WEST POINT, New York (Reuters) - Sapped of firepower due to a spate of injuries, the New York Yankees found inspiration in a visit to the U.S. Military Academy on Saturday for their last practice game before Opening Day.
Before taking on the Army team on Doubleday Field, named after West Point graduate and Army General Abner Doubleday, the Yankees were given a tour of the impressive campus on the banks of the Hudson.
They saw the Battle Monument to the U.S. Civil War and Trophy Point, a majestic overlook of the river decorated with cannons and guns seized by U.S. troops in campaigns dating back to the Revolutionary War.
”Our adversity is miniscule to when they go through adversity, because their adversity can be much more costly than what ours is, obviously,“ Yankees manager Joe Girardi said before New York’s 10-5 win over the Army team. ”The stakes are much higher.
“Coming here keeps life in perspective.”
Yankees players and coaches were taken into Washington Hall, a wondrous mess hall of five-story high beamed ceilings with arched lead glass windows, sharing tables with the cadets for chat sessions before taking the field.
Many of the cadets were in awe of the major league players, and the Yankees were also impressed by what they experienced less than 50 miles north of their Bronx home.
”It’s good to be able to sit down and meet some of these kids,“ said Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte. ”It’s just cool to see the discipline they’re teaching these kids and that they carry.
“These kids know exactly what they want to do.”
Mariano Rivera, Major League Baseball’s all-time saves leader who has announced this will be his last season, was stopped on his way into the dining hall by a cadet.
“I just told him he has represented Panama really well,” said Mario Cortizo, a fellow-Panamanian who gave Rivera a decorative mug native to their country. “We all love him.”
Rivera said Cortizo, a senior, invited him to his graduation. “I was proud of him. Knowing that he comes from Panama,” said the closer. “This is an amazing, beautiful place. First class.”
Oddsmakers have lowered their expectations for the 2013 Yankees, who have Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter among those missing the season opener on Monday against the visiting Boston Red Sox due to injury.
The Yankees themselves still have their sights on a championship, though they may have to rely more on their arms, with a pitching staff that could potentially carry them.
“I‘m motivated coming into this season to win a championship and that starts with winning the division,” said hard-throwing left-hander CC Sabathia.
Pettitte said he had not paid attention to coverage of the team but recently realized ”there was a whole lot of people doubting we were going to win any ball games this year.
“I think we’re going to win our division. I expect us to be in the World Series, bottom line. We’ve got the pitching, we’ve got the bullpen to do that.”
Pettitte echoed the can-do spirit of West Point cadets, who face five years of active military service following graduation.
“I feel like if people think we’re going to be a little short on scoring runs, we’re gonna figure out a way to score runs, enough runs to win. I feel great about our club.”
Girardi shrugged off the string of injuries, maintaining a long view of the six-month season.
”Every year you’re going to go through things,“ said the manager. ”Sometimes you’re going to do it in the middle of the year, sometimes you’re going to do it at the end of the year. We have to be doing it in the beginning right now.
“I expect their best. We expect to win every day and we prepare to win every day.”
Editing by Gene Cherry