NEW YORK -- Gene Monahan found his way down the first-base line on Tuesday, choking back tears as he pointed from his heart to the first-base dugout, where every person wearing pinstripes was applauding in unison.

The team's longtime head athletic trainer missed all of Spring Training with what the organization has termed a significant illness, but he made his return as the Yankees claimed their 2009 World Series rings before a home-opening 7-5 win over the Angels.

"The toughest ring I gave out was probably the first one, to Geno," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who held back tears during his postgame news conference. "Knowing what he's going through, it was really emotional. We're all thrilled to see him, I've got to tell you that. He's been here a long, long time, and he's meant so much to me and everyone in that clubhouse. It was a great ovation that he got."

This year marks Monahan's 48th consecutive season with the organization, the last 38 as head athletic trainer at the big league level. He is staying in New York to receive further treatment but could rejoin the Yankees later in the year.

Seeing him in the clubhouse after months apart was emotional for many Yankees. Jorge Posada said that it was his favorite part of the day.

"He does everything possible to keep us on the field," Posada said. "To be there for him, I think it's special. It was emotional for me, it was emotional for him. I'm glad he was here. I'm glad his family was here."

"I know that was a big lift for our team today," Alex Rodriguez said. "A lot of us were very happy to see him. That, for me, was one of the nicest moments of the whole afternoon. Geno is a rock and a guy that we look up to. I know we just gave him a lot of love."

Derek Jeter added: "It was tough on him not being in Spring Training. He's been here as long as anyone. I think it probably meant more to us than him, getting the opportunity to see him."

In the absence of Monahan, the longest-tenured active head trainer in the Majors, assistant athletic trainer Steve Donohue has been attending to the Yankees.

Girardi, Jeter effusive in praise for Matsui

NEW YORK -- Inevitably, there may come a time this week when Joe Girardi sees Hideki Matsui coming to the plate and ponders the idea of bringing in left-hander Damaso Marte. He already knows what his shortstop's opinion will be.

Every time an opposing club brought in a lefty to play the percentages during Matsui's seven years in pinstripes, Jeter would pace up and down the dugout, yelling, "Don't do it!"

And it always seemed as though Matsui found the way to get the big hit.

"It just depends where we are," Girardi said. "We know what type of hitter he is, and knowing that, you still have to execute your pitches. If you don't execute your pitch, Hideki Matsui is going to beat you, and we know that."

The Yankee Stadium crowd embraced Matsui as warmly as anyone during Tuesday's ring presentation, as the 2009 World Series MVP trotted to the middle of the infield to claim his ring amid thunderous applause.

The Yankees, lined from first base to second, gave Matsui a group hug, enveloping his red Angels cap within an ocean of Yankee blue.

"I was with the Yankees for seven years," Matsui said before the game. "That was ultimately the goal we were pursuing. I'm looking forward to that."

Jeter considers Matsui one of his favorite teammates of all time.

"He's professional, he comes out here every single day ready to play, he never makes excuses whether he's not feeling good or he's feeling great," Jeter said. "He goes out there and he plays."

Matsui offered similar words of praise, calling Jeter "a great teammate and an amazing friend."

Jeter also revealed a tidbit about Matsui that might have escaped notice during his seven seasons in New York.

"The thing that people don't know about Hideki," Jeter said, "is that he's fluent in English. He has the interpreter, but he knows everything you guys are saying."

Hairston travels cross-country for his hardware

NEW YORK -- Jerry Hairston Jr. found a familiar spot in the Yankees' clubhouse on Tuesday, occupying the same area where he stood with his uniform caked by dirt after scoring the winning run of Game 2 of the 2009 American League Championship Series against the Angels.

There would be nothing unusual about that except for the fact that Hairston is now a member of the Padres. The former utility man for the Yanks made the cross-country journey from San Diego during his team's fortuitous off-day to claim his World Series ring.

"I feel great," Hairston said. "I don't think I can feel better. It's not every day you get a chance to get a ring, especially in New York and in the new Yankee Stadium. I feel fortunate that I'm one of the few guys they're giving them out to."

Hairston said that the Yankees were gracious enough to help him score a hotel room when he learned that his schedule would allow him to claim his ring -- not that he slept in the bed much.

