New York Every Yankee stood in front of the home dugout, caps off, as Bob Sheppard’s distinct and distinguished voice echoed through the public-address system once more.
“Ladies and gentlemen … welcome … to Yankee Stadium.”
Most of the sellout crowd already was seated sharply at 6:45 p.m. Friday as Sheppard’s introduction — richly applauded by the 47,524 fans — was followed by a video tribute to owner George Steinbrenner.
And soon after that montage had ended to another rousing ovation, Mariano Rivera quietly walked toward the batter’s box and laid two long-stemmed roses across home plate.
One for Sheppard, who died Sunday. One for Steinbrenner, who died Tuesday.
“We gather here tonight to honor two men who were both shining stars in the Yankee universe,” Yankees captain Derek Jeter said into a microphone behind home plate. “Mr. George Steinbrenner and Mr. Bob Sheppard cared deeply about the responsibilities to his organization and to our fans.
“And for that, will forever be remembered in baseball history and in our hearts.”
And then the Yankees’ captain called for a moment of silence.
By this time, about 10 minutes before the first pitch to start the Yankees’ second half, all of the Tampa Bay Rays had gathered outside their dugout.
The silence was extended after the ceremony to honor both men. As CC Sabathia finished his warm-ups, P.A. man Paul Olden said, “There will be no player announcements tonight.”
There was only a solitary microphone in an empty booth.
Even the fans in the bleachers canceled their player roll call. At this point, words were hardly necessary.
“We know exactly what he’d want us to do to honor him. To go out and play hard and win,” manager Joe Girardi said. “And the players in the room understand that.”
Girardi appeared to be blinking back tears during the dignified ceremony, which concluded with the solemn playing of “Taps” and the national anthem by Army Sergeant First Class MaryKay Messenger.
“From the Yankees’ perspective, I can understand the emotion,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “From the Rays’ perspective, honestly, it’s business as usual.
“It’s another game, we’ll pay our respects. For as much as Mr. Steinbrenner liked to beat the Devil Rays, for the Rays, we like to beat the Yankees just as much.”
That was a reference to Steinbrenner’s determination to always have the upper hand on the Rays, who were mostly a last-place club during his reign.
But the zaniness, the demands, the headlines — Jeter had an innate understanding of it all. After all, he considered Steinbrenner a close personal friend.
“It’s all I’ve ever known, playing for him and his expectation level,” Jeter said. “He spoke his mind. He challenged his players. If you couldn’t take it, you couldn’t play here.”
Flags around the Stadium were flown at half-mast, and the Yankees unveiled uniforms with two memorial patches. The one for Sheppard, depicting a solitary microphone, is worn on the left sleeve. The one for Steinbrenner, inscribed with his initials, is worn over the heart.
“To me, it’s not the patch on the heart,” Girardi said. “It’s what he left inside.”
Before heading to the mike behind home plate, Jeter appeared to have wiped away a tear as he was introduced by a recording of Sheppard’s voice. It’s that way every time Jeter goes to bat.
“I’ll honor him in that way every time I go to the plate for the rest of my career,” Jeter said.