Yanks beat Army 10-5 in final preseason tuneup

At first glance, it seemed like the end of a typical Yankees
home victory. Frank Sinatra crooned ”New York, New York” over the
loudspeakers and the players hugged one another.

Except this game was different. Action had stopped at 5 p.m. –
the visitors were batting in the eighth inning – for the lowering
of the Stars and Stripes atop the towering flagpole at Trophy Point
to the sounds of Reveille played by a solitary bugler.

And those hugs and embraces after the final out were for the
opponents, the Army Black Knights.

On a sun-splashed Saturday afternoon at West Point, the Yankees
revived an old tradition, traveling up the Hudson River to play
Army, something they hadn’t done since 1976.

”This is a special day, a great way to finish spring
training,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. ”It gives you such a
sense of pride about being an American when you come up here and
how respectful they are to our country. The game stopped. That, to
me, puts it in perspective.”

Finalizing the roster for Monday’s season-opener against the
Boston Red Sox was on general manager Brian Cashman’s mind. The
game at hand took precedence on this day, though.

”Baseball’s just a game and it’s just a sport. What these
people are preparing for is life-and-death stuff,” Cashman said.
”Anytime you get exposed to the reality of who’s doing the really
important stuff in the world, that’s a healthy dose of
perspective.”

That the Yankees won 10-5 behind home runs by Brennan Boesch and
Melky Mesa was an afterthought at best.

”This is so important. We’re here to play a game, but they’re
here to protect us,” said Girardi, whose dad was an airplane
mechanic in the Korean War. ”How important that is. Every day that
I wake up, I feel safe. That’s not true in a lot of places. I think
our guys are having a blast.”

They were, indeed.

Before the game, the team took a tour of the campus, making
stops at the Hall of Fame, Cadet Chapel, Michie Stadium, and Trophy
Point.

”There’s a link between us and the U.S. Military Academy that
goes back a long way,” Cashman said. ”So much respect the
Steinbrenner family has for the military, so it’s appropriate, and
we’re really pleased we’re here today, we really are. And I can
tell you our players – watching these guys on the tour – you could
just tell they were soaking it up. And it was impactful.”

After the tour, the team ate lunch in the mess hall with a group
of cadets.

”They asked me what it was like to be in the big leagues, the
normal stuff,” Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte said. ”Everyone
is different, and it takes a special person to be able to go
through and do what they have to do. Thank God for them.”

”Just being here and eating in the mess hall was a lot of
fun,” left-hander CC Sabathia said. ”It’s been a good experience.
One of the kids at the table hasn’t left campus in a couple of
years. The work ethic they have is crazy.”

When ace reliever Mariano Rivera began to climb the steps of
Washington Hall for lunch, he was stopped by cadet Mario Cortizo, a
senior from Panama. They chatted briefly in Spanish, and Cortizo
gave Rivera a handmade cup from their homeland.

”This is wonderful, the history. I’m glad I’m here,” said
Rivera, who threw out a ceremonial first pitch before the game.
”This whole thing is great. I was proud of him, knowing he also
comes from Panama. I bet he didn’t have that much money to be here.
That’s a blessing. He’s graduating this year and I got
invited.”

”We all love him,” Cortizo said, a huge smile creasing his
face. ”I told him it was great having him here.”

Army began playing professional baseball teams in 1914, losing
7-2 to the New York Giants. The Black Knights have won four of 69
games against the pros – two each over the Brooklyn Dodgers and
Montreal Royals.

The Yankees improved to 22-0 in a series that dates to 1927,
when Babe Ruth led Murderers Row to West Point. The teams hadn’t
played since 1976.

”It was a longstanding tradition,” said Bob Beretta, executive
athletic director. ”(Former Army football coach) Red Blaik was
great friends with Leo Durocher, so they (the New York Giants)
would come up here and play. We’d love it to be an annual event.
Bringing this game back to West Point is an honor.”

The Black Knights regularly visit the Yankees’ spring training
complex in Florida. To have the team return the favor was almost
mind-boggling. The players found out in November, and though there
wasn’t much talk, Army coach Joe Sottolano knew it was all his
players had been thinking about for a long time.

It was difficult to figure out who was more impressed – the
Yankees or the Black Knights – on a picture-perfect day. An
overflow crowd of 6,127, boisterously cheering the home team when
the Black Knights scored, attended as sets of bleachers were
transported to a stadium that normally seats 800.

”I’ve been dreaming of something like this since the day I was
born,” said sophomore right-hander Andrew Flaherty, who started
for Army and took the loss. ”I’m definitely honored for them to
come out here and support us.”

The Yankees also took turns spending time in the Army dugout
during the game, chatting with the Black Knights.

”These gentlemen are going to go through some hard times,
whether it’s in life or in the Army,” said Sottolano, who had to
worry about Sunday’s doubleheader against archrival Navy. ”But
they’ll always have this memory and they’ll be able to tell their
kids about it and they’ll never forget it.

”They made us feel special,” Sottolano said. ”They’re not
going to see their families much, and tomorrow’s Easter Sunday.
They gave us that time.”

The Yankees scored five runs in the second and the Black Knights
came back with four in the third before giving up two runs in the
sixth on a throwing error.

”We don’t want to embarrass ourselves. We want to go out there
and put up a game,” Army catcher Andrew Johnson said. ”When we
put up those four runs and got a couple of shutdown innings from
our pitchers, we had them 5-4 until the sixth inning. We looked at
each other and said, `Let’s get this. This is the one chance.’

”It wasn’t just going out there and having fun,” he said.

Cashman said the roster was complete. He said he still had to
make room for Lyle Overbay, and that had to be done by 3 p.m. EDT
Sunday.