The Yankees will finish out their preseason with an exhibition game against the Atlanta Braves this weekend. The March 31st matchup will help open SunTrust Park, the team’s controversial new stadium situated outside of Atlanta proper and in the neighboring Cobb County. Why is such a structure controversial? Well, it likely has to do with the fact that Turner Field only just turned 20 this week. It is also seen as a symbol of the team’s flight from the predominantly black population of the city.
Regardless of why the Braves are moving, it should be noted that this won’t be the first time the Yankees have helped open a new stadium. They have played exhibitions at new venues many times, likely because of who they are. Still, there remains a special distinction of being able to say you played the first game ever in a new park. In their history, the Yankees have helped to open a few places.
Fenway Park - April 20, 1912
While the game at SunTrust Park will be an exhibition, the Yankees have the distinction of being the first team to visit the Fenway Park in an official game. After playing Harvard University in an exhibition game earlier in the month, the Red Sox welcomed the Highlanders to town on April 20th. The mayor of Boston John F. Fitzgerald—grandfather of John F. Kennedy—threw out the first pitch that day.
The Red Sox would beat the Highlanders 7-6 in 11 innings on their way to becoming the 1912 World Series champions. This would be the team’s final year as the Highlanders before they changed their name to the Yankees. They finished the 1912 season with a 50-102 last place finish. Coverage of the game in the local newspaper was overshadowed by the sinking of the Titanic just five days earlier.
Astrodome - April 9, 1965
The Yankees played the first exhibition game in the Astrodome to help celebrate the Houston Colt .45s becoming the Houston Astros. Mickey Mantle’s home run had the distinction of being the stadium’s first hit and homer, but the Yankees ultimately fell 2-1 to their host.
The event was a highly publicized ordeal as the first professional baseball game to be played indoors. Those in the crowd included President Lyndon B. Johnson, his wife Lady Bird, Texas Governor John Connally, and Houston Mayor Louie Welch.
This season would, unfortunately, be remembered as the year that the mighty Yankees finally turned into mere mortals. They finished in the middle of the pack and couldn’t reach .500 for the first time since 1925. The following year was their first last place finish since taking on the Yankees name.
Take a peek at this newsreel from 1965:
Turner Field March 29, 1997
This won’t even be the first time the Yankees will help open up a stadium for the Braves. In 1997, the Yankees were still riding high off their World Series win the season before. With the Braves opening Turner Field, New York was invited back to Atlanta for an exhibition game. The home team got their revenge in a 2-0 victory over their guests.
Turner Field had been built for the 1996 Summer Olympics as Centennial Olympic Stadium. It was converted into a baseball field and the Braves moved in. After 20 years of operation, the team would pick up and move again. Fittingly, Turner Field is being converted once more. This time into a football stadium for the Georgia State Panthers.
Someone actually put up some home video from the game on YouTube:
Minute Maid Park March 30, 2000
35 years after the game in Houston, the Yankees were invited back to help open the team’s new ballpark. Enron Field—later renamed Minute Maid Park—welcomed George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara Bush to the event. They even got Nolan Ryan to throw out the first pitch and Lyle Lovett to sing the national anthem. It was a big deal.
The Yankees sent out Roger Clemens against their former friend Doc Gooden. Ricky Ledee hit the stadium’s first home run. They were boosted again when Paul O`Neill launched a three-run shot. Things were cruising along until Jason Grimsley was knocked around and suffered the 6-5 loss.
Marlins Park - April 1 & 2, 2012
Most recently, the Yankees traveled to Miami in 2012 to open up Marlins Park against the new-look Marlins team. New York finally found some success in an exhibition game, defeating their hosts in the two games these teams played.
The April 1st game proved to be a slugfest, with both teams accumulating 13 hits. The Yankees managed to score 10 runs against Ricky Nolasco, Mike Dunn, and Chad Gaudin. In the April 2nd game, things were a little different and the Yankees scored five runs on five hits, while the Marlins only managed two runs on 10 hits. Phil Hughes allowed five of those hits but no runs!
Here are some fan videos from the first game:
Past trends don’t dictate future results, so a 4-2 record shouldn’t be looked at as a death sentence for the Yankees in their upcoming game in Cobb County. Also, who cares? It’s just an exhibition game. Watch the Yankees play, have fun, and check out the new sights of the ballpark. It will at least be an interesting spectacle to watch.