Dan Shaughnessy

Digging in at the new Stadium

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / May 5, 2009
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NEW YORK - The New Yankee Stadium has Monument Park, an old-timey hand-operated scoreboard, and that signature frieze that was in the backdrop of all those wire photos of Don Larsen and Whitey Ford in Octobers past.

Everything is new and shiny, right down to the individual touch-screen computers at each player's stall in the home clubhouse - a locker room with enough square footage to land a Boeing 747.

Incredibly, the brand-new palace also has a substantial sinkhole in the concrete floor next to the wall that lines the corridor outside the visitors' clubhouse.

Big Papi's pothole.

The legend of David Ortiz's embedded jersey is forever part of the new Yankee Stadium. And the hole might be permanent, too.

You remember the story: Red Sox fan Gino Castagnoli infiltrated the ranks of one of the crews pouring concrete for the new stadium and told friends that he'd planted Papi's jersey in the cement outside the visitors' clubhouse.

It was sort of like the urban legend of Jimmy Hoffa being buried underneath one of the end zones at the Meadowlands. When the Yankees learned of the jersey stunt, they brought out a jackhammer and dug it up. It cost $45,000 to recover the jersey, which was later sold for $175,000 with proceeds going to the Jimmy Fund.

But the 2-foot-by-4-foot hole remains. There's no plaque, no official recognition, but everybody knows why it's there. It's been there more than a year, and it's not like they just forgot to fix it. A metal rail has been put up to prevent anyone from stepping in the hole. We await the commemorative plaque.

Yankee publicist Jason Zillo last night said he did not know the ball club's permanent plans for the hole in the floor. Looks to me like part of a behind-the-scenes tour.

Ortiz went out to take a look.

"Why me?" Papi said, smiling. "I don't like all that curse stuff and voodoo stuff. Why me?"

It was strange when a bunch of Sox players came off the bus and walked into the locker room of the new place for the first time. Jason Varitek walked into the clubhouse, wheeling his ubiquitous roller-bag and stopped because he didn't know where his locker was. A lowly sportswriter had to point him to the stall with No. 33 over the top.

"I went to the kitchen," said Big Papi. "Next thing I knew, I was in the gym. Then I went to the dugout and I'm like, 'I ain't going to get lost here.' "

Tim Wakefield and John Smoltz were issued the double-wide lockers in the new room.

"Seniority," said Wakefield. "I like this place."

"We're all routine-oriented," said manager Terry Francona. "I like knowing where I'm going. And I noticed when you walk out of the dugout, the upper deck is not on top of you anymore."

In the other clubhouse, there was buzz about the possible return of Alex Rodriguez as early as Friday, and the release of Selena Roberts's book about A-Rod.

Reggie Jackson, Mr. October to A-Rod's Mr. Madonna, held court in the giant room and said, "This place is too big. You don't have any intimacy. How is CC Sabathia going to get to know Mariano Rivera?"

Dennis Eckersley walked over to Reggie for a Cooperstown summit.

"I never liked the old place too much," Eck said to Reggie. "Gave up five bombs in a game there once. You hit the last one."

"I always liked the Boston-New York rivalry," answered Jackson, offering broadcasting tips to Eck. "I was at an event the other day and this guy said he hated the Red Sox and I told him, 'You just lost me with that.'

"I liked the Red Sox. I liked Jim Rice and Yaz. I wanted to compete and beat them, but I never hated them. You're not a real fan if you hate the Red Sox. Go ahead and use that if you want, Eck. Tell them Mr. October dropped it on you."

While they were talking, it kept raining. And the new and improved Yankee Stadium sound system played hit songs of the last four decades. I kept waiting for the Beatles' "Fixing a Hole," but they never played it.

The game finally started at 9:22 and Ortiz made the new place feel like the old place when he ripped a double down the right-field line in the first inning. He also doubled in a run in the fourth. Wouldn't it be something if the site of his jersey burial turns out to be the place that kick-starts his return to slugging?

The Sox don't come back until August. Ortiz should have a few homers by then. And the sinkhole probably still will be here.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist.

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