Legends come out to play on 67th Old-Timers Day
NEW YORK -- There were still four hours before first pitch, but the Yankee Stadium crowd had already been whipped into a frenzy. Fans all over the stadium were on their feet, holding out baseballs in hopes of getting autographs and trying to get their favorite players' attention.
But they weren't yelling "Derek," "CC" or "Robinson." Instead it was choruses of "Bucky," "Bernie," "O'Neill" and "Rickey."
Sunday was Old-Timers Day in the Bronx, and for the 67th year, Yankees legends gathered to see old friends, play a little baseball and be recognized in front of the fans who adored them during their playing days.
"I love it. It's one of my favorite days," said manager Joe Girardi, who participates in the festivities as a former player. "It's special, and what these guys have meant to the New York Yankees organization, being able to play alongside some of them, it's been great."
A long list of Old-Timers had their names called by announcers Michael Kay and John Sterling, each of them walking onto the field to sometimes thunderous applause. Longtime participants Lou Piniella, Mickey Rivers, Don Larsen, Bucky Dent, Rickey Henderson, Lee Mazzilli, Joe Pepitone, Willie Randolph, David Wells, Jeff Nelson, Reggie Jackson and Ron Guidry were all in attendance.
Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford were also there, riding in on a golf cart from center field to a standing ovation.
The loudest ovation, though, was for fan-favorite Bernie Williams.
"I think it's all about the introduction," Williams said. "Just knowing the level of admiration and affection and love that the Yankees fans have for players that have played before. It's great to be remembered."
There were also newcomers. Orlando Hernandez, John Flaherty, Andy Phillips, Brian Dorsett, Scott Kamieniecki and Todd Greene all made their first appearances as Old-Timers. The Yankees also brought back longtime trainer Gene Monahan, who retired last season.
"I haven't thrown a baseball in anger in over a year, so for me, it's exciting putting the uniform on," Flaherty said. "The experience of growing up in New York, coming back, playing for the Yankees and now being on the field for Old-Timers day, it's pretty surreal."
Flaherty was one of a group of Old-Timers who are still around the organization on a daily basis, as he, Paul O'Neill and David Cone are all YES Network broadcasters.
"It's the first day in, probably, my life that I feel more comfortable in a suit and tie up in the booth than I do in a uniform down on the field," O'Neill said. "It's always fun to come here, the fans are great. It seems to always be 95 degrees and humid and hot, and it brings back a lot of memories."
O'Neill looked pretty comfortable during batting practice, though, launching at least one ball into the right-field seats.
"You actually get little butterflies going, because O'Neill's taking batting practice, and you know he wants to take me deep," Cone said. "I've got to get my arm loose."
O'Neill wasn't quite able to hit a home run during the game, but he did launch a ball off the top of the wall for a long single in the first inning. Cone called that inning a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," as he entered the game to relieve Wells with O'Neill on second base and Williams at the plate.
That was just one of the enjoyable moments of the five-inning Old-Timers Day game, in which the Bombers beat the Clippers, 2-1. In the third inning, Dent hit a hard double past the third-base bag, Flaherty hit a double over Steve Balboni's head in center field and Henderson hit a two-run single.
Pat Kelly nearly drove in a run in the same inning, but first-timer Greene made an over-the-shoulder catch on the warning track in left field, and then celebrated his grab by chest-bumping a member of the Rays playing catch in the outfield.
El Duque pitched two innings in his first Old-Timers Day appearance, and he even played an inning at shortstop, to the delight of the fans.
"I'm happy. I think this is a great moment, a great memory," Hernandez said. "I feel great again. I enjoy the time."
Hernandez was laughing and joking with many of his former teammates before the game, including closer Mariano Rivera, who spent time on the field talking with many of the Old-Timers.
But even though this is the final season of Rivera's illustrious career, he's not ready to call himself an Old-Timer just yet.
"There's no comparison," Rivera said. "That's priceless. There's nothing like that. When you wear the New York Yankees pinstripes and come to Yankee Stadium -- the legacy alone, the name alone, means so much."
Overall, it was yet again a special day in the Bronx. Inviting players from the past back to Yankee Stadium is a great tradition, and every former Yankee in attendance agreed.
"It's the Yankees. That's enough said, right there," Charlie Hayes said. "To get to come back and see a lot of the guys that you played with -- I was a big fan of a lot of these guys that played before me -- I look forward to it every day leading up to this. It's very exciting."
"We have some great friendships here," Roy White said. "There's some special friendships you have in baseball, and I think they have a lot of meaning to them. I'm glad to have the opportunity to know some of these guys that I played with."
"I've been with this organization since 1958, and I'm still with them, still alive. I think it's keeping me alive, these Old-Timers games. I've been playing them since 1973," Pepitone said. "All these guys, you see them, and I look in the mirror and I say, 'Do I look as old as them?' And then I see I do."
"I played my first Old-Timers Game when I was 31 years old," Bobby Richardson said. "I'm 77 now, [will] be 78 in August, and it's still a thrill."
"The game is the same," Rivers said. "It's always been the same. Only thing you've got to do is the basics. The basics never change."
"I'm just happy to be a part of it, because it's a great thing," Henderson said. "I think most ball teams should be doing it -- bringing back the players that played for them and did so much for them, just to see how they feel and have some fun with them. I'm just proud that the Yankees are one of the clubs that can do that."
"It's wonderful putting on the uniform again. It really is," Piniella said. "I had a lot of great moments here, made a lot of friends. New York is a wonderful city to play in."
"It never gets old," Dent said. "I'm getting old, but this doesn't."