Derek Jeter, Yankees ready to honor Mariano Rivera on trip to Panama
PANAMA CITY, Panama - Asked Feb. 23 if he intended to make the longest spring training trip the Yankees have scheduled in some time, Derek Jeter smiled.
"What do you think?" said the shortstop, who, like most veterans, makes few lengthy road excursions in the spring.
The question was rhetorical, of course.
If one player was going to travel to Panama City for this weekend's two-game Legends Series against the Marlins, being played to pay tribute to Panama native Mariano Rivera, it would be Jeter, the closer's friend and Yankees teammate for nearly 20 years.
"It will be fun," Jeter said Wednesday. "I'm looking forward to it. It will mean a lot for him to have us go there and play. We get a chance to honor him. I think pretty much everyone is well aware that's the reason why we're going, so it's good for him."
Jeter was hardly alone in his desire to be a part of the club's traveling party, which included about 30 players, scheduled to depart Tampa at about 7 Thursday night for Panama City.
Among those booked for the trip: CC Sabathia, David Robertson, Carlos Beltran, Francisco Cervelli, Brett Gardner and Alfonso Soriano.
But it wasn't only the "big-name" players who eagerly made the trip.
The majority of them had similar reactions when they found out the Yankees were headed to Central America. It's a trip the club planned to make three springs ago, when Rivera was still active, but one that fell through.
"As soon as I heard about it, I was hoping I would be on it," second-year catcher John Ryan Murphy said. "I didn't know how they were going to decide who's going, but I was hoping I was going to be on that trip, definitely."
The Yankees have several events planned, including a trip Friday to the Panama Canal and a gala for both teams later that night.
"I love to travel and I don't know when I'll ever be back to Panama," said Murphy, the answer to a trivia question as the last catcher Rivera threw a pitch to in his career. " . . . I'm really excited about doing that stuff [such as the trip to the Panama Canal]. But on the baseball side, we're there for Mo first and foremost, and a lot of people are excited about that because of everything he's given to the Yankees."
The Yankees will play the Marlins Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at Rod Carew Stadium, with Adam Warren starting the first game and Sabathia the second.
Don't be shocked if Rivera throws out a ceremonial first pitch or, Joe Girardi said, if the legendary closer plays an inning in the field, a long-stated goal from Rivera when he played.
"I've joked with him about playing an inning in centerfield," Girardi said Thursday. "But it hasn't really gotten too far."
Warren, in a competition with David Phelps, Michael Pineda and Vidal Nuño for the fifth starter spot, said he is "excited" to draw Saturday's assignment.
"It's kind of a new experience," he said. "I've never been to Panama so I'm looking forward to visiting, but it's neat that I get to go over there and pitch as well. I'm going to treat it like another start in spring training, but it might have more of a feel of a different kind of game, almost like it's in the season, so it will be fun. I'm looking forward to it."
The latter was not a phrase often spoken by those who stepped to the plate against Rivera, the all-time leader in saves with 652.
"I remember running to first and then heading back to the dugout," Beltran said this week of his recollections of facing Rivera, against whom he was 3-for-15 (.200) with three strikeouts. "Honestly, I don't have too many fond memories of facing Mariano. I don't think too many players can say they had good memories of facing him. He's an extraordinary pitcher and an even better human being."
With David Lennon in Tampa