- Jane McManus, Reporter & Columnist, espnW.com
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As Domenik Hixon sat on the team bench with his right knee wrapped in ice, the fans behind him had a terrific view. From the coaches club terrace, they were literally over his shoulder, and when he noticed their cameras he turned around to pose with them.
At the new Meadowlands stadium, close is close.
The New York Giants opened practice to fans Tuesday afternoon, for the second session on the first day of the team's mandatory minicamp. The crowd was significantly smaller than the number of fans anticipated, and certainly smaller than the official estimate of 10,000.
Inside the gleaming new facility with the shell of Giants Stadium slumped next door, the Giants played music for fans, showed field views on the big digital screens and gave a hint of what the future will be like for Giants season-ticket holders.
For 13-year-old Chaz Weiner, his brother Jacob and their mother, Sheri, the access was close enough to joke with general manager Jerry Reese from the coaches club terrace right on the field.
"In eight years I'm going to be the best general manager in the league," said Chaz, who first interacted with the team through the Make-A-Wish Foundation last year. Since then the boy, who has spinal muscular atrophy, has kept in touch with players, and Justin Tuck arranged for him to have tickets to this practice.
"They've adopted him," said Sheri, who lives in Mount Olive, N.J.
The family was just one that got near enough to literally reach out and shake hands with the players as they ran on and off the field for different drills. There are terraces like this on both sides of the field, and the proximity was a big part of the sales pitch for suites and seats that include a surcharge called a personal seat license.
Tuck was asked if such close fans -- should they be vocal -- could be a distraction if the team weren't playing well.
"The only [way] I can control that is by playing good," Tuck said.
After the practice concluded, Giants coach Tom Coughlin thanked the fans for coming.
"The crowd, the excitement the energy," Coughlin began, "to talk to our fans and tell them how much we appreciate them and say, hey this is just a reminder of the 12th man principle and how much we need them going into the regular season."
Not all of the 25,000 who registered online for the free tickets showed up at the door. The Giants didn't have a number immediately available, but a precursory estimate looked to be well shy of the official club estimate of 10,000.
"It is good for your focus," Giants quarterback Eli Manning said. "Sometimes games you have people yelling and and you've got things going on. I thought it was good for our focus to come in here and have them yelling at us and we can keep our mind straight and on what we are here for."
The Giants also tested the turf at their new stadium and had mixed results.
The new FieldTurf field at the $1.6 billion arena claimed Hixon, whose right foot got caught in the soft surface on a punt return. Hixon had his knee checked by trainers and walked off under his own power. The team says it's not known if Hixon will be available for the rest of the minicamp.
"I'm not sure yet," Coughlin said of Hixon's status. "We'll see. This turf kind of snagged his foot. He didn't get it enough out of the turf. We'll hope it's not something serious. He'll probably be sore tomorrow. Domenik's a tough guy now. He's fought his way through a few things in the past."
Tuck also thought the field was soft, given its newness. But Tuck also observed that the winds, just like those at the partially demolished Giants Stadium nearby, could help or hurt the home team.
"You could tell if you look up at the goalposts," Tuck said. "One set of flags would be going in one direction and the other in the other direction. The wind is going to play a factor, but we like that. We'll be used to it by the time we play here come the late fall."
The crowd was significantly smaller than the number of fans anticipated, but the Giants held their first team practice at the New Meadowlands as the shell of Giants Stadium slumped next door.