NEW YORK -- There they were, together again at Yankee Stadium, the Core Four, smiling and relaxed, countless memories flooding hearts and minds. Their bond is unbreakable.
"Those guys are like brothers to me," Derek Jeter said.
On that, there's no argument. There simply were too many years together, too many battles fought on the field, too much respect won.
"All the memories, all the stuff we've been through," Andy Pettitte said.
This was the perfect touch in a season likely to have dozens of them. For Jeter's final home opener, a 4-2 win over the Orioles on Monday afternoon, the Yankees brought back three men -- Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Pettitte -- who'll be forever linked with him in the hearts and minds of fans.
To Yankee fans, they'll be forever young, helping the Yankees became a dominant team again, with five World Series titles between 1996 and 2009. And they were more than that.
Thanks, in part, to them, the Yankees were in contention virtually every year, making the playoffs 17 times in the last 19 seasons. To play at such a high level for so long left an indelible impression throughout baseball.
They were respected, not just because they played at a high level and competed relentlessly, but for how they did it. No matter how fans in other cities wanted to, it was difficult to hate these Yankees.
Posada, Pettitte and Rivera, all of them in street clothes for this home opener, took part in a pregame ceremony with Jeter. Pettitte and Rivera threw the ceremonial first pitches to Jeter and Posada, respectively.
"I asked Derek who he wanted to catch," Posada said. "I said, 'Mo's throwing sinkers and cutters.' He said, 'I'll catch Andy.'"
Jeter said he intends to embrace every moment of his 20th and final season but that his first priority will always be preparing to play.
"My job is to get ready to play every day," Jeter said. "That's what comes first. I know I said I'm going to try to enjoy it. I'm going to try to enjoy each day, have fun. At the same time, there's a balancing, and the No. 1 priority is to get ready to play."
Pettitte said the thing Jeter will look back at is how quickly it all went. Pettitte knows because he began last season guessing it would be his final season. Before he knew it, it was over.
"You know this is going to be the last time you're in uniform on Opening Day," Pettitte said. "As much as you want to play the game, in the back of his mind, he knows this is it. Just soak it up, embrace it. He's going to blink, and the season's going to be over. It just goes by so fast."
Rivera, Posada and Pettitte were asked about the impact Jeter had on them. All of them said it was the way he did things, the idea that the bottom line was always the thing that mattered most.
"He didn't say much," Rivera said. "He said a lot on the field without speaking. How he runs from home to first on a ground ball to the pitcher -- he runs 100 percent. That's how you lead. Yeah, we all did what we were supposed to do, played hard to win championships. We all pushed. It was how he pushed himself to win."
Posada added: "He's tough. He's very smart. When he was hurt or not 100 percent, he was still out there. I feel he was a leader by example. He goes out there every day, no excuses. He hates excuses. He demands the best out of himself, plays the game the right way. I've really got to thank him for the way he was with me."
The group was asked how much time would be spent together in the years ahead, and that was a difficult question to answer. They'll all likely be back at Spring Training and at Yankee Stadium for special events.
But all of those years when they saw more of one another for nine months than they saw of their families, those days almost certainly are over.
"We'll definitely be around," Rivera said, meaning the Yankees and Yankee Stadium.
"We're going to force ourselves on them," Pettitte added quickly.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less