Yankees' diverse roster celebrates entire scope of Old-Timers' Day

06/22/2014 3:40 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Dellin Betances has come a long way, from being a young fan watching David Wells' perfect game in the stands to seeing Wells at Old-Timers' Day as a member of the Yankees.(AP)
Ask any current Yankees player about their thoughts on Old-Timers' Day, and they'll likely say similar things: They'll tell you how it's an honor to be involved, which names they enjoy seeing most, and how magnificent the day is overall.

But dig deeper, and you realize that for each one, each year of Old-Timers' Day means something different. Take, for example, Dellin Betances. Here for his first Old-Timers' Day as a player this year, he's still the kid who grew up in New York City and sat in the bleachers for David Wells' perfect game, but now he gets to "officially" rub elbows with an entire locker room full of guys whose baseball cards he owned and cherished.

"It's incredible. I can't wait to go out and watch some of those guys that I grew up cheering for," Betances said Sunday morning. "I've met (David) Wells and (David) Cone and (Paul) O'Neill, but I love going out there and seeing all the faces."

This year is Carlos Beltran's first time too, but he has the experience of 17 years in the majors to draw on - and after playing for some other historic organizations (including the Cardinals for the last few years), he understands the scope of what a day like today offers even for a veteran like himself.

"It's great for baseball, and it's a great opportunity to get to talk to the greats who have been here and get to know them," Beltran said. "I think it's great that the organization makes a day to recognize everyone who has come before, and at the same time give the fans the opportunity to see them again."

Shawn Kelley and Adam Warren are both in their second go-rounds, and for them, even the difference between their freshman and sophomore bouts with Old-Timers' Day is noticeable.

"I think the longer you're here and the more you get to know some of those guys, the more you understand the tradition," Kelley said. "Last year, I had only been a Yankee for a couple of months, so I wasn't that familiar with a lot of them personally. Now that I've had a lot more interactions with them over the last year, it means a little more."

"I feel like I'm more comfortable to go up and talk to them and pick their brains about baseball. I've gotten to know a bunch of them and it's a lot of fun," Warren added.

Even for someone like David Huff, who has been around the league for years but has had just a cup of coffee in pinstripes so far, Old-Timers' Day is a chance to soak in history. As a kid who grew up a Padres fan in southern California and followed the Dodgers too, Huff was looking forward to finally meeting a pair of Yankees legends he loved as a kid.

"To see Rickey Henderson…he was an icon here, and he was one of my heroes growing up; everyone wanted to swipe a bag like Rickey," Huff beamed. "And Tino Martinez, he had the sweetest lefty swing in baseball, and that's the guy I wanted to be like coming up as a two-way guy."

And as Huff revealed in pulling back the clubhouse curtain, it's a chance to make the things you don't see, including documented history in the clubhouse, into a tangible memory.

"The Yankees have always had success, since the first pitch back 100 years ago, and it's great to be here because there's so much history even in the clubhouse," he said. "You see the pictures and the history in the documentaries, but you don't see behind-the-scenes stuff. I mean, they have pictures in the trainer's room of Babe Ruth, and in the food room there's a picture of Thurman Munson and Roger Maris sitting together signing stuff. When I walk down the tunnel and see a picture, I stop and look at it and soak it in."

Part of that, he says, is just listening to stories, and he relayed one that happened to him years ago as an example of that legacy.

"I was out in San Diego for a player's trust meeting, and we were at this golf course sitting in the locker room," he recalled. "Eddie Murray was there, and Mark Kotsay and Trevor Hoffman were sitting next to him. I was there with my brother and a couple other players, and you could see the transition; Eddie was telling stories to Trevor and Mark, and they were like rookies listening intently…and then I was sitting there with my brother and a couple other players, and Trevor and Mark were telling stories and it was like we were the rookies listening to them. It was amazing, and hopefully someday I have good enough stories to tell!"

Certainly that's the case for CC Sabathia, who, despite being on the disabled list, waited until after today to head down to Tampa to continue his rehab so he could be part of the festivities. This is Sabathia's sixth Old-Timers' Day in pinstripes, and while he's still a young 33 years old, it's a little more sobering for him when he sees guys like Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui - guys he won a ring with just five years ago - back as alumni.

"It's kind of good and bad that I get to see guys I played with playing on Old-Timers' Day," Sabathia laughed. "I don't know what that says about me, but it's fun to see them."

Huff himself just played with Damon two years ago in Cleveland, and Kelley remembers facing him that season. It's a little sobering for them, too, but when they see the reaction for someone like Damon - who, until 2006, was a Yankee fan's mortal enemy - it gives them something to even aspire to.

"I wouldn't consider Damon an old-timer, I faced him a couple years ago when he was in Cleveland, but it's cool to see how the legacy goes all the way from Yogi Berra on down to him," Kelley said. "Everybody knows the tradition here is like none other, and that's a testament to the organization; it's about legacies and history, and I'd love to come back someday long after I've stopped playing to see it."

Added Huff: "Guys come through here and they keep coming back because this organization took care of them, and they love it here…I can only hope that someday, 15 or 20 years from now, people look back at me the same way."

And, for everyone, Old-Timers' Day is just one on the calendar, but that legacy continues every day they're fortunate enough to suit up in pinstripes.

"I mean, just to be able to know the history of the Yankees and put the same uniform on that they did is very special to me," Warren said. "It's incredible that every time you put the uniform on, you're part of the history these guys have built, and you want to do it with the same honor they did."

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