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Yankees enjoy meeting with Obama, wounded soldiers

Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, far left, and

Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, far left, and third baseman Alex Rodriguez, far right, visit with wounded warriors at the Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington. (Apr. 26, 2010) Credit: New York Yankees

WASHINGTON - To be sure, the Yankees relished their meeting with President Barack Obama Monday.

But what really stood out were the visits that players, staff and front-office members made earlier in the day with wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center and the nearby Malone House, a long-term rehabilitation home for soldiers.

"You go to thank the soldiers for what they've done and it really penetrates your heart seeing the sacrifices that they make," manager Joe Girardi said.

"It was a privilege for us to go there," Derek Jeter said. "For them coming up to us and saying, 'Thank you for winning the championship' is kind of mind-boggling. We were there to thank them. I think it really puts things in perspective. People always look at us and say we're heroes, but you take a look at it, those are the real heroes."

Jeter was making his fourth White House visit (the Yankees did not visit in 2000) and Girardi his fourth - three as a player and one as a manager.

"It was a real honor to be in front of the president," said Alex Rodriguez, who made his first visit. "But for me, the biggest reward was going down this morning and spending time with those guys. I know they enjoyed it, but we enjoyed it probably just as much, if not more."

The team arrived a little after 1:30 p.m. for a walking tour through most of the White House, though not the Oval Office.

"Overwhelming," Mark Teixeira called it.

The ceremony itself, which took place in the East Room - complete with the historic 1796 Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington over Obama's left shoulder - lasted about 10 minutes.

The room was packed with politicians (many from New York, including Reps. Charles Rangel and Peter King) turned Bleacher Creatures, and there were two "Hip Hip Jorge!" chants from the gallery before Vice President Joe Biden and President Obama entered the room.

"It's been nine years since your last title, which must have felt like an eternity for Yankees fans," Obama said, turning to the dais behind him, which included players, managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner, team president Randy Levine and general manager Brian Cashman. "I think other teams would be just fine with a spell like that."

He paused.

"The Cubs, for example," Obama said, drawing laughter. "But this is a team that goes down to spring training every year expecting to win it all - and more often than not, you guys get pretty close."

The president singled out Teixeira and Posada for their charity work and Jeter for playing every game as if it's his last.

"Derek would rather tell you a story about being in spring training with another Yankee legend, Don Mattingly," Obama said. "I love this story. Walking off an empty field together one day, Mattingly suggested they run to the clubhouse, telling Derek, 'You never know who's watching.' And Derek took that lesson to heart, and 15 years later, he still runs everywhere like he's trying out for the track team - always setting an example, always hustling - which is why I think everybody says that he epitomizes the best of the Yankee tradition."

After his speech, Obama - who was presented a signed No. 27 jersey - shook hands individually with players and coaches.

When he stopped in front of CC Sabathia, he referenced his near no-hitter against the Rays on April 10. "I was watching that no-hitter,'' he said.

"Great career," Obama said to Mariano Rivera.

The most humorous moment came after Obama shook everyone's hand. The president stopped in front of the risers for a group picture and Girardi brought the World Series trophy for the two to hold.

In the relative quiet of the room came the voice, not heard often, of assistant general manager Jean Afterman.

"Let him hold it," she said. "He may not get a chance again."

The room laughed.

As that died down, the president, who has never hidden his affinity for his hometown White Sox, didn't skip a beat and smiled broadly.

"And you wonder,'' Obama said, "why the other teams don't root for you."

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