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 NEW YORK (AP) - Pull into the parking lot at Yankee Stadium and there it is, rising up right next door like some kind of baseball Taj Mahal.
Wow! You can hardly take your eyes off it.
A sparkling new version of the beloved ballpark, with ``Yankee Stadium'' carved in glistening gold letters on the granite and limestone exterior.
From the outside, it almost looks finished. Hard to believe how far construction has come since last season ended.
But there's still work to be done, and one year left to play at the old place.
``We're hoping to try to rock the house here one more season before we get there - or somebody's going to rock my house,'' Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said with a laugh Sunday.
New York begins its 84th and final season at Yankee Stadium by hosting Toronto on Monday, the beginning of a long kiss goodbye to one of the most famous venues in sports.
Joe Girardi makes his debut as Yankees manager, replacing Joe Torre in the first-base dugout. Chien-Ming Wang will pitch on his 28th birthday against Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay. And Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson will throw out the ceremonial first pitch of a season that marks the 30th anniversary of New York's 1978 World Series championship.
``It'll probably be emotional,'' Derek Jeter said. ``I really don't know what to expect. 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.
``People ask about the new stadium, I still can't picture us going over there. I'm sure it'll probably set in towards the end of the year.''
But first, one last opener in The House That Ruth Built.
``I wanted to be here for this one,'' Mariano Rivera said.
In 2009, the Bronx Bombers will move into a $1.3 billion new Yankee Stadium, located just across 161st Street. This year, a digital display in center field will count down the number of regular-season home games remaining at old Yankee Stadium. As the teams worked out Sunday, the screen showed 81.
``So many wonderful things have happened in this ballpark,'' said Cashman, entering the final year of his contract. ``At the same time, every day you look across the street at what's going on over there, it limits the sadness about closing this place down because that place is going to be more old-school than this place, but with all the new amenities.
``I've been in the guts of that place and you see the exterior right now and they really are turning back the clock,'' he added. ``The golden `Yankee Stadium' that's along the side of that, it invokes the golden dome of Notre Dame to me. It's that powerful - and tradition. It's pretty cool.''
New York has won 10 straight home openers, the best run in franchise history and the longest active streak in the majors, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
A couple of Yankee Stadium staples, however, will be missing on Monday.
Longtime broadcaster and former outfielder Bobby Murcer won't be in the television booth because he's still regaining his strength following a brain biopsy this month. Murcer had surgery in December 2006, four days after being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.
Also, famous public-address announcer Bob Sheppard won't be behind the microphone because he's recuperating from an illness. Sheppard's regular backup, Jim Hall, will work in his place.
``Yankee Stadium IS Bob Sheppard,'' catcher Jorge Posada said.
Girardi takes over for Torre, his mentor and one of the most popular managers in team history. After leading New York to the playoffs in all 12 years at the helm, Torre walked away in the offseason when the club offered him just a one-year contract with a paycut.
But Girardi knows what to expect around here. He won three World Series rings as a Yankees player from 1996-99, then was the NL Manager of the Year in 2006 with Florida.
New York is looking for its first championship since 2000.
``I'm not sure what's going to happen tomorrow, but you have to earn your stripes here,'' Girardi said. ``And I expect that. And I had to earn it as a player. And it took some time, but the fans have, since that time, have been gracious to me and my family and anyone who's part of the Girardi clan.''
It will be the first regular-season game in March in the history of Yankee Stadium, which opened in 1923 when Babe Ruth homered on opening day. The team played at Shea Stadium from 1974-75 while Yankee Stadium was being remodeled.
``It's famous in Taiwan, too,'' Wang said.
The Blue Jays are excited about being part of a historic day as well. Toronto's John Gibbons recalled managing his first game at Yankee Stadium in 2004 and said he hopes to take home some pictures.
``It's an honor to play in the last opener,'' Frank Thomas said. ``So many memories, a lot of tradition. So many great players, so many championships.''
The Blue Jays will be without injured third baseman Scott Rolen (broken finger) and closer B.J. Ryan, still working his way back from elbow surgery.
Halladay is 10-4 with a 2.99 ERA against the Yankees and he's looking forward to Monday's assignment.
``It's obviously going to be a great atmosphere, a lot of excitement,'' he said. ``I think when I'm done playing it'll be one of those things you look back and tell your kids about. You're a part of history.''
Notes: Blue Jays LF Matt Stairs tested his sore left hip during the team's workout and will be a game-time decision Monday. If he can't play, Shannon Stewart will start in left.

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