Photo by Ken Kraetzer

Yankees visit West Point for exhibition game

For the first time since 1976, the New York Yankees traveled to the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., on March 30 for a day of tours, an exhibition baseball game against the Army Black Knights and pageantry.

West Point has a history of playing exhibition games against Major League Baseball teams, and prior to last Saturday, the Yankees have visited West Point 21 times with the first being in 1927 with the "Murderers’ Row" team — the nickname given to the Yankees for its first six hitters in the 1927 team lineup, which included Babe Ruth, who served as an American Legion Baseball consultant in 1947.

The day for the Yankees started with a campus tour with stops at the Cadet Chapel, Trophy Point and the athletic department facilities. The Yankee delegation, which was led by the team’s part owner Hal Steinbrenner and his sister Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal, had lunch with the cadets in Washington Hall where they learned that a meal serving more than 4,000 cadets was completed in less than 25 minutes.

Prior to the game, former American Legion Baseball players Mark Teixeira, the Yankee’s first baseman, and Army leadoff hitter Jon Crucitti, spoke to each other. Teixeira, the son of a Navy pilot, played in the 1997 American Legion World Series in Rapid City, S.D., for Post 175 of Severna, Md. Crucitti, who is batting .344 for West Point, played for the Rowan County Legion Baseball team in Mt. Ulla, N.C., which finished third at the 2009 Legion World Series in Fargo, N.D.

Meanwhile, Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who played Legion Baseball in Peoria, Ill., is the son of a Korean War era Air Force veteran who passed away last October during the playoffs. Before the Yankees’ game against West Point, Girardi explained to his players that "we’re here to play a game, but they’re here to protect us. Every day I wake up I feel safe. That’s not true in a lot of places.

"Our adversity is minuscule compared to what they go through here," Girardi said, according to the New York Daily News. "Obviously, the pressure is much more intense on the battlefield than it is on the baseball field."

West Point added 4,800 temporary seats inside Johnson Stadium at Doubleday Field. The view from the field is amazing with Washington Hall, the Cadet Chapel on the hill, and the new Thomas Jefferson Hall Library.

Before the game, the Yankees presented West Point with two seats from the original Yankee Stadium, and the Army Black Knights presented the Yankees with a Stilwell Saber — the highest award from the Corps of Cadets.

The first pitch was thrown by the daughter of an Army 1st Sgt. who has deployed five times for the war in Afghanistan. A second pitch was thrown by Yankee closer Mariano Rivera, who announced his retirement from baseball effective the end of the 2013 season.

Former Nebraska American Legion baseball star Joba Chamberlain spent time with a group of 100 cadets in the stands signing autographs. And during the game, Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte and left fielder Brett Gardner, who both played American Legion baseball in South Carolina, visited with Army players in their dugout.

NBC Nightly News host Brian Williams visited the press box and recounted his father’s military service and his trip 10 years ago to Fallujah, Iraq, where he was assisted in a dangerous moment by U.S. Army servicemembers, including a West Point graduate.

At the seventh inning stretch, Master Sgt. MaryKay Messenger of the West Point Band performed "God Bless America," as she has before a Yankee Stadium. And the game stopped at 5 p.m. for everyone to face the American flag on the parade grounds as the daily lowering of the flag was conducted and a bugler played "To the Colors."

The game ended in a 10-5 win by the Yankees.