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Mariano Rivera finally gets to welcome Yankees to his home country

Former Yankee Mariano Rivera talks to children during

Former Yankee Mariano Rivera talks to children during a visit to the Miraflores Locks at the Panama Canal in Panama City, Friday, March 14, 2014. Credit: AP / Tito Herrera

PANAMA CITY - It has been "a dream come true" for Mariano Rivera.

Helping to give some of his former teammates a behind-the-scenes tour of the Panama Canal, taking them to a local children's hospital, allowing them to see at least some of the country the future Hall of Fame closer has so much pride in.

And, of course, watching his former team play baseball here, which the Yankees will do Saturday and Sunday when they take on the Marlins at Rod Carew Stadium.

"Oh my God, we've had a great time so far," Rivera said Friday night as he arrived at the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel for a gala in his honor. "It's been wonderful. I can't be more happy than I am right now. This was a dream come true for me. For a long time, I've been wanting to do this and it finally has arrived."

Three springs ago, the Yankees, while Rivera was still an active player, had made plans to come to Panama City but the trip fell through. Last season, Rivera's final one in the majors, came and went without the trip.

"I can't express enough the gratitude and happiness I have," Rivera said.

The day started with a group of Yankees, including Brett Gardner, David Robertson and Preston Claiborne, getting to tour the Panama Canal, led around by Rivera. The club contingent included manager Joe Girardi, team president Randy Levine and COO Lonn Trost.

"Pretty special," Gardner said. "He definitely carried as much clout as we figured he did around here. Everybody's excited about us being here, we're excited about being here."

After the tour, Derek Jeter and Robertson were among a small group that visited Patronato del Hospital del Niño and, after putting together toys, spent time playing with the children.

"It was fun to see some smiles on the kids' faces," said Jeter, who did not go to the canal but had been there twice before in previous visits to Panama.

"It was overwhelming at first when we got in there," said Robertson, the man slated to replace Rivera as the Yankees' closer. "It was great to see so many smiling faces."

Robertson then smiled.

"I wish I would have learned a little more Spanish before I went in there. The language barrier was killing me," he said. "But it was great to be able to give them some toys and help them put them together and see them have some fun."

Veterans typically don't make long trips during spring training but for Jeter, and everyone else in the Yankees' traveling party, there was no chance they'd say no to this one.

"I know how special this is to him," Jeter said. "I would have come here even if I was no longer playing. You all know the relationship I have with Mo. This is important to him, so it's important to me."

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