Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mariano Caps Great Day In The Bronx

Is that a smile of "I know you can't hit this?"

Whether you were at Yankee Stadium, sitting at home watching TV, or listening to the ceremonies on the radio, Sunday was a wonderful day in the Bronx. Having watched the 65th annual Old Timers Day prior to the regularly scheduled game, it was only fitting that Mariano Rivera, the oldest player on the Yankees, finished out Sunday's victory over the Colorado Rockies.

Rivera, who is older than Old Timers like Homer Bush and Aaron Small, struck out the side in the 9th to preserve the Yankees 6-4 victory. The Yankees homered three times in the game, including a blast by Jorge Posada, the second oldest Yankee.

The big story of the day though was the OT ceremonies, in particular the honoring of long time head trainer Gene "Geno" Monahan, who back in May announced he would retire at season's end. The 67-yr old has been with the organization for 49 years, including time as a bat boy when he was 17. A cancer scare last year put things in perspective for the man who has been there for Mantle, Murcer, Munson, Mattingly, and Mariano. Monahan was told he would throw out the first pitch before the OT game, which he did (to Jorge Posada who donned full catcher's gear), but he had know idea what was yet to come.

When he held the press conference in May, Monahan mentioned that he dreams a lot and it was time to start living some of those dreams. He mentioned he'd like to have a retriever named Schrader that he could take in his pick up truck to the store to pick up grass seed. All three came true on Sunday. With his fiancee and two grown daughters in attendance, Monahan was showered with gifts from the Yankees organization and sponsors. Among them was a Ford F-150 truck that had a big ol' Golden Retriever named Schrader in it.

There was a trip to the Alpine region in Europe, tickets to see Garth Brooks (and an autographed Cowboy hat from the country music star) in Las Vegas, a painting of the Stadium presented by the Steinbrenner family, a riding mower (and grass seed) presented by the grounds crew, a pair of seats from the old Stadiun, a video tribute, and much much more. It was an emotional capper to an emotional ceremony.

Back for the first time in a Yankees uniform were a couple of former managers, Joe Torre, who didn't leave on such great terms, and Lou Piniella, who was also one of the most popular Yankees players in the 1970's and 1980's. Torre appeared choked up as he received a long and loud ovation from the fans. Piniella hadn't been in a Yankees uniform since 1988 and marked the occassion by taking an at-bat in the game. He visited the broadcast booth during the regular game and joked (for those of you who don't know, Piniella was Paul O'Neill before Paul O'Neill) that he would be upset all night about grounding back to the pitcher.

Bernie Williams also made his return for his first Old Timers Day although he has never officially retired. He also received a very long ovation and then gave the crowd a big thrill with a deep drive to left-center for a double. Tino Martinez also got the fans applauding when he hit a David Cone meatball into the right field seats for a home run. The BamTino said "thank you" to Cone as he rounded third base, and Coney nodded his approval.

There aren't as many of the older Old Timers left; the ones that I used to see at OT Day when I was a kid, but some were still there. Moose Skowron, who announced to Kim Jones and the TV audience that he was battling lung cancer (even though he quit a while ago, Moose smoked for 40 years). Phil Rizzuto's old DP partner and long time baseball broadcaster Jerry Coleman was in attendance along with 86-yr old Charlie Silvera, who came up to the Yankees a catcher in 1948. The Yankees first great reliever, Luis Arroyo, was there. And of course Yogi Berra, who sadly looks very frail these days and the "Chairman of the Board", Whitey Ford were in the house. They, along with Reggie Jackson and Goose Gossage were the Hall of Fame members in attendance.

David Wells, who is in better shape than he was in his playing days, demanded to know why O'Neill wasn't there. But so many players from my youth were- Mel Stottelmyre, Graig Nettles, BrianDolye, and Ron Guidry. There were those who are there every year, Joe Pepitone, Hector Lopez, Rick Cerone, and those that can't possibly be Old Timers like Bush, Kevin Maas, Clay Bellinger, and Brian Boehringer. As well as the playres from the last dynasty- Straw, Doc Gooden, Graeme Lloyd, Jeff Nelson and Charlie Hayes.

The widows of some of the Yankees greats are honored each year as well. This year's group was Kay Murcer, Diane Munson, Helen Hunter, Jill Martin, and Arlene Howard. Being that Bobby Murcer was my favorite player, I love seeing Mrs. Murcer there and I feel both sadness and joy to see Thurman's widow.

The Yankees also did a great job of remembering those who passed during the last year. Many of the names were unrecognizable, which makes think they now included members of the organization that worked behind the scenes. That was new and a nice touch. The last name announced was Cora Rizzuto, who I hadn't remembered had passed away.

The one thing missing was the Yankees captain Derek Jeter, who happened to turn 37 on Sunday. We all know he's rehabbing his injury and he wants to get back as soon as possible, but it was a disappointment that he wasn't there when Geno was honored, "Mr. Torre" and Bernie Williams returned.

One thing to note that was in poor taste. Thankfully it only lasted for about four players announced. Ron Blomberg came out to "Havah Nagila", Lee Mazzilli and Rick Cerone to a tarantella and Pat Kelly to an Irish jig. My wife and I exchanged shocked glances. "Are you really going to play an ethnic song for everyone? Could you stereotype it a little more?" As I said, thankfully that didn't continue or I wasn't paying attention. I hope it was the former.

As the regular game got underway, Michael Kay told John Flaherty that Mariano wanted him to introduce him with the Old Timers. Kay said, "I can't do that, I'll lose my job". Mariano pressed Kay to do it, but the YES broadcaster would not relent and said in a couple more years Mo will be one of them. After the game, Kim Jones asked Mo to verify the story and baseball's greatest reliever was all too happy to. He said "Michael blew it", called him a "big head" and said he was angry at him. It made for a great interview and was extremely funny. Mo concluded by saying, "I love you Michael". No one is greater than Mo.

As for the game itself, Ivan Nova and the Yankees fell behind 3-0 by the end of the 5th inning. Ty Wiggington hit the first of two home runs on the day as Nova had no control of his fastball. The Yankees answered back in the bottom of the 5th though when Nick Swisher hit a 2-run home run off of Rockies starter Juan Nicasio, and Posada followed with a game tying blast.

A Wiggington blast off Nova in the top of the 6th put Colorado back ahead, but Alex Rodriguez answered with an RBI single in the bottom of the inning to tie things up at 4-4. It would be broken an inning later when Eduardo Nunez singled home pinch-runner Chris Dickerson. Mark Teixeira then put some icing on the cake with a solo blast in the 8th, his 23rd of the season to gain a share of the AL lead with Toronto's Jose Bautista.

Boone Logan (2-2) and David Robertson then handed things over to Rivera, who cuttered his way through Wiggington, Charlie Blackmon, and Chris Iannetta for his 20th save of the season (579 in his career). A fitting ending to a perfect day.

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