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Yankees, Army cadets are mutually impressed

The New York Yankees take a tour around

The New York Yankees take a tour around West Point before an exhibition game against the Army baseball team at West Point Academy. (March 30, 2013) Credit: Newsday/Jessica Rotkiewicz

WEST POINT, N.Y. -- Discipline is everything at the United States Military Academy. Cadets stand erect, stare straight ahead and interact politely without displaying too much emotion.

That dispassionate, professional demeanor took a vacation Saturday as the Yankees finished their spring training by touring the picturesque campus on the Hudson River and then playing the Army team in an exhibition game.

Though the school draws top students from all over the country, it turns out that more than a few of them are Yankees fans. During a tour that lasted an hour, players got a chance to learn about the history of the school and dine with the cadets in a cavernous mess hall that looks like something straight out of Hogwarts. And students got a chance to interact with their favorite Yankees.

Probably no one was more excited to see the Yankees on campus than Mario Cortizo, a senior cadet who originally is from Panama. Cortizo is a huge fan of Mariano Rivera, who also is Panamanian. When the Yankees announced in January that they would be making the trip to West Point, Cortizo's mother sent a gift from Panama, hoping her son would be able to get it to Rivera. Not only was he able to give him the gift -- a clay mug -- but Rivera spent a good five minutes talking with Cortizo about their homeland.

"I told him how happy we are to have him here, and that he has represented the Panamanian people well," Cortizo said.

"I was proud of him to be here," Rivera said of Cortizo. " . . . People here think my job has pressure. This boy here wants to defuse bombs."

Most of the Yankees never had been to the campus, which is a little more than an hour's drive from Yankee Stadium. All of them seemed impressed,

"The discipline here is incredible. You can eat off the floor of the locker rooms here," pitcher Andy Pettitte said. "It's hard to believe that you are talking to 19-year-old kids. They all know exactly what they want to do with their lives."

There is one thing a few cadets weren't sure about Saturday: whom to cheer for in the exhibition game between their school and their favorite baseball team. Robert Frame, a cadet from Albertson, said before the Yankees beat Army, 10-5: "I've been a Yankees fan all my life. This is pretty incredible. It's a win-win for me. Whoever wins, it's going to be great."

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