"[The timing] had to be perfect," he said. "We had a day game in San Diego yesterday and an off-day today. I said, 'If they're going to have an off-day during a ring ceremony, I've got to go get it.' "

Hairston arrived in New York at 5:30 a.m. ET and will take a 6 p.m. flight back to the West Coast, rejoining the Padres in time for Wednesday's game against the Braves.

"I don't know how much the ticket was, and I don't care," he said. "When I look at that ring, it's going to be worth it."

Jeter remembers his first home opener

NEW YORK -- This may have been Derek Jeter's 15th home opener with the Yankees, but he couldn't help but flash back to his first, that snowy season kickoff across the street against the Royals on April 9, 1996.

Maybe it helped that Andy Pettitte, who started that 7-3 victory over Kansas City under conditions that saw a first pitch thrown in 38 degrees, was also heading to the hill in Tuesday's 2010 Yankee Stadium kickoff.

"A lot of times, when you have bad weather on Opening Day, you don't feel it, because you're so excited to get out there and play," Jeter said. "Home openers are always special, whether it's your first one, or this will be No. 15. It's something that you look forward to."

The Yankees have had some early success, notching four victories in their first six games while visiting Fenway Park and Tropicana Field. Jeter certainly wouldn't erase those wins over the Red Sox and Rays, but he said things feel a little more authentic now.

"I've said it before -- when we don't open our season here and happen to open on the road, it just feels as though the season doesn't start until we play our home opener. I still feel that way today. Yankee Stadium home openers seem a little more special."

Jeter had to acknowledge that he felt some emotions when his car passed by 161st Street, where the old Yankee Stadium -- the one where Jeter played on that snowy day in '96 -- now stands in ruins, on its last legs as it heads toward complete demolition.

"Coming here, it was a little awkward," he said. "The last time when we left, the old stadium was still there, and I hadn't seen it torn down yet. It's sort of a weird feeling when you're driving in and the old stadium is gone."

Torre 'proud' of Girardi's title

Dodgers manager Joe Torre said he didn't have plans to call Yankees skipper Joe Girardi on Tuesday after Girardi was presented his 2009 World Series championship ring. Torre, who won four World Series with New York as manager from 1996-2007, spoke with Girardi during Spring Training and said Girardi knows well how Torre feels about him.

"It's a proud moment for me, too," Torre said. "I talked to him before he accepted the job over there and wished him luck and told him to basically just go about it the way it should be. He went through a tough year [four] years ago [with the Marlins]. I'm happy for him. It worked out for wrong reasons, but he learned a lot, not only dealing with players, but with ownership."

In their home opener on Tuesday, the Dodgers hosted the D-backs' Ian Kennedy, who made his debut with Torre's Yankees in 2007. Kennedy struggled in 14 games for New York over the past three seasons before being part of a three-team trade this past offseason that landed Curtis Granderson in the Bronx. Some of those struggles, Torre said, can be chalked up to the pressure of New York.

"I sense just from reading statements and quotes that he seemed to be a little more sensitive than you can get away with in New York -- let's put it that way," Torre said.

Torre gave a no comment when asked whether umpire Joe West stepped out of line when he criticized the pace of Yankees-Red Sox games recently, but he did vouch for the intensity of the series.

"These people sitting in the stands, they're not wishing they'd get this thing over with," Torre said. "All I can tell you is a Yankees-Red Sox game is unlike anything else."

-- Evan Drellich

Johnson takes musical cue from daughter

NEW YORK -- You might have heard Nick Johnson walking up to the plate with Miley Cyrus' "Party in the U.S.A." playing on Tuesday, and thought it an odd musical choice for a 31-year-old designated hitter.

It turns out, there's a little bit more to the story. Johnson sent word to scoreboard director Mike Bonner to make sure that the song was played for his 4-year-old daughter, Brianna, who was at the home opener.

"My daughter loves it," Johnson said. "I'll be rocking with Miley until my daughter tells me otherwise. It's all up to her."

Johnson said that Brianna had no idea the song would be played five times Tuesday, but it seemed to work, as he homered in his first at-bat. That's reason enough to keep it for now, but does Johnson really like the bubble-gum pop tune?

"Absolutely," he said. "I'll get up in the family room and sing it. It's got a good twist to it."