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07/29/09 11:51 PM ET

Steinbrenner visits Yanks before game

Owner chats with players, staff, offers encouragement

ST. PETERSBURG -- Making a rare half-hour visit to the Yankees' clubhouse before Wednesday's game at Tropicana Field, George M. Steinbrenner had the following message to deliver to his team: Keep up the good work.

The Yankees made sure the 79-year-old principal owner and chairperson went home happy, responding with a 6-2 victory over the Rays.

"It's always good to spend a little time with him," said Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. "He doesn't come around as much as he used to, but it's always good to see him."

Steinbrenner made the trip to St. Petersburg from his Tampa, Fla., home and visited with the club after it concluded batting practice.

The players all checked into manager Joe Girardi's office, where Steinbrenner -- who now uses a wheelchair -- was waiting to greet his team, which has won 11 out of 13 games since the All-Star break and leads the Red Sox by 3 1/2 games in the American League East.

"It was just great to see him," Girardi said. "He said, 'Hi,' to all the guys, and all the guys stopped by to see him -- the coaching staff and trainers and everyone involved. It was just great. He said, 'Just keep going.' That's what we want to do for him."

Girardi had known for several days that Steinbrenner planned on visiting with the Yankees during the club's three-game series against the Rays, but his appearance was a surprise to the players.

Some things have changed since Steinbrenner used to regularly amble down from his Yankee Stadium office on game days to check in with his manager and players, having ceded control of the club's day-to-day operations to "let the young elephants into the tent," as he once famously said.

But Jeter said that Steinbrenner's attitude and passion for winning are still very much present.

"The guys were all happy to see him," Jeter said. "A few of us here are used to him coming through the clubhouse quite often throughout the years. For some of these guys who really don't get a chance to spend a lot of time with him, I'm sure it was pretty special for them."

Johnny Damon said his exchange was brief.

"It's great when he's around," said Damon. "He looked like he was in great spirits and great health. I know he likes us to beat the Rays, so I was glad we were able to do that when he's here."

Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira spoke to Steinbrenner briefly after he signed an eight-year contract with the club last winter and again in Spring Training. He said that it was nice to get to catch up during the regular season.

"I just told him I'm having a great time and thanks for bringing me over," Teixeira said. "He said to keep swinging the bat."

Teixeira followed that order from "The Boss," slugging his 26th home run in the game to tie the Twins' Justin Morneau for the American League lead.

"There's no doubt he's still 'The Boss,'" Teixeira said. "Everyone calls him 'The Boss.' Until he tells people to stop calling him that, we're going to give him that respect."

Though Steinbrenner has taken a step back from the hectic pace of most of his 36 years as the principal owner of the Yankees, he remains a larger-than-life figure in the eyes of all personnel affiliated with the club.

"If he could, he'd be around us all the time," Damon said. "He's not, but we know who 'The Boss' is. We know when we go and play, we're supposed to be the best team out here. So far this year, we've been looking pretty good."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.