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Leiter rings opening bell at NY Stock Exchange

NEW YORK -- The pageantry and spectacle of Opening Day were visible on Thursday even at the buzzing hub of the world's most powerful financial market.

Business on the main trading floor at the New York Stock Exchange, located at 18 Broad Street in lower Manhattan, began before the opening bell, with American stock traders reacting to overnight news from the world markets. But the New York exchange wasn't officially open until two veterans of Opening Days were brought in to participate in the daily bell-ringing ceremony.

The most heralded guest was Al Leiter, who spent 19 seasons as a big league pitcher, including lengthy stints with the Yankees and Mets. But the first guest to arrive, and the one who garnered the most attention, was Sly, a bay Clydesdale with a white stripe on his face. Sly lives in a barn at the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Merrimack, N.H.; he underwent three years of training to join Budweiser's herd. His handler, Eric Soto, said that this particular horse was selected because of his age and maturity -- at 13, he is middle-aged for a Clydesdale, and he acted it.

At the exchange's entrance at Broad Street and Exchange Place, a security guard who identified himself as Michael wore a variegated Mets tie, dark blue in background with orange stripes -- each stripe forming an obtuse angle with the vertex pointing toward his feet -- checkered with Mets logos. Adjacent to the tie, on the right lapel of his overcoat, he wore a small Opening Day pin. He pointed out that the Mets' Opening Day wasn't until tomorrow.

Dress code on the floor of the exchange was business attire, except for a few traders who wore baseball jerseys over collared shirts. One enterprising soul at a Barclay's Capital trading post wore a Cleveland Indians No. 13 uniform with the name Cerrano, honoring Pedro the outfielder from the film "Major League," who had tremendous power but an inability to hit the curveball.

Another man on the exchange floor wore a Yankees Derek Jeter road jersey over his blue checkered dress shirt. His name was Stefan Jekel, and he is the managing director of the exchange's operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

"I'm very excited about the publicity this is bringing us," he said. "We list Budweiser on the stock exchange, and that is going well. There is lots of liquidity with Budweiser, and this event is bringing us increased visibility."

The Clydesdale entered the building through its northwest entrance, a normal-sized door for a human but too short for a horse breed that averages 18 hands in height -- six feet, from ground to shoulder -- and Sly had to duck as he walked through; even one of the iconic Budweiser Clydesdales was forced to bow while entering the venerable financial institution.

At 9:16 a.m. ET, Soto shepherded Sly through a small hallway and on to the trading room floor. It was 14 minutes before the opening of the exchange, but activity was already brisk. The trading floor measures only 109 feet by 140 feet, according to the NYSE, but the ceiling stands at 72 feet, making the room seem larger than it actually is. Packed inside are trading posts -- glass-walled collections of desks and computers with well-dressed employees. Runners in dark blue jackets shuttled between posts, ferrying orders and messages.

Soto led the horse to the far wall of the trading room, walking the whole way on a series of red carpets, laid special for the event. The man and the horse stopped under a small second-floor balcony, fittingly suspended over one of Citibank's trading posts. Citi Field, the home of the Mets, will open on April 8, when the Mets face the Nationals; the trading post is active most weekdays.

Almost immediately, the horse became the center of attention in what must be one of the world's busiest rooms. Scores of people gathered around, forming a crowd that disrupted activity at trading posts belonging to Citi, Goldman Sachs and Barclay's. On the Goldman post, a laminated black-and-white sign displayed a pair of flip-flops that were circled, with a diagonal line through the middle. Open-toed shoes are apparently forbidden at the exchange; horses are not.

Soto wore a blue windbreaker over a red Anheuser-Busch button-down and khaki pants. Sly was uncovered, except for tightly braided red and white ribbons that adorned his mane and tail.

Traders took time out from monitoring activity of the world's markets to snap photos of the Clydesdale; some posed with groups of people next to the horse, with smiles ranging from bemusement to ebullience. Sly, a seasoned professional, never broke character and appeared not to share in the amusement. Above, hanging on the front of the balcony, a Budweiser advertisement exhorted onlookers to "Grab some Buds."

"I haven't seen the red carpet for a president," one member of the crowd quipped. "That's how important the horse is."

On the walls, amid a thick collection of scoreboards and tickers the sheer number of which must rival a Major League stadium, one LED board displayed a message welcoming onlookers to Opening Day.

Leiter appeared several minutes before the opening bell, wearing a pinstriped suit and diagonally striped tie -- colored cobalt, green and black. At 45 years old, he is six years removed from his Major League career and several seasons into broadcasting. Lanky and tall with hair that's retained most of its abundance and color, he looks like he could still retire a left-hander in a pinch. It was a room full of analysts -- almost all of them financial -- but Leiter was likely the only one who works for MLB Network. Televisions in the Goldman Sachs trading posts were tuned to FOX Business Network.

A number of people in the room, Leiter included, began to applaud 25 seconds after 9:29. Just as the digital clocks on the main scoreboard switched to 9:30, the exchange's bell began to ring. Leiter was one of the few applauders to stop; he pumped his right fist in the air for the duration of the bell -- it lasted about 30 seconds. The exchange's gavel, ubiquitous in footage of past bell ringings, never moved from its perch on the balcony's podium.

When the bell ended, so did the applause. Leiter remained on the balcony for about a minute, looking down at the horse and its handler. The crowd dispersed to begin what was sure to be a busy day.

Sunil Joshi is a reporter for
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