New York hopes to be right at home against Cleveland

NEW YORK (AP) – Appropriately, the first official pitch at America’s most expensive stadium will be thrown by the pitcher with the richest contract, CC Sabathia.

From Sabathia’s fat deal to single-game ticket prices of $2,625, everything about the regular-season opener Thursday at the new Yankee Stadium says wealth or comfort – or both. Sunshine is forecast for and frail owner George Steinbrenner is expected to be on hand to personally watch New York play Cleveland in the first official game at the house he built – at a price of $1.5 billion.

The Hard Rock Cafe and new steakhouse in the right-field corner figure to be filled, along with the stadium club in left, the sports bar in the center-field batters’ eye, the Bleachers Cafe above it, the 67 suites ringing the field and the three clubs and lounges for the spectators in the first nine rows ringing the infield.

Players can drive their cars directly into the granite-and-limestone stadium, relax in the swimming pools or sauna when they arrive, then take batting practice in the spacious indoor cages off the dugout steps. Or they can e-mail from the laptops installed in each of their lockers. “I think everyone was a bit overwhelmed by it because, you know, if you’re sitting down and you’re thinking of how you’re going to build a stadium, I don’t think there’s anything else you can really put in this thing,” Yankees captain Derek Jeter said after New York’s first exhibition game there two weeks ago.

No, this is not the House that Ruth Built across 161st Street, a structure considered lavish when it opened in 1923 but Spartan by the time in closed last September.

New York Gov. David Paterson and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg were expected to attend the opening, the second in a four-day span for a New York ballpark.

On Monday night, the Mets lost their first game at $800 million Citi Field, 6-5 to San Diego. This marks the first time since at least 1900 that two major league ballparks in the same city held their first games in the same season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The Yankees aren’t the only ones making a buck off the opening of the stadium. has sold more than 5,000 tickets at an average price of $400 – $20 higher than the average for the final game at the old Yankee Stadium last year.

It’s StubHub’s ninth best-selling event by dollar volume, trailing the old Yankee Stadium finale (No. 6) and last summer’s All-Star game at Yankee Stadium (No. 4), and the resale prices have ranged from $65 to $5,883 per ticket.

That’s quite a leap from the opening of the original Yankee Stadium on April 18, 1923, when a man was arrested for trying to scalp a $1.10 grandstand ticket for $1.25.

The 52,325-seat stadium is much like the original. There are soaring cathedral windows on the exterior and the field dimensions match those at the old ballpark in 2008. But it’s Yankee Stadium on steroids, 62 percent larger than the original.

“I saw our laundry room for the first time,” manager Joe Girardi said. “It’s quite large.”

With three shops filled with pinstriped merchandise, a Yankees art gallery, a memorabilia store, a Yankees museum, a 31,000-square foot Great Hall – there’s even a farmer’s market behind home plate, a branch of the Madison Avenue butcher Lobel’s behind third base and a Tommy Bahama’s Martini Bar behind home plate – it feels like a mall as much as a ballpark.

“I’m still finding my way around here,” new Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said.

“Then maybe I can check out the Hard Rock or one of the other steakhouses.”

Sabathia, 1-1 after signing a $161 million, seven-year contract, gets the honor of the first start and left 25 tickets for family and friends. He’ll face his original big league team and be opposed by Cliff Lee.

“I guess it’s going to be weird, my first time ever pitching against them,” he said. “I’m glad it’s a day game so I won’t get blinded by the flashes.”

Alex Rodriguez, the sport’s most expensive player, won’t be in the game because he’s recovering from hip surgery.

“I’m very disappointed,” he said. “Taking the big picture, I want to be there at the end of the season.”

He won’t get a chance to match Babe Ruth, who famously hit a three-run homer as the Yankees beat Boston 4-1 in the first game at the old ballpark after John Philip Sousa led the Seventh Regiment Band during the opening ceremonies. In tribute, the West Point Marching Band will play Sousa’s “Washington Post March” and “Stars and Stripes Forever” before Thursday’s game. Grammy Award winner Kelly Clarkson will sing the national anthem.

Yogi Berra will throw out the ceremonial first pitch, and fellow Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson, Whitey Ford, Rickey Henderson, Rich Gossage and Dave Winfield will be among more than 40 former Yankees in attendance. The plate and pitching rubber will be the ones used in the final game at the old stadium.

New York has had three other longtime homes. Then the Highlanders, New York beat Washington in its first game at Hilltop Park on April 30, 1903, behind a Jack Chesbro seven-hitter. The Yankees lost their first home game at the Polo Grounds, 7-1 to the Philadelphia Athletics on May 30, 1912. And they won their opener at Shea Stadium, their temporary home for two seasons, 6-1 over Cleveland on April 6, 1974, behind a Mel Stottlemyre seven-hitter.

But nothing matched the original Yankee Stadium, the club’s home as they won a record 26 World Series titles. Now the Yankees hope they haven’t priced themselves out of a home-field advantage by charging so much for a stadium with so many amenities.

“I think the home-field advantage is made up of really good pitching and solid hitting and good defense,” said Cubs manager Lou Piniella, a former Yankees star. “You have that, and you’re going to replicate it very easily.”

AP freelance writer Mark Didtler in Tampa, Fla., contributed to this report.

AP-ES-04-15-09 1834EDT

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