Two of New York's strongest traditions will collide Saturday when the Yankees head to the United States Military Academy campus to face Army in an exhibition game.
The Black Knights and Bronx Bombers are playing for the 22nd time, but it's the first meeting between the teams since 1976. The Yankees have won each of the previous 21 meetings, dating back to 1927.
"It's a pretty surreal experience to share the field with these guys you've been watching on TV for so long," said Army pitcher Gunnar Carroll, a junior. "You get to compete against them, but being around them is even more of a special moment for us."
Neither team, however, will be at full strength. The Yankees will limp into the regular season, which begins Monday at home against the Boston Red Sox, without four of their marquee players -- Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira, who are all nursing injuries.
"We might hold back eight, nine, 10 pitchers to throw in conference rather than against the Yankees," Army coach Joe Sottolano said. "The thing is the seniors will have an opportunity to start (against the Yankees). Everyone will play for the most part. It's more about the experience than it is a win or loss for us. If it was at another time of the year, maybe we'd play it a little differently."
The Yankees will use wooden bats, while Army will use aluminum.
"Very excited, especially coming from an Annapolis (Md.) guy," Mark Teixeira said. "I've been very lucky to be a part of the Naval Academy growing up and through my dad, and so to see the other side will be really neat."
"Heard it's beautiful (at West Point)," he added.
Army has installed temporary bleachers at Doubleday Field, increasing the seating capacity from 880 to 6,500. The academy placed about 1,700 tickets on sale to the public in February, selling out in less than 15 minutes.
"There has been a significant sense of excitement surrounding this game," said Jason Butikofer, Army's senior associate athletic director, who oversees ticket operations. "It has been 100 percent justified, but it has been quantified by the demand."
Black Knights fan Clay DeGiacinto, a 1995 West Point graduate, who lives in Manhattan, said he will take his 6-year-old son to the game and plans to tailgate before the first pitch.
"The Yankees are a great New York institution, and it's very exciting to get to see them play," said DeGiacinto, who is also a Yankees fan. "And to get to see them at Doubleday Field is even more spectacular. I think it will be a memory that'll last a while."
Although the series has been lopsided in the Yankees' favor, it has left some lasting impressions on West Point. Babe Ruth's towering 500-foot blast in 1934 is considered to be the longest home run ever hit at Doubleday Field. And in 1966, Mickey Mantle drove in the game's lone run to spoil a four-hit gem by All-American Army pitcher Barry DeBolt, the closest the Black Knights have ever come to defeating the Bombers.
There have been plenty of other ties between the organizations.
Each spring, Army's baseball team travels to Tampa, Fla., to compete in a tournament and practices at the Yankees' spring training facility while there. In addition, the Black Knights' football team played at least one game at the old Yankee Stadium every year from 1926 to 1948, and then played at the new stadium in 2010 and 2011. And late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was an avid supporter of Army athletics.
With Erik Boland
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