One day after closing the book on the playing career of Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees began a new day with some help from their past.
Prior to their Saturday afternoon game against the Tampa Bay Rays, the Yankees held an on-field reunion of the 1996 World Series Championship team.
On a hot, but beautiful, summer day for baseball at Yankee Stadium, 41, 682 fans welcomed the arrival of their newest home-grown Baby Bombers, Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge.
Austin and Judge, in their first major league at-bats, delivered back-to-back home runs and gave the 41,682 in attendance a glimpse into what could be an exciting transition towards the future.
Fellow youngsters Aaron Hicks, Starlin Castro, and Didi Gregorius added home runs to help lift the Yankees to a 8-4 victory over Tampa Bay and keep their playoff hopes very much alive.
But first, the fans were treated to a trip down memory lane, hosted by the Yankees, as only they can do.
The voices of the Yankees, Michael Kay and John Sterling, introduced the players one by one, each player receiving a loud ovation from the crowd as they walked in from beyond the center field fence.
The pregame celebration included appearances by Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, and manager Joe Torre.
In recent years, the likes of Jeter, Rivera, and Posada evolved from the young building blocks of the Yankees to mentors for the team’s next generation. On this day, they had a chance to reunite and reflect on how it all started with the teammates they broke in with.
“Feels good,” said a relaxed-looking Derek Jeter, the 1996 American League Rookie of the Year. “It feels like we’re young again, with the exception of Bernie (laughter). Most of these guys we haven’t had a chance to spend time with, with the exception of Old-Timer’s day. It’s good, the great thing about playing in sports and being part of a team is even though it’s been twenty years, we’re in the back waiting to come out on the field and people are joking around and laughing and making fun of one another like we never left. So it was good for me, I always love to see these guys.”
Members of the 1996 team took to their positions on the field, during the pregame introductions. There was Dwight Gooden on the pitcher’s mound, sharing thoughts with, Pettitte, and David Cone – perhaps having flashbacks of the no-hitter he threw against the Seattle Mariners on May 14 of that year.
Over at third base, there was Charlie Hayes, talking with Wade Boggs. Hayes caught the final out of the World Series that year, Boggs famously rode a policeman’s horse during the celebration that followed afterwards.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi during the introductions, took his position behind home plate. Girardi was a catcher on the 96′ team, he shared time that year with Jim Leyritz and a young Jorge Posada.
“It was like we never left,” said Posada.” Like we were back in 1996 getting ready for a game, talking the same stories, things that have happened. It was thrill to be around and it still is. It’s fun to see old faces.”
The Yankees of the present feature a handful of young faces ready to make a name for themselves in the Bronx. Judge, Austin, Gregorius, and Gary Sanchez are names which Yankees fans should get used to seeing in the everyday lineups for the near future.
“It’s exciting to see some of these younger players you’ve been hearing about,” said Pettitte. “They’re definitely going to get their opportunity now to come up and play. You hope that some of them come up, pan out, and make an impact.”
The 1996 Yankees were the perfect blend of youth and veteran leadership. Twenty years, and five championships later, the band was back together.