Generations meet for Old-Timers' Day
O'Neill, Brosius blend with vets at Yankees' 61st celebration
NEW YORK -- Nostalgia oozed through the pores of Yankee Stadium as more than 40 former Yankees sweated out the sunshine and 85-degree temperatures to participate in the 61st Old-Timers' Day on Saturday afternoon.
It was a homecoming of sorts for many, a chance to catch up with former teammates and revisit the old stomping grounds, take a few swings and field a few grounders.
That was what Jerry Coleman came for, anyway. After walking out on the field and spending some time in the dugout, the 82-year-old was content.
"OK, I'm exhausted," Coleman joked. "Now where do we lie down?"
Sitting in front of his makeshift locker later on, Coleman said that the opportunity to be back at Yankee Stadium was worth the hassled trip from California, and he best summed up why so many of his fellow Yankees keep coming back.
"Once you're a Yankee, you're always a Yankee," Coleman said. "Things like that never change."
On Saturday, at least, most things hadn't changed for the Yankees greybeards.
The afternoon ceremonies recognized many former Yankees greats as well as the 30th anniversary of the 1977 World Series championship team before the Old-Timers took the field for an abbreviated game. For the most part, it was the same game, many of the same guys and the same Yankee Stadium -- at least for the time being.
There were the same laughs, the same smiles, and the same semi-true stories.
"We don't tell the same stories every year," Bobby Murcer joked. "I embellish my stories. You know, last year is always bigger this year."
For Paul O'Neill, things were at least a little different on Saturday afternoon when he pulled on a Yankees uniform and headed out to right field. Six years after his final season in 2001, the spot he had kicked his cleat into so many times during his nine years with New York had become more forgiving to grass seed. The crowds that cheered for him, however, had not decided to called it quits just yet.
O'Neill stepped out of the dugout to a standing ovation, unable to even hear his introduction because the applause started as public-address announcer Bob Sheppard began his first line. Waving his cap, the 44-year-old O'Neill thanked the approving fans for welcoming him to his first Old-Timers' Day game.
"It's always fun to get back out on the field," O'Neill said. "Obviously, it's a lot different when you're playing a game for real, but the big thing is to come out and see guys you've played with and be part of the celebration that you used to enjoy it when you were playing lots."
An hour earlier, O'Neill sent a shot out to right field during batting practice and watched the ball to see if he still had the right stuff for a home run. He did, and the crowd loved him even more.
O'Neill took his place out in the outfield -- left field, on Saturday -- with a smile. Earlier in the week, though, he said that being back on the field might give him jitters.
"I'm a little nervous," O'Neill said. "I haven't really picked up a glove or a bat in six years, so other than that, everything should be great."
Scott Brosius, Darryl Strawberry and Jim Leyritz all hit singles in the 4-0 game, which lasted just two-plus innings. In the end, like O'Neill predicted, everything was great -- after all, when the Yankees play the Yankees, everybody wins.
"Just as long as no one pulls something," Murcer said.
No one did.
Murcer brought along several family members -- including his grandson -- who had never been to Yankee Stadium before or seen a Yankees game. To the 61-year-old, who is still undergoing chemotherapy treatments for brain cancer, Old-Timers' Day was a chance to see many Yankees who have supported him throughout his illness and share with his family what the team has meant to him over the years.
"It's not only us telling our stories, but it's also the fathers telling their sons and reminiscing along with us, too," Murcer said. "That's what Old-Timers' Day is all about."
Lauren Kobylarz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.