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TN’er hits home run building new Yankee Stadium

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As a lifelong Yankees fan, Joe Byrne has always looked forward to Opening Day in the Bronx, having attended the last 25 straight home openers, and several others before that.

But this year, Byrne has good reason to be especially anticipating Opening Day at the new Yankee Stadium: The 42-year-old Throggs Neck resident was in charge of building it.

“For a Bronx guy and a huge Yankee fan, this was a dream job for me,” said Byrne, who was at the helm of the new stadium’s construction as project executive for Turner Construction Company. “I’ve loved every part of this project, and the new stadium is really incredible. But there’s also a part of me that can’t wait for Opening Day, when I can sit down as a fan and have a hot dog, a cold beer and enjoy a Yankee game in a brand new, beautiful stadium I helped build That’ll be a little extra-special.”

Byrne’s passion about the new stadium was evident during a recent tour of the Bronx Bombers’ soon-to-be unveiled home, as he pointed out the slew of amenities and the mix of old-school and state-of –the-art features around the ballpark.

But what’s equally clear is his passion for the Yankees, which has been building since birth, judging from the old photo of him, a year old in diapers, clutched in the arms of his father at his first game at the “old” old Yankee Stadium. That picture hangs on a wall of Byrne’s home next to the framed ticket stubs from every post-season Yankees home game since 1996 and other treasured pinstriped mementoes and memorabilia

“If I couldn’t play for the Yankees, and anyone who has played Little League or softball with me over the years can tell you that wasn’t happening, then heading this project was an incredible opportunity for me, professionally and personally,” said Byrne, who began working with Turner Construction just two days after graduating from SUNY Maritime College with an engineering degree in 1989.

Byrne, working with his partner, Frank Gramarossa, under their direct boss, Mark Pulsfort, a vice president at Turner, brought the project in on time, turning the new stadium over to the Bronx Bombers’ brass in mid-February. “Profession­ally, I’m really proud of the job we did, and as a fan, I think this is an incredible stadium for an incredible team,” Byrne said. “I think every fan will feel the same way once they get a look at this place.”

Some lucky Bronxites residents will get a sneak peek at the new stadium this week, as 1,000 free tickets were given by the Yankees to each of the borough’s 12 community boards for distribution to local residents. That special open house is one day before an exhibition game at the new stadium against the Chicago Cubs. The regular season Opening Day is April 16 against the Cleveland Indians.

Tapping the high-energy Byrne for such a high profile project made sense for Turner Construction, since over the past two decades, Byrne has risen the ranks of the company, and in recent years successfully oversaw the construction of the Hearst Building and Bear Stearns’ corporate headquarters on Madison Avenue.

But the choice also made perfect sense for the Yankees, who made a commitment in a Community Benefits Agreement before ground was even broken on the new stadium that 25 percent of the workforce on the project would be Bronx residents, and 25 percent of the contracts would be given to borough-based companies.

“We exceeded that 25 percent commitment both on the workforce and with Bronx contractors, which I think was great for the Yankees to do, great for Turner to do, and best of all, a great boost to the Bronx,” Byrne said.

Bronxite, Benny Catala, the project administrator for the new stadium, had high praise for Byrne. “Joe’s the best at what he does, plus he’s a lifelong Bronx resident and a die-hard Yankee fan,” Catala said. “You can’t beat that.”

Byrne has plenty of favorite elements around the new stadium, such as a glass-walled Batter’s Eye restaurant in centerfield, a Hard Rock Café and other bars and restaurants, the stands being closer to the field of play, the Great Hall, an on-site museum, over a thousand high-definition TVs around the ballpark and the old-stadium feel created by the familiar Yankee Stadium frieze circling the top, to name a few. “But what’s really neat is that even the last row in the far corner of the upper deck still has a great view of the field,” said Byrne. “There really isn’t a bad seat in the house.”

But the best part of the opportunity, Byrne said, is the sheer joy and pride it’s provided for his father, John “Sarge” Byrne. “My Pop is beaming, and he wears the Yankee jacket and Yankee cap with the Turner logo on them around to all the neighborhood establishments in Throggs Neck,” he said. “A love of baseball, and by far a love of Yankees baseball, has always been something we all shared in my family, and I think me being able to head this project for Turner in building the new stadium certainly adds another level to that for all of us, especially my father.”

And Byrne is sure his late mother, Josephine, who passed away 14 years ago, is looking down with pride as well. “She never missed a game, either watching on TV or listening to it on the radio,” Byrne said. “She was a huge, huge Yankee fan, which is where I get it from. No matter how challenging this job was---and it really didn’t have the amount of headaches you’d think---it makes it worth it for me to know that my father, brothers and sister can get a kick out of telling people I was in charge of building the new Yankee Stadium.”

Byrne said he’s “absolutely sure” that the bigger, better, hi-tech, fan-friendlier stadium won’t be dubbed “The House That Byrne Built,” but he’s OK with that. “It’s pretty cool that I’ll be able to look at this beautiful new home of the Yankees and know that I was in charge of building the new stadium,” he said. “How many people can say that? It’s a once-in-lifetime opportunity that I’ll always carry with me.”

As for what’s next? After hopefully enjoying that beer and hot dog and a Yankee victory in the new stadium on Opening Day, Byrne will walk across 161st Street and begin his new job. “Turner got the city contract for taking down the old Yankee Stadium and building new parkland, and I’m in charge of that project,” said Byrne. “Not bad for some kid from Throggs Neck, right?”

Updated 5:24 pm, October 21, 2011
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