff, especially in this economy.

“I don’t see this place as ostentatious or flashy. I guess I see it as classy,” general partner Hal Steinbrenner said. “I think we did a great job and I think everybody in our organization is very proud of it.”

There is far less room between home plate and the backstop in the new ballpark, but there appears to be a little more foul territory near the dugouts and down the lines.

Teixeira said the hitting background was fine during batting practice and he liked the way the ball was carrying.

Notes: Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot of Flight 1549

who successfully landed the impaired plane on the Hudson River in January, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Saturday’s game. The team will honor “Sully,” a longtime Yankees, as well as Flight 1549 co-pilot Jeff Skiles and flight-crew member Doreen Welsh in a pregame ceremony.

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