WEST POINT, N.Y. -- The Yankees are usually content to play the gracious host, but Saturday gave America's most successful pro sports franchise a chance to be the wide-eyed tourist.
The Yankees toured the grounds of the United States Military Academy on Saturday morning, meeting with cadets and learning about one of the nation's oldest college campuses. Everywhere they turned, it seemed, there was a statue commemorating a great American or a crucial historical moment.
Just behind Doubleday Field, for instance, lay statues of American Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and George Washington, and the baseball field itself is named after a famous Civil War general who purportedly invented the game of baseball. For manager Joe Girardi, whose father served as an airplane mechanic during the Korean War, it was an experience without parallel.
"When you pull into this place, you see the beauty," said Girardi. "For me, it's [about] what the military does for us. We're here to play a game and they're here to protect us. Every day that I wake up, I feel safe. And in a lot of places, that's not true. Enjoy this day. I think our guys are having a blast."
Indeed, the day started with a quick tour of the campus, allowing the players to learn some of the basics of American history. West Point, situated on a crucial curve of the Hudson River, was considered a vital place in the Revolutionary War and became the home of the military academy in 1802.
The players started in the Kimsey Athletic Center on Saturday, touring the Army football team's locker room and seeing the school's Sports Hall of Fame. The Yankees later carried through the Foley Athletic Center and visited the Cadet Chapel and Trophy Point before meeting at the Mess Hall.
"What a campus," said southpaw Andy Pettitte. "It was good to be able to sit in there and meet some of these kids. I sat right next to a freshman in there who's 19 years old. It's interesting to be able to know that these guys and girls are here doing this, and it's cool. ... It's a pretty special place."
Army's baseball field usually seats around 800 fans, and the school's athletic department had to erect temporary bleachers with 4,800 more seats when the Yankees came to town. The entire day took on the atmosphere of a carnival, but Girardi wanted his players to take everything in and remember it.
"I'm glad we can do that, but I think it's more important to recognize what our military does for us on a daily basis," he said. "You come up here and you see the history, and you're able to have lunch with the cadets. You see the different stripes on their uniforms and you get an understanding of what they go through every day. Their summers aren't summers like normal students. They're training exercises. I think it's important for people to understand what these kids go through and how important it is."
Army cadets' code impresses Yankees
WEST POINT, N.Y. -- On this day, the highlight was the same for everyone. The Yankees made the most of their trip to the United States Military Academy on Saturday, and they said in the hours before their game against Army that the best part was their personal interaction with the cadets.
CC Sabathia said that he and Mark Teixeira sat at a table with eight cadets and asked questions about their lives, and Mariano Rivera was surprised to meet a cadet from Panama. That Panamanian student even brought the reliever a gift and invited him to his commencement later this year.
But that's not what Rivera will remember. The game's all-time saves leader said that he was struck by an astonishing answer from a cadet and the casual manner in which he offered it.
"We were asking how long they're here and when they're graduating," said Rivera. "One of them was graduating this year. I asked him, 'What are you going to do after that?' and he said, 'I'm going to do something to defuse bombs.' I said, 'What? OK. Good luck.' It's amazing. What a beautiful place."
Andy Pettitte said that he had never been to the USMA before, and he said that it was inspiring to consider the discipline and the dedication that the cadets carry with them every day. Sports are only part of the puzzle for the cadets, who also need to pass inspection and live by an honor code.
"We got a real quick glimpse of it," said Pettitte of the military code. "We didn't see an awful lot, but it's just cool to see the discipline they're teaching these kids and that they carry. You can eat off the floor in the locker room and in the mess hall. It's just absolutely incredible. And you can tell when you talk to them: These kids know exactly what they want to do. It's kind of a far cry from other places."
And that's exactly the point. The USMA is more interested in building leaders than it is in building baseball players, but the Yankees can still take a lot from the way they go about their business. That was the message from manager Joe Girardi, who would love to take this trip again one day.
"I just want our guys to take it all in," he said. "We had a chance to see the Army baseball team during Spring Training. They worked out at our facility. Then they were in the dugout in the seventh inning and that was neat. But just to watch these kids, I want to watch them do their thing too. I think you can learn a lot about the game and about life from other people. That's what I want them to take from this."
Teixeira healing nicely, to visit doc Monday
WEST POINT, N.Y. -- It won't be long now. Mark Teixeira took a trip with the Yankees for an exhibition game against Army on Saturday, and he said that his injured right wrist is healing according to plan. Teixeira, nursing a partially torn tendon sheath, said he'll see a doctor again on Monday.
