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Players moved by tributes to Yanks icons

Players moved by tributes to Yanks icons

NEW YORK -- Throughout Mariano Rivera's 15-year career in New York, he's only known two colors -- blue and white. The simple, yet signature Yankee pinstripes have been the sole color scheme the closer has ever donned.

So, when Rivera stepped into the clubhouse Friday afternoon and noticed two black patches stitched onto his uniform, he didn't feel quite right.

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On his left sleeve, there was image of a microphone with the moniker "The Voice of Yankee Stadium" to recognize the passing of longtime public address announcer Bob Sheppard. Then, above the interlocking NY logo on his chest, the initials "GMS" were stitched to commemorate the death of former Yankees owner George Michael Steinbrenner.

But the thought alone of losing two legends -- and friends -- emotionally affected Rivera, leaving him entrenched in sadness as he stared at his newly altered home jersey.

"It's hard because seeing those patches -- nothing good comes out of those patches," Rivera said. "The reason I say that is, we wear patches because something happened that we didn't want to happen. I didn't want to have that. I didn't want [Steinbrenner and Sheppard to die] and have to wear the patch."

The patches, of course, weren't the only tributes the Yankees paid to their late icons. Prior to Friday night's 5-4 victory over the Rays, the organization honored its longtime owner with a video tribute on the center-field JumboTron.

During the ceremony, emotions ran high. Yankees manager Joe Girardi struggled to fight back tears. Pitcher Andy Pettitte firmly closed his eyes. And with all 27 championship flags lowered at half staff, general manager Brian Cashman also struggled to shed his sentiments as he watched footage of his World Series celebrations with Steinbrenner.

"I thought the tribute was beautiful," Girardi said. "The roses at home plate. The tribute to these two great men. It was just wonderful. On a night that was a sad night, I thought The Boss would be proud and I think Bob Sheppard would've loved to be the PA for this game."

Following the video, fans stood and cheered as an emotional Rivera emerged out of the dugout to lay two red roses on home plate. Shortstop Derek Jeter soon followed suit, stepping before a microphone to lead the crowd into a two-minute moment of silence.

Bob Sheppard, 1910-2010

But the crowd wasn't the only thing the Yankees silenced. To honor Sheppard's excellence in the booth, the club opted to silence the public address system Friday night, allowing players to approach their at-bats without introduction.

"It was awkward," Jeter said of the silent night. "It makes you realize how much you appreciate what Bob Sheppard has meant to this organization. Sometimes you take things for granted when they're there every day, and when it's taken away, you appreciate how much he was a part of the game."

And the tributes continued to pour in throughout the night. Before the first pitch, a bugler with the West Point Band performed a rendition of "Taps." Between game stoppages, videotaped messages from current and former Yankees personnel were constantly showcased on the center-field board.

"I did get caught up in listening to those stories," Girardi said. "Every half inning you have that reminder of how special of a man he really was. And you get caught up in that -- listening to all the stories and listening to how he affected so many different people."

Although Curtis Granderson joined the Yankees this season, the outfielder still grasped that concept. He understood the significance of the night's tributes, starting with the unorthodox black patches on his blue-and-white pinstripes.

"It's a big thing," Granderson said. "To look at the Yankees uniform -- as traditional and basic as it is -- and know that it takes a lot to alter that uniform and now allow the jerseys to be altered, it speaks highly to [Steinbrenner and Sheppard] and shows how big their impact was and will always be."

Didier Morais is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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