With first pitch, Bernie part of fanfare
Essential piece of dynasty returns to Bronx for home opener
NEW YORK -- Hoping to start a new dynasty, the Yankees honored a big part of their last one on Tuesday.
Bernie Williams, who anchored the middle of the outfield and the lineup during the franchise's run of four titles in five seasons from 1996-2000, became the ninth former Yankee to toss out the ceremonial first pitch during a home opener at Yankee Stadium.
Williams was greeted with a standing ovation as he took the hill in a Yankees jacket and jeans, looking every bit as athletic as he did when chasing down balls in the outfield gaps. His toss from the mound did bounce before reaching backup catcher Francisco Cervelli, but the five-time All-Star was never known for his arm.
"Watching them [last year], I wish I could have been there -- absolutely, no doubt," Williams said during Spring Training. "But I was very happy to see them get to that point and do as well as they did. I had a chance to work out with them before Spring Training, and I knew how hard they were working."
In a career that spanned 16 seasons, Williams won those four World Series rings, the 1996 American League Championship Series MVP Award and four Gold Glove Awards. He was part of the celebration of the Yankees' past on Tuesday, throwing out the first pitch after the team received its 2009 World Series rings from legends Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra.
"My dad was always great about bringing back alumni, always letting them know they have a place here," general partner Hal Steinbrenner said of his father, principal owner George Steinbrenner. "This will always be a home. They will always be a Yankee."
This is Williams' second successive Opening Day at the new Yankee Stadium. He was present at the grand opening of the park in 2009.
Williams received the Pride of the Yankees Award at the team's homecoming banquet on Monday night.
"Bernie was very moved last night -- very appreciative and very thankful," Hal Steinbrenner said. "He deserves this."
Williams stepped away in 2006 after logging more than 2,000 games, 2,300 hits and 1,200 RBIs -- all with the Yankees. Those numbers are good enough to place him in the top six in Yankees history in each category.
In the time since his departure from baseball, Williams has helped out at Spring Training while pursuing a career in music.
"Seeing the guys brings a lot of the feelings back, but I know that I'm doing something worthwhile in another field," Williams said. "I feel very fortunate and blessed to have an opportunity to reinvent myself and do something with the second half of my life. All things considered, not a lot of people have the opportunity to do that."
At the same time, Williams said he would consider a career in coaching "a couple more years down the road."
His second career in music -- complemented by the chance to see some old teammates on days like Tuesday -- has lent Williams a sense of peace about his retirement and his place in the franchise's -- and the game's -- history.
"At the end of the day, I can say I did it the right way," Williams said. "I had a great time playing this game, and I have no regrets."
Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.