"I hope they're going to tell me I can take this off and start strengthening it," said Teixeira of the cast on his wrist. "I've been trying to do as much as I can. I'm not able to do much, but I've been trying to push it as much as I can to get it stronger. Once this comes off, then you can start doing a lot more."
Teixeira was reduced to the role of fan on Saturday, as he spent time chatting with the Army student fan section and enjoyed a tour of the campus with the rest of the team. Teixeira didn't have much on the baseball itinerary on Saturday, but he hopes to return to the field in about a month.
"They didn't pack any of my equipment today. I just ran and did rehab," he said. "No grounders, no hitting. So I'll take a couple days off, which is fine, and get back with those type of things Monday."
Teixeira, 32 years old, grew up with a healthy respect for the military because his father played baseball at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. Teixiera said that he was impressed by the athletic facilities at West Point, and he said that one line of conversation kept coming up when he talked to the players.
"A lot of guys said they watched me growing up," said Teixeira. "Everyone came up to me. 'Man, I watched you when you were in Texas,' or 'I watched you in Atlanta.' ... You forget that these are kids. They really are. These guys are going to be the leaders of tomorrow, the military and the protectors of our country, but they're kids. They're enjoying this time together and they're baseball fans, obviously, just getting to play college baseball. Being able to share this experience with them is very neat."
Injuries aren't derailing Yankees' expectations
WEST POINT, N.Y. -- The Yankees played their final exhibition game Saturday, and they used the occasion to push past Spring Training and set their expectations for the regular season. And if you ask manager Joe Girardi, the message for the players and for Yankee fans is quite simple.
"I expect the best, and that's the bottom line," said Girardi. "We expect to win every day."
Girardi said he is not overly concerned by his team's state of health entering the regular season, and he said he doesn't think the Yankees have to do anything differently to compete. This isn't football, the manager said, and the team's coaching staff doesn't have to script and re-script its plays.
"You don't have to necessarily completely change your philosophy because of the people you're missing," said Girardi of his ailing team roster, "Every year is change. And every year, you're going to go through things. Sometimes you're going to do it in the middle of the year and sometimes at the end of the year. We happen to be doing it in the beginning right now."
New York is missing first baseman Mark Teixeira, third baseman Alex Rodriguez and outfielder Curtis Granderson at this early stage of the season, but Girardi doesn't want to make excuses. The Yankees -- and every other team, for that matter -- have to play with the healthy players at their disposal.
And Teixeira, right wrist in a cast, said that the Yankees wouldn't have it any other way.
"It's low expectations outside the clubhouse. Expectations inside the clubhouse are the same," he said. "We hear the chatter. You hear people talk. You hear the fans, but we don't buy into it. I would've never even tried to play college baseball if I had listened to people outside my family growing up."
CC Sabathia, tabbed to take the mound for New York on Opening Day against the Red Sox, said he doesn't really understand the media's cause for concern. The Yankees are going to be solid, he said, and it would take a lot more than a couple of injuries to make him revise his own goals.
"I think we're going to be all right. We're healthy," said Sabathia of the Yankees' pitching rotation for Opening Day. "I think if we stay healthy, we've got a chance to be pretty good."
Another veteran, Andy Pettitte, has known so much success in New York that he can't even contemplate the alternative. Pettitte said he was taken aback after one recent Spring Training start because the assembled media started asking him questions about the team's future.
Pettitte hadn't watched TV, he said, and he hadn't heard the bubbling concern over the team's prospective record. Now, he said he has a better feel for the collective pulse of the market, but that hasn't changed his attitude about the team the Yankees will put on the field on Monday.
"I understand that now probably a little bit more," said Pettitte. "I don't even let my mind go in that direction. I think we're going to win our division. I expect us to be in the World Series.
"Bottom line, I feel we've got the pitching and the bullpen to do that. If people think we're going to be a little short scoring runs, we're going to figure out a way to score enough runs to win."
• Girardi said Saturday that Adam Warren and Cody Eppley have won the final two spots on his active roster. Clay Rapada and Phil Hughes will begin the year on the disabled list.
• Girardi scratched Travis Hafner in the hours leading up to Saturday's game, an absence he attributed to stiffness. Girardi said Hafner could've played if it were a regular-season game.
"He spends a lot of time getting loose every day, doing his routine and getting in hot tubs," said Girardi. "Taking his time in the cage and running around. We just didn't have time to do that today."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.