Generations collide at Old Timers' DayYounger Yankees draw inspiration mingling among the franchise's greats
"It's a good circus right now, but it's amazing to honor the Old-Timers and the great legacy and tradition they have built here," said rookie hurler Preston Claiborne. "Seeing all the years they put in, it makes you want to go out and perform well yourself. You see the love they get from the fans, and the way that they're honored by the organization, it's quite impressive."
"It's pretty sweet; those guys are a legacy and it's pretty amazing. Seeing guys like Bernie Williams and Tino Martinez and Paul O'Neill that were my heroes when I was growing up, just to be around them and talk to them and see how they act was cool," added fellow freshman Austin Romine. "It's an honor to be in the same dugout and put on the same pinstripes."
Of course, as wide-eyed as the rookies were on Sunday afternoon, those who have been around a while were just as excited.
""It's great, because you see a lot of the guys that come around in Spring Training as coaches and such, but you also get the guys you don't see as much anymore like Yogi and Whitey Ford," said Phil Hughes, who has been with the Yankees for a handful of Old-Timers' Days. "It's a pretty cool day and it's great to see them have fun on the field."
Of course, the older the current players get, the bigger the chance they may have played with some of the newer Old-Timers, right? That's surely true for Derek Jeter, who saw more than a dozen ex-teammates on the field, or even a newly-acquired veteran like Vernon Wells - who played alongside David Wells on the 1999 and 2000 Toronto Blue Jays - but Hughes?
"I actually played with Brian Boehringer in Class-A ball when he was trying to make a comeback," the 27-year-old Hughes said, recalling the few weeks in July 2005 when both were with the Tampa Yankees while at the opposite ends of their careers. "I consider myself a young guy, but when you start to see guys you were in Spring Training or the Minors with, it's pretty wild."
And, at some point, those Bombers past will eventually encounter some sons or nephews of teammates and foes gone by, like Romine - whose dad, Kevin, shared a Red Sox clubhouse with Tony Pena in 1990 and 1991 and faced a few of the Old-Timers during his seven-year career.
"Being a baseball family definitely makes this day special; I used to always hear stories about guys from my dad, and now I'll see guys and they'll say 'hey, I used to play against your dad'," Austin said. "I'll ask them 'how was he?' and I'll always get different stories - but I always I just want to talk to them and hear those stories about them and my dad and their careers. They're the best of the best that have stepped on the Yankees field."
Rich Gossage, who played in the AL for the Yankees (1989) and Rangers (1991) during Kevin Romine's MLB days, is surely one of them - and a meeting with "Goose" is one that also gave another Yankees neophyte the wonder if he was dreaming.
"Goose Gossage…I've met him in Spring Training, but to see him out here was awesome, and he was one of my dad's favorites," said Claiborne. "He was a bulldog out on the mound and a tough son of a gun, and the fact that I got to talk to him and shake his hand is something my dad would be real happy to know."
Of course, there was a game to be played, too, and even on a laid-back day like Sunday, the elder "Boys of Summer" proved that old habits die hard.
"Today is just about relaxing and having fun, but while they all have that look in their eye like 'it's just a game,' they still want to do well," Romine said. "I saw a lot of guys in the indoor cages getting loose, and I even saw Lou Piniella taking swings! It's cool to be a part of, for sure."
After all, excellence and tradition is the Yankee way, isn't it?