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Yankees humbled by trip to West Point

Army head coach Joe Sottolano (left) and New

Army head coach Joe Sottolano (left) and New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi shake hands before an exhibition baseball game at the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. (March 30, 2013) Credit: AP

WEST POINT, N.Y. -- About an hour before the first pitch of Saturday's exhibition game against Army, Mark Teixeira approached a group of Cadet players on the third-base side.

The Yankees' dugout, the injured first baseman said, might be a little crowded.

"I'll come in and watch the first couple of innings with you, if that's OK,'' Teixeira said to the players, who quickly and enthusiastically answered in the affirmative. "I'll try to tell you how to pitch to these knuckleheads.''

Teixeira stayed five innings. By then, he had been joined by many of his teammates. His manager came over, too.

"That was one of the coolest experiences I've ever had playing baseball,'' Teixeira said after the Yankees' 10-5 victory in front of a standing-room-only crowd of 6,127 at Johnson Stadium at Doubleday Field.

Army catcher Andrew Johnson, still glowing after the game about his experience catching a ceremonial first pitch from Mariano Rivera, said of Teixeira: "I don't think it really took long for us to grab him and pull him into the dugout. All game, guys [Yankees] were coming into the dugout chatting with us.''

By game's end, that group included pretty much all of the front-line players who made the trip -- from Teixeira to Robinson Cano to David Robertson to Brett Gardner to Kevin Youkilis to Andy Pettitte. And Joe Girardi, who spent nearly three innings in the Army dugout.

"Their life is much different than a normal college student, and I was curious,'' Girardi said admiringly. "This was a special day. It gives you a sense of pride about being an American when you come up here.''

Chris Rowley, an All-American pitcher for Army, said the Yankees seemed just as interested in the Cadets' lives as the Cadets were in the Yankees'. Maybe even more.

"The first question everybody asks us, and these guys were no different, was what time do you get up in the morning,'' Rowley said. The answer?

"4:30,'' he said with a smile. "On a late day.''

The origin of the game came in early 2012. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno's son Tony worked for the Yankees in their stadium operations department. Through his son, Gen. Odierno inquired about the possibility of a game at West Point.

"I promised we would do everything we could to look into it and try to make it happen,'' general manager Brian Cashman said. He reached out to managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner, whose approval was little more than a rubber stamp.

Hal attended Culver Military Academy, just as his father did. George Steinbrenner enlisted in the Air Force after graduating from Williams College in 1952 and was a long-time supporter of the military.

"He would absolutely be thrilled to be here himself, there's no doubt about that,'' Hal said. "My family, this organization always had a great appreciation for our military because of the sacrifices they make and the contributions they make to the country that we can't because we're not in that position. So it's an honor to be here.''

Steinbrenner joined his team earlier in the morning for its behind-the-scenes tour of West Point that ended in the mess hall for lunch.

"Going through the buildings here and looking at the names of those that have come through here and the unknown names of the ones that have come through here and not lived to see their 25th birthday,'' Steinbrenner said. "A lot of history . . . it was a great idea. It's tremendous. And I know the players are loving it too. You can see it.''

Cashman called it "our day of team building and bonding.''

"Learning how the military goes about preparing their players for a life of service,'' Cashman said of what he hoped Yankees players got out of the day. "Our guys are getting a lot out of this -- a lot of perspective, a lot of history and a lot of appreciation . . . Baseball's just a game and it's just a sport. What these people are preparing for is life-and-death stuff. Any time you get exposed to the reality of who's doing the really important stuff in the world, that's a healthy dose of perspective . . . I'm glad we're here. And we're getting more out of this than obviously they're going to get.''


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