NEW YORK — Alex Rodriguez couldn’t wait to kiss his new ring, so he puckered his lips and smacked them against the wooden box it was in before raising his prize for the adoring crowd to see.
Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter were far more reserved. Then again, they are used to making their way up baseball’s happiest receiving line.
The latest jewelry, with a blue stone, the famous interlocking “NY” and a basepath full of diamonds, gave each of the core four five of a kind — enough to fill out a hand. Then again, Yogi Berra, who helped pass out the prizes from a table in front of the mound along with Whitey Ford, has 10 of his own.
“He went straight to the World Series,” Jeter said matter-of-factly before Tuesday’s ceremony. “I joke with him all the time — he had no playoffs. So Yogi really has four or five. We’ll give him five.”
The World Series championship flag was flapping for the first time at new Yankee Stadium, until now the missing piece of the $1.5 billion ballpark that opened so controversially last April. The biggest cheers went to a man just back as a visitor.
When Hideki Matsui last played here, he drove in six runs to finish the Phillies and was voted World Series MVP. He left the Yankees to sign with the Los Angeles Angels, who happened to be the opponent for New York’s home opener.
He received his ring last, and the Yankees who had been lined up from first to second, and stretching a bit toward third, and came in and surrounded him, more returning friend than foe. When he batted for the first time, the applause was loud and lingered, causing him to step out of the batter’s box and wave his strange red helmet twice.
“I am deeply moved by this,” Matsui said. “I am deeply thankful to all the fans and the Yankee organization.”
George Steinbrenner received his seventh World Series ring before the game when Jeter and manager Joe Girardi brought it up to his office. The frail 79-year-old owner attended just three games at his new ballpark last year — the opening 10-2 loss to Cleveland, and World Series Games 1 and 2.
“He put the ring on. He was very emotional,” said Hal Steinbrenner, his father’s successor as managing general partner.
George Steinbrenner was almost speechless, according to his son. Jeter, ever the Michigan man, had a suggestion for owner.
“Jeter told him he wanted him to take his Ohio State ring off,” Hal Steinbrenner said. “He didn’t do that. He took the 2000 ring off and put the new one on.”
It was a day for Yankees old and new. Trainer Gene Monahan, absent this season while undergoing treatment for a serious illness, received a warm welcome from fans, and hugs from players and staff.
Reggie Jackson was talking in the clubhouse before the game. Jerry Hairston Jr., who signed with San Diego during the offseason, got on a redeye flight, attended the ceremony and was headed right back to the West Coast. Hairston, who is 5-foot-10, seemed tiny standing next to 6–7 CC Sabathia.
“I couldn’t miss today. If I had to take a 20-hour flight, I was going to come out here today,” Hairston said.
Blue-and-white flags fluttered from the flagpoles atop the stadium, replacing the regular colorful ones signifying each team and ordered to reflect the current standings.
Missing was the team’s 26-time champion — the old ballpark next door. Most of it was still standing a month ago, but now it’s a field of rubble, with only the stands on the first-base side still erect.
“It’s sort of a weird feeling when you’re driving in and the old stadium is gone,” Jeter said.
As they celebrated, they also mourned the tradition lost when they moved across the street. As Jeter likes to say, they keep making new memories at their new home. Still. the old ballpark is missed.
“I think it finally hit me,” Hal Steinbrenner said, “because so much of it is down now.”