NEW YORK — It doesn’t really feel like opening day at Yankee Stadium, at least to me. The season is in its second week, six games old for most teams, 16 days removed from Mariners-A’s opening in Japan.
But there is no such thing as a typical Yanks home opener, the Stadium emitting a special warmth that, on this day, represents both goodbyes and hellos.
It was hard to say if the ovation given Mariano Rivera were any more vocal than usual. But you can bet most of the 50,000 folks in attendance were conscious of it probably being Rivera’s final opening day. So they stood and cheered upon his introduction, knowing that April quickly turns into September and, if they are lucky, October.
We can only imagine the Yanks without Rivera. It will be one more goodbye following Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada out the door. And yes, while Pettitte is back after a one-year retirement, he was nowhere near Yankee Stadium on Friday, instead honing his craft in Florida for his expected return to the rotation next month.
Posada, however, was right where he belonged, if not in catching gear than headed for the mound at 1:06 p.m. for first pitch. Rivera was going to catch the pitch, an appropriate reverse battery for all those games he closed with Posada behind the dish. But then another batterymate became available, his name Jorge Posada Sr., and the best opening day in baseball had a perfect beginning.
“I was warming up in the cage,” Posada said, “and my dad said, ‘You are throwing it too hard; throw it softer so I can catch it.’ ” Yeah, Jorge Posada added, “it was like old times playing catch with him again.”
The Yanks took the field and Posada jogged to the mound amid a standing ovation, his belly churning as if he were about to bend into his crouch. But his teammates didn’t jog to their positions. They jogged to the back of the mound and formed a line to greet Posada.
“I was really nervous to be up there, with all the eyes on you,” he said in the interview room outside the Yanks dugout. Posada looked terrific, well-tanned and rested. He looked, more than anything, like he was retired.
“It wasn’t difficult to come back so soon,” he said. “I’m enjoying home and enjoying retirement.” Just when it seemed like Posada was all the way into retirement, he then said, “It was difficult to come back — period — just to be here.”
Posada left the interview stage and went about joining 50,000 fans in cheering the Yankees. It was the bottom half of the first and Derek Jeter was about to lead off Yankee Stadium 2012, Posada’s Core Four buddy. Assuming he has at least another two seasons in him, Jeter probably will be the final departure of the four. But as the old saying goes, you don’t always decide when to retire; the game usually decides for you.
Posada got to decide on his own terms. He had legitimate offers from other teams. But he wanted to go from start to finish as a Yankee, maybe needed to. Pettitte is back for another run realizing that none of retirement’s perks include being cheered by 50,000 fans. Rivera likely will be gone following the season.
So we have another opening day at Yankee Stadium, each one special in its own way. This one was about goodbyes and hellos, and in Jorge Posada’s case, both.
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