Friday, March 14, 2014

Yankees visit Panama Canal

3/14/14, "Mariano Rivera leads Yankees on a tour of the Panama Canal," NY Daily News, Christian Red, Panama City

"Mariano Rivera proved every bit the All Star when it came to hosting and tour guide duties Friday. Baseball's all-time saves leader and Panama's favorite son (and Sandman) led a tour of his country's most famous landmark – the 100-year-old Panama Canal – when a contingent of his former Yankees teammates and team executives paid a visit to the waterway that connects the Atlantic Ocean (via the Caribbean) to the Pacific Ocean.

Mariano Rivera's dream of having the Bombers play baseball in his native country unfolds this weekend when the club plays the Marlins in a two-game exhibition series at Rod Carew Stadium Saturday and Sunday.

But Friday was all about playing tourists, as Rivera helped escort the late team owner George Steinbrenner’s daughter, Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal, team president Randy Levine, COO Lonn Trost, manager Joe Girardi, Brett Gardner, David Robertson, hitting coach Kevin Long, bench coach Tony Pena and spring training instructor (and former Mets skipper and Yankee player) Willie Randolph around the Miraflores Locks site. Rivera was accompanied by his wife, Clara.

The retired closer posed for photos and signed baseballs for fans who congregated around the Yankee contingent, including a group of elementary school kids. When word got out that the bold-face names were paying a visit to the canal, fans and tourists quickly snapped cell phone photos and shouted Rivera’s name.

"We're excited. We believe that the fan support will be great," Girardi said after touring the site, referring to the series. “We’re hoping to put on two good games with the Marlins.” Girardi also thanked the local baseball fans for their support and added that Rivera has been a "really good" host so far, including greeting the team when it landed at Tocumen Airport late Thursday.

Girardi, who is visiting Panama for the first time, said he was looking forward to lunch at a local restaurant Friday. Asked if Rivera would pitch in either exhibition game this weekend, Girardi joked:

"I doubt it. I should see if I can get him to come out in uniform."

After watching a short film on the history of the canal, Rivera led the group out to the canal's edge where everyone posed for photos. They later walked across the thin walkway of one of the enormous canal locks to view the canal from the opposite side.

"It's awesome," Gardner said. "A lot bigger than I thought it was. It's amazing to see it actually in action. My first time in Panama, and so far I think it’s great."

Rivera's successor as the Yankees' closer was similarly awestruck.

"You never think they could fit a ship through this canal, but somehow they do," Robertson said.

As they piled into several white SUVs for their next stop on the Friday tour of Panama (they were scheduled to visit the presidential palace), Gardner was asked about what it will be like without Rivera starting the season with the team, as he has done for the previous 19 big-league seasons.

“He’s been such a fixture with the Yankees for such a long time. Such a leader and such a great presence in the clubhouse,” said Gardner. “We definitely miss him. Obviously wish him well in the next phase of his life. We love him and support him and that’s why we’re here.”" images NY Daily News, Christian Red, Corey Sipkin, Corey Sipkin


3/14/14, Twitter photos of some Yankees arriving in Panama

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