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Yankees set to begin weekend of tributes

The Yankees will honor the memories of owner

The Yankees will honor the memories of owner George Steinbrenner and public address announcer Bob Sheppard before Friday's game. Credit: Wireimage (left); New York Daily News

Friday night kicks off a weekend, Brian Cashman said, that will have "a lot of emotion."

When the Yankees start the season's second half at the Stadium against the Rays, it will be three days after the death of owner George Steinbrenner, 80, and five days after the death of longtime public address announcer Bob Sheppard, 99.

"Two legends obviously have gone to a better place,'' general manager Cashman said, "and a lot of people want to show and pay their respects. They want to show their appreciation for two people who are irreplaceable."

Emotions figure to be at their most pronounced Friday night and Saturday afternoon.

Tonight's game will be the first at the Stadium since both men's deaths. Saturday is Old-Timers' Day, an event that was near and dear to both.

The Yankees announced Thursday that they will pay tribute to Steinbrenner and Sheppard before tonight's game.

The Yankees are encouraging fans "to be in their seats by 6:45 p.m. for the pregame ceremony, which will include a video tribute to 'The Boss' and a special moment of silence honoring both of the Yankees icons."

The Yankees, who Friday night will unveil the memorial patches on their uniforms that they will wear the rest of the season to honor Steinbrenner and Sheppard, said additional tributes will be revealed during the ceremony and that there will be more observances during Old-Timers' Day events.

This Old-Timers' Day will commemorate the 60th anniversary of the world champion 1950 Yankees; Sheppard became the club's public address announcer the following April. Before the introductions of more than 40 former Yankees players and coaches in attendance, the Yankees will honor Sheppard with a video tribute. Additionally, the Yankees will recognize him with a special tribute during the seventh-inning stretch.

A wreath will be placed in front of Steinbrenner's statue in the Yankee Stadium Gate 2 Executive Lobby as well as in front of Sheppard's plaque in Monument Park.

The circumstances of the weekend will be difficult, but The Boss would expect - and demand - focus on the field. For Friday night and the rest of the season.

"The only way to honor anybody's legacy is to win for George," Cashman said Wednesday in Baldwin as he left Sheppard's wake. "Always, that's the legacy he always left. He wanted to win at everything. It didn't matter what it was. That's the way he was wired.''

And players are wired to take the field and compete, regardless of outside events.

In some ways, the Rays might be the perfect opponent to help the Yankees refocus. They come in 54-34, only two games behind the first-place Yankees (56-32).

The Yankees took two of three from the Rays April 9-11 in St. Petersburg, Fla., but then were outscored 18-12 by Tampa Bay - and the games were nowhere near that close - in a two-game mini-series sweep at the Stadium May 19 and 20.

After that series, there was talk about how young and fresh the Rays - to whom Tampa resident Steinbrenner hated losing - looked in comparison to the older, more brittle Yankees. Tampa Bay (32-12) built a six-game lead over the Yankees (26-18) on May 23 but has gone 22-22 since then to the Yankees' 30-14. The Red Sox are 51/2 games behind the Yankees.

"It's going to be great for us because it doesn't seem like we've played them very much this year," Mark Teixeira said of the Rays on Sunday. "We haven't been tested too much against them this year. We're looking forward to those games."

Asked about facing Tampa Bay with first place on the line, Teixeira said the Rays' place in the standings is inconsequential.

"We want to win every single night," he said. "We don't say, let's win a few games here and there and then turn it on because we're playing Tampa or Boston. We want to win every night."

The Boss would have approved.

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