Notes: Bernie checks in with Torre
Dynasty mainstay wishes former teammates luck for season
NEW YORK -- It was three hours before Carl Pavano would throw the season's first pitch, and Joe Torre's telephone was ringing. The voice on the other end was a familiar one, and it made the Yankees manager break into a grin.
Bernie Williams, the longtime veteran outfielder and a cornerstone of the team's four most recent World Series championship rosters, had checked in to wish his club luck for the coming season.
"It was very nice," Torre said. "It certainly put a smile on my face. He was the same guy: 'How you doing, you ready to go?' He's a caring individual, and I think that's what makes him so special."
Williams, 38, did not accept a standing non-roster invitation to the Yankees' Spring Training, and Torre has expressed regret that Williams didn't report to Tampa, Fla. As the manager has said, no one will ever know what could have happened in that camp.
So as the Yankees and Devil Rays lined the chalk at Yankee Stadium on Monday, an April chill cutting through the air, Williams was miles away, preparing for the reality of missing his first Opening Day experience in 16 years. After a brief conversation, Torre passed the telephone along to some of Williams' longtime teammates.
Mariano Rivera, who has now dropped his belongings into Williams' corner locker as the longest-tenured player in pinstripes, was nowhere to be found.
But both Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada were nearby and found their way to the line, greeting their soft-spoken former teammate, exchanging new cell phone numbers and accepting his well wishes for the coming season.
"He sounded pretty positive," Posada said. "Bernie's going to miss it more than us."
Jeter said that the concept of Williams not being in a Yankees uniform was "weird at first," but he believes the team has -- for the most part -- adjusted to the reality.
Small reminders do pop up now and again, though; Jeter said that Williams always used to take the seat behind the captain's on Yankees team charters, passing the hours of flight by strumming some licks on his guitar.
"I didn't have to listen to that [on] this trip," Jeter said.
Torre said that Williams still has not completely ruled out the idea that he could play in the Major Leagues this season. Posada said he believed that Williams would be physically capable of pulling off a return, though the Yankees -- as of now -- do not appear to have any place for Williams to play.
"It's all up to him," Posada said. "I have no idea. It'd be a tough thing to do, especially being 38. I'm pretty sure he can do it if he puts his mind to it."
You know what to do: In his role as team captain, Jeter said he did not have any special words of inspiration for the Yankees' experienced roster, which assembled with seemingly equal parts anticipation and excitement for Monday's ceremonies.
"There's no speech or anything," Jeter said. "We've got a lot of veterans on this team, a lot of guys who have been here before. I think everyone is just eager to get to games that count."
Even so, as the Yankees counted the minutes until the 83rd season opener at Yankee Stadium unfolded, even Jeter admitted to some nervous energy coursing through his veins.
"You get butterflies," Jeter said. "You get excited. Everyone's a little bit excited just because it's the first game. You look forward to getting this game out of the way so you can get into a routine of playing every single day, but this is special, especially here in New York."
The pageantry of a Yankee Stadium opener traditionally presents sights to behold and remember, and Monday's event did not disappoint.
Sgt. First Class Mary Kay Messenger, a West Point soloist, performed the national anthem, while a giant American flag was unfurled in the outfield by 40 West Point cadets. A flyover by two U.S. Navy F-18s, piloted by the Strike Fighter Squadron 34, punctuated the experience with an exclamation point.
"Opening Day is always significant," Torre said. "Even though it only counts as one game in the standings, you try to make your decisions with that in mind. All the hoopla, once that's over with, then it's baseball."
First time around: If Jeter -- cool as anyone under pressure -- can be swept up in the atmosphere of Opening Day, consider, then, how some of the Yankees who haven't been through countless openers, heated contests against the Red Sox and, yes, World Series battles may have felt.
As the ceremonies neared, first baseman Josh Phelps buttoned his jersey just outside his locker. At the other end of the clubhouse, reliever Sean Henn sat on a stool with his hands folded.
The two seemed calm, considering they were about to be introduced to a capacity crowd. The right-handed-hitting Phelps -- who logged a start over Doug Mientkiewicz against Tampa Bay lefty Scott Kazmir -- said that nerves would overtake him a bit as the first pitch neared, but he said it could be a good thing.
"If you don't have a little bit of anticipation and some jitters, then it's time to move on," Phelps said. "If you don't get excited for Opening Day, there's something wrong."
Catcher Wil Nieves, who talked with Henn a bit about the excitement throbbing in the clubhouse, voiced his feelings as game time drew closer.
"It's a blessing," Nieves said. "Last year, I made the team, but I didn't get to come here. We opened in Oakland, and it's not the same. I can't wait to run to the line when they call my name."
Not an issue: Torre said he had no sentimental thoughts as he departed Legends Field and headed north for New York, even though there is a possibility that he may have done so for the final time.
Torre, 66, has been the Yankees' manager since 1996 and is as much a mainstay as almost anyone in the organization, though he is now beginning his final year under contract. He said that his employment status is off in the distance as a subject that does not consume him, a tactic he learned back in his days as the manager of the Mets, when he decorated the office at Shea Stadium as though he'd be across town forever.
"I never think about more than what's happening now and what I'm loyal to," Torre said. "I really haven't thought, in walking through this thing so far, that I won't be doing it again."
Firsts of the year: Carl Pavano threw the first pitch of the Yankees' season -- a ball, high and away to Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford -- at 1:10 p.m. ET.
The Yankees' first batter and hit belonged to leadoff man Johnny Damon, who singled off Kazmir to open the game, and Jason Giambi drove home Damon and Bobby Abreu with the first runs when he singled in the bottom of the first.
The Yankees' first official "whoops" belonged to Alex Rodriguez, who dropped a foul Ty Wigginton popup in the first inning and was charged with an error for prolonging the at-bat.
Coming up: Andy Pettitte will make his return to New York after three seasons in the National League on Wednesday as the Yankees face off against the Rays in Game 2 of a three-game series. Right-hander Jae Seo will start for Tampa Bay, with first pitch scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Caleb Breakey, an associate reporter for MLB.com, contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.