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04/13/10 8:45 PM ET

Yankees embrace Matsui in ring ceremony

World Series MVP last to be honored, joined by former mates

NEW YORK -- The Yankees have a unique way of linking their past to the present, and of celebrating championships. Having won 27 World Series titles, they've had more experience with it than any other team.

The Bronx Bombers received their World Series rings before Tuesday's home-opening 7-5 win over the Angels, taking a ceremonial handoff from two men who have been to the top of the mountain many times themselves: Hall of Famers and franchise icons Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra.

This ring ceremony had a new and emotional twist, as Hideki Matsui, the World Series MVP who drove in six runs in the title-clinching game last November, was the final player to receive his championship ring.

What was unusual about that? Matsui, having signed with the Angels as a free agent during the offseason after spending seven years with the Bombers, emerged from the visitors' dugout and was welcomed by a loud and sustained roar from the crowd.

"I think it's great that he's back, especially the way that he performed for us last year in the playoffs, most recently in Game 6 [of the World Series]," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I just think it's wonderful that he has the opportunity to be here."

As Matsui was hugged by Girardi and greeted by Berra and Ford, current members of the Yankees dashed to envelop the Halos' designated hitter in the middle of the infield, surrounding his one red cap in a sea of Yankees blue.

"Honestly, I was very surprised," Matsui said. "I didn't realize what was happening in the background. So when it happened, I wanted to say hello and greet everybody one by one, with everybody lined up."

Matsui's surprises weren't over. Derek Jeter had quietly orchestrated one gag -- he'd replaced Matsui's glittering World Series ring with the cheaper one the Yankees had handed out to fans on April 3 in Tampa, Fla., which Matsui wouldn't realize until later.

"I knew it'd be funny because he wasn't around to compare it to everybody else," Jeter said. "I'm sure he got over there and the Angels had to be like, 'Um, wow.' Knowing Matsui, he probably appreciated the fake one, too."

"I loved that," Mariano Rivera said. "He was in the line with the [fake] ring. It was wonderful. That's the type of player that Matsui is. Those are the types of players that you never stop loving."

Principal owner George M. Steinbrenner was the first to receive his championship jewelry, and there were no jokes with that. In a fitting tribute, it was presented to him personally by Girardi and Jeter on the Stadium's suite level.

Removing his 2000 ring in favor of the most recent addition to the Yankees' treasure chest, the Boss was "speechless," according to co-chairperson Hal Steinbrenner, until Jeter, who grew up in Michigan, ribbed him about needing to also take off his Ohio State football ring.

"None of us would be here and the Stadium wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him," Jeter said. "I hope all Yankees fans appreciate the Boss. It's always good to see him, and to present him with the ring. You know how much winning means to him. It's the only thing he cares about."

With a championship flag fluttering beyond the left-field wall and pennants commemorating all of the club's titles flying proudly from above the Stadium's frieze, Berra and Ford manned a table on the infield littered with the championship jewelry.

The Balfour rings, presented in handsome wooden boxes, are handcrafted with white gold and feature a Yankees blue stone accented by a diamond-clustered "NY" logo, rising from a diamond-lined baseball path.

Renditions of Yankee Stadium and the Yankees logo adorn the sides, along with the words "Tradition" and "Unity." The Yankee Stadium inaugural season logo is also etched along the inside of each ring.

With Girardi being the first to join the presentation on the field, the next ring was given to head athletic trainer Gene Monahan, who choked back tears as he pointed to his heart and waved. Monahan has taken a leave of absence from the Yankees during his 48th season with the organization due to a significant illness.

"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."

After all of the coaches received their rings, left-hander Andy Pettitte jogged out and doffed his cap, needing to get prepared to start the game. Jerry Hairston Jr., a 2009 Yankee who was able to fly in on a red-eye flight from San Diego thanks to the Padres' off-day, was next, dressed in a sport coat and tie.

With the Angels watching from the third-base dugout railing, the Yankees were introduced in reverse numerical order, from Alfredo Aceves to Jeter, and the longest-tenured Bombers received the loudest ovations.

A-Rod picked up his box, kissed it and waved it to the crowd. After 17 years of chasing one, he'd finally caught it. Rodriguez said that he would have worn it out to third base if he'd been allowed to.

"It was really a dream come true," Rodriguez said. "I felt like a 10-year-old boy out there, to be honest. I was more nervous going out to receive my ring from Joe than I was all of last year during the postseason run. It was very exciting."

The procession continued until there was one box remaining on the table. That belonged to Matsui, who jogged from the third-base dugout greeted by a thunderous standing ovation as the entire Yankees team, lined from second base to first base, applauded as one.

Then, as the ceremony wrapped, Matsui was enveloped in a crush of hugs and handshakes from his former teammates. It was the perfect end to a ceremony that will be remembered for years to come, showing the true heartbeat of a team that jelled as one.

"I was very deeply moved by that moment," Matsui said. "It's something that I did not anticipate at all. It's something that I will remember forever."

Bryan Hoch is an editor/producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.