A hitter with a familiar name stepped into the lefty batter's box in the home first Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium. He's no longer a larger-than-life slice of the football fabric around here, fired after last season. But the fans mostly cheered when "Rex Ryan" was called over the PA.
The former Jets coach took a big cut and grounded a softball to the first baseman -- out unassisted.
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Ryan will be back at another area stadium for Thursday night football on Nov. 12. He will be coaching the Bills against the Jets at MetLife Stadium. But he isn't expecting a warm and fuzzy reception for his next return.
"I'll definitely get booed when I come back with my team," Ryan said, meeting with the media on the deck of a suite before the night's first three-inning "True Blue" game, which Ryan's team won, 4-3.
The charity event, which drew 17,200, was hosted by the Yankees along with WFAN and its morning team of Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton, the duo responsible for dreaming up this night. It was meant as a way to honor the officers of the NYPD and raise funds for the families of three slain NYPD officers -- Brian Moore, who was from Massapequa, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu -- plus the Silver Shield Foundation and the PBA Widows' and Children's Fund.
"Both Craig and I, watching the funerals of Officers Ramos, Liu and Moore, were overwhelmed with the grief that we know that the families are dealing with," Esiason said. "So we felt like we wanted to do something."
The area athletic community came out in full force to help the cause. A member from each of the Ramos, Liu and Moore families threw out ceremonial first pitches, to Bernie Williams, Joe Torre and John Franco. There were four games with teams made up of sports, political, entertainment and media celebrities playing teams with NYPD personnel.
The NFL team in Buffalo had an OTA during the day. Then Ryan and his wife, Michelle, drove to get to the Stadium. He was set to fly back this morning.
"It's important to be here just to support the NYPD and everything else," Ryan said.
He wore a blue Bills windbreaker. His emotional ties to his old team in green have been severed after six years.
"That absolutely is done," Ryan said. "I've got a new team here. I'm fortunate to get this team. I can tell you one thing: We've got some players."
There was a time when Ryan was guaranteeing trips to the Super Bowl for the Jets. They made it to the AFC Championship Game in each of his first two seasons. Then came four seasons without postseasons. Owner Woody Johnson let Ryan and GM John Idzik go after this past 4-12 campaign. Now Ryan has taken over a 9-7 team that's on a 15-year run without a playoff berth.
"I think we'll be in it this year," Ryan said.
"I'm not going to do the guarantees," Ryan said. "I guarantee you one thing: Teams aren't going to want to play us.
"Come watch practice and you'll probably come away with the same feeling I have. We're loaded on defense. We're loaded at the skill positions."
Actually, their main question mark -- just like with the Jets -- is at the most important skill position, quarterback, with Matt Cassel, EJ Manuel, Tyrod Taylor and former Jet Matt Simms in the mix.
"Obviously, it's not an ideal situation or there'd already be one guy there," Ryan said. "But we have enough talent there that I'm confident that when it's all said and done, we'll be fine."
Jets tight end Jace Amaro has spoken of the team lacking accountability under Ryan last season.
"I could care less about him," Ryan said. "That doesn't mean anything to me. That thing is in the past. Everything will be decided on the field, and we'll see who has the better team.
"I know what's been written about me and other things. Will I have a chip on my shoulder? Absolutely. I know one thing: We ain't hiding. We ain't hiding from anybody -- New England, Jets, anybody else. We'll take on all challengers. I'm looking forward to it."
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a possible Republican presidential candidate who played third base at this event, expects Ryan to be successful with his new home team. The two men and their wives know each other from Ryan's Jets days.
"It's sad for us personally because Mary Pat and I have become friends with Rex and Micky," Christie told Newsday. "We still keep in touch frequently. I wish him the best of luck. Listen, he's a great coach. Rex will do well wherever he goes because his players love him and he's as smart a defensive mind as there is in the NFL. The folks in Buffalo are going to love him. This is a guy who left the Jets, having gotten fired by ownership, but left on great terms with the fans. The fans love Rex Ryan."
Now the Jets hope they will come to love Ryan's replacement, Todd Bowles, a former lefthander for Elizabeth High in New Jersey and a die-hard Yankees fan, who was playing softball on their field, too.
"It's an honor being out here to support this cause and come out here and be at Yankee Stadium," Bowles said. "This is real big."