3/30/2008 10:23:00 PM

"81"

Posted by Mark McCray |

Bryan Hoch/MLB.Com

A new digital board installed in right-center field at Yankee Stadium is set to count off the remaining number of home games to be played. On Sunday, as the Yankees dashed around the diamond and renewed acquaintances, the digits "81" watched on from beyond the bleachers.

It is a number that will tick down as the 2008 All-Star Summer approaches, and then one the Yankees will try to reset in small increments for playoff series that have been the ballpark's staple. Those games, of course, are not guaranteed.

The clock really is being turned back. Sitting on the blue padded bench in the dugout, about three great Alex Rodriguez pokes from the building site, Yankees GM Brian Cashman reflected on the transition period, calling it "a great experience to be a part of."

"So many wonderful things have happened in this ballpark," Cashman said, "and at the same time, every day you look across the street at what's going on over there."

"It limits the sadness of closing this place down, because that place is going to be more old school than this place -- but with all the new amenities. I look forward to seeing that thing open more than I get sad about closing this one down."

In Cashman's words, the Yankees are "trying to rock the house here for one more season" -- a goal that begins on Monday, welcoming the Blue Jays to the Bronx for Games 81, 80 and 79 in the grand countdown.

"I'm proud to be a part of it," Johnny Damon said. "The longer I spend in pinstripes, it really makes you appreciate how great an organization this is and how they do everything first class. Hopefully, we can close out this stadium with the 27th world championship."

Jeter has said that his fondest memories of Yankee Stadium have come when the club celebrated World Series titles on the field -- 1996 and '99, both vs. Atlanta -- so there seems to be little sense in asking what the ideal sendoff would be.

For the purposes of opening up the ballpark's final season, though, braving a little chill is a small price for Jeter and his club.

"Opening Day every year is special, but this year, it'll probably be emotional, being the last Opening Day at Yankee Stadium," Jeter said. "I'm sure people will let it soak in a little more.

"I really don't know what to expect, but I'm sure you'll take a look around and try to remember as many things as you can. It's going to be a special year."

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