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West Point holds special place in Girardi's heart

03/30/2013 7:24 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Joe Girardi talks with Army strength and conditioning director Scott Swanson during a tour of the athletic facility at West Point before the Yankees' exhibition game against Army on Saturday.(AP)
WEST POINT, N.Y. - On Saturday, for the 22nd time in their illustrious histories, the New York Yankees and United States Military Academy met on the baseball field, with the Bombers finishing out spring training 2013 with a 10-5 win over Army at Johnson Stadium at Doubleday Field.

As important as the game was itself, however, Yankees manager Joe Girardi hoped that when the day was done, his team was able to appreciate the beauty, the history, and most importantly, the function of the United States Military Academy campus.

"The first thing you notice is how beautiful it is," Girardi remarked about the campus prior to the game. "When you pull in, you see the beauty, and for me, what the military does for us is so important. We're here to play a game, but they're here to protect us. Every day I wake up, and I feel safe, and that's not the true everywhere."

Girardi is the son of a military man, as his father, Jerry, served in the Air Force during the Korean War; Joe said he has been to West Point before and has even brought his own son, Dante, to the campus, but this chance to come to the academy in a baseball capacity was a very special one.

"I have pictures of my father in uniform in my house, and it's very special to be able to be here," Joe Girardi said. "Growing up in the Midwest, this wasn't available to me, but I got a chance to come up a couple years ago to watch Army play Air Force (in football), and that was a thrill to see all the cadets in the stands and see two military schools going at it, with the respect between them and how disciplined they were."

A military buff himself, Girardi certainly enjoyed the day, which prior to the game saw the Yankees receive a guided tour of the campus from Cadets - with several players Tweeting pictures or impressions from the tour - and eat lunch in the mess hall with the team.

"I love coming up here; it's not far from where I live, and I think you can come up here time and time again and still see something new, and get some new history of West Point - of which I'd like to learn as much as I could," Girardi said. "But I think our guys are having a blast; being able to see the history and the different areas of the campus, going to the chapel, looking out over the Hudson River where General Washington had the chains that went across the river…the history of this place is magnificent, and for us to be able to enjoy this day, is really special."

Once game time came, nearly 6,000 spectators had their days made. Johnson Stadium's usual capacity is 824 with standing room for about 200 more, but the Academy added two large sets of bleachers to accommodate another 4,800 or so spectators, ensuring a record crowd for the game.

According to one Black Knights team manager, the addition actually required approval from the Commanding General of the Academy, as the larger of the two added grandstands was put up on a green usually reserved for military parade only. Girardi thought that fact alone showed the graciousness and desire of the USMA staff to make the day special, and it's a feeling that he hoped everyone can reciprocate.

"I'm glad we could make so many fans happy, but I think more important is to recognize what our military does for us on a daily basis," Girardi said. "When you come up here and see the history, and be able to have lunch with the cadets, see the different stripes on their uniforms, and get an understanding of what they go through every day - how their summers are different from normal students, because they're in training exercises - I think it's important for people to understand what they go through, and how important it is to us."

As for the game itself, Girardi joked that he hoped Army, who begins a four-game set with Navy on Sunday, would "overlook" the Yankees, but said that both sides could learn from each other.

"We had a chance to see the Army baseball team down in Florida; they worked out at out facility, and then they were in the dugout in the seventh inning, which was fun," Girardi said. "Just to watch these kids and watch them do their thing is cool, too; I think you can learn a lot about the game and life from other people, and that's what I want our guys to take from this."

Come Monday, Girardi will lead the Yankees into the first of 162 official games, and will do so without several key players who will begin the season on the disabled list. It's an adversity Girardi would surely rather avoid, but after spending the day - as fun as it may have been - up in West Point, the Yankees' skipper knows the adjustments his team will have to make truly pale in comparison to the sacrifices those on the other side may someday have to make.

"Our adversity is miniscule to theirs, because their adversity can be much more costly than what ours is, obviously; when you go thru a day like today, it really makes you appreciate things and keeps life in perspective," Girardi said. "What we do is important to us; it's our careers, and the Yankees are an organization built on winning and tradition - but it's a little bit different than the tradition here. Their pressure is much more intense when they're out on the battlefield; it's a different game they're playing, and the stakes are much higher."

Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES

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