Tampa Bay Rays, Yankees pay tribute to George Steinbrenner

NEW YORK

As the emotional tribute to George Steinbrenner played out on the Yankee Stadium video board and field before Friday's game, the Tampa Bay Rays stood attentively in front of their dugout to pay their respects.

They were merely incidental tourists, manager Joe Maddon insisted, party to the ceremonies due to the irony of the timing of Steinbrenner's death Tuesday and the 26-week baseball schedule.

But as much as Steinbrenner's legacy was about demanding perfection, it almost seemed as if their presence was somehow preordained, as the most perfect guests to be on hand to say goodbye — the bridge between the two communities he represented and the ongoing battle between the team he loved to see win and the team he loved to beat.

Before they stood in front of their dugout, wiping away tears as video clips rolled and roses were placed on home plate and taps was played, Yankees manager Joe Girardi and captain Derek Jeter smiled at the thought of how much Steinbrenner relished beating the Rays, Devil or not.

"There were two teams we couldn't lose to whether it was spring training or the regular season — Tampa and the Mets," Jeter said. "He'd bring everybody over to spring training games (in St. Petersburg). We'd have four of our starting pitchers.

"He never wanted to be embarrassed. And in his mind it was almost like an embarrassment to lose in his hometown. So we were well aware we were supposed to play well against Tampa."

"George wanted to keep it a Yankee town," Girardi said. "Those games were very important to him."

He would have been happy Friday night. The Yankees beat the Rays, 5-4.

There were thousands more words spoken of Steinbrenner on Friday — mostly good, you should know — and will be more today as the Yankees, through another twist of scheduling irony, host their annual old-timers day event.

Friday's 15-minute ceremony began, ever so appropriately, with the song My Way, the palatial stadium that truly is the House that Steinbrenner Built ringed by flags at half-staff.

A stirring video tribute was followed by veteran reliever Mariano Rivera placing long-stem roses on home plate in honor of Steinbrenner and legendary PA announcer Bob Sheppard, who died Sunday, and an address to the packed Yankee Stadium crowd of 47,524 by Jeter, who wiped away tears.

After military renditions of taps and the national anthem, there was another ovation as the scoreboard offered the most appropriate of all the things Steinbrenner had been called during his 80 years: The Boss.

There have been other tributes, including a wreath alongside the Steinbrenner statute inside the stadium offices, and there will be more after today's private funeral, with talk of a public memorial in Tampa, perhaps next weekend as the Yankees visit the Rays on July 30 to Aug. 1, and maybe another in New York.

As the Yankees returned to the field Friday night for the first time since the passing of the two icons, they wore patches in their honor. Sheppard's featured a microphone and was sewn on their left sleeve.

For Steinbrenner, his full name, his initials and that nickname again, THE BOSS, worn, appropriately, over their hearts.

"It's fitting," Jeter said, "that that's where it is."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays, Yankees pay tribute to George Steinbrenner 07/17/10 [Last modified: Saturday, July 17, 2010 12:08am]

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