Jeter plays ring prank on Matsui
NEW YORK -- Hideki Matsui opened the dark brown box with his shiny World Series ring, examined the treasure and glowed as the fans at Yankee Stadium and his former teammates surrounded him with love.
Leave it to Derek Jeter to provide his own special touch.
Instead of the white gold original with 119 diamonds totaling 3.55 carats, the box contained a replica from an April 3 spring training promotion -- something hardly more valuable than a Cracker Jack prize, courtesy of a Jeter prank.
"The first time that I realized that it was fake was when Joe Girardi brought the real ring to me," Matsui said. "Actually, I just found out right now that Jeter was behind all of this."
Back in the Bronx for the first time as an ex-Yankee, Matsui was the center of attention as New York celebrated its 27th World Series title before Tuesday's 7-5 win over the Los Angeles Angels.
When Matsui last played here, he drove in six runs in Game 6 to finish the Phillies and was voted World Series MVP. He left the Yankees to sign with the Angels, who happened to be the opponent for New York's home opener.
He received his ring last, feeling emotional as he emerged from the third base dugout. The Yankees who had been lined up in their proud pinstripes from first to second, stretching over a bit toward third, came in and surrounded a returning friend, not a foe. The sellout crowd of 49,293 responded with a standing ovation.
"He deserves it," Jeter said. "He played here for seven years. He played hard. He came to work every day. He's a favorite amongst the players."
When Matsui batted for the first time on an 0-for-5 day, the applause was loud and lingered, causing him to step out of the batter's box and wave his strange red helmet twice.
"I was very deeply moved," Matsui said through a translator, even though Jeter pronounced the Japanese star's English quite good. "It's something I will remember forever, that moment."
As much as Matsui was reserved, Alex Rodriguez was the most animated. He couldn't wait to kiss his new ring, so he puckered his lips and smacked them against the wooden box before raising his prize for all to see.
"To be really honest, I was more nervous going out to receive my ring from Joe than I was all of last year during the postseason run," he said.
Most Yankees talked about how the gaudy jewels are either for safekeeping, display or gifts to parents. No such bravado from A-Rod.
"A lot of guys are talking about they're not going to wear it -- they're too cool," Rodriguez said. "I'm going to wear it, and wear it every day. Heck, if they let me wear it to third, I was trying to do that."
The latest jewelry, with a blue stone, the famous interlocking "NY" and a basepath full of diamonds, gave each of the core four five of a kind -- enough to fill out a hand. Then again, Yogi Berra, who helped pass out the prizes from a table in front of the mound along with Whitey Ford, has 10 of his own.
"He went straight to the World Series," Jeter said matter-of-factly before Tuesday's ceremony. "I joke with him all the time -- he had no playoffs. So Yogi really has four or five. We'll give him five."
The World Series championship flag was flapping for the first time at new Yankee Stadium, until now the missing piece of the $1.5 billion ballpark that opened so controversially last April.
George Steinbrenner received his seventh World Series ring before the game when Jeter and Girardi brought it up to his office. The frail 79-year-old owner attended just three games at his new ballpark last year -- the opening 10-2 loss to Cleveland, and World Series Games 1 and 2.
"He put the ring on. He was very emotional," said Hal Steinbrenner, his father's successor as managing general partner.
George Steinbrenner was almost speechless, according to his son. Jeter, ever the Michigan man, had a suggestion for owner.
"Jeter told him he wanted him to take his Ohio State ring off," Hal Steinbrenner said. "He didn't do that. He took the 2000 ring off and put the new one on."
It was a day for Yankees old and new. Trainer Gene Monahan, absent this season while undergoing treatment for cancer, received a warm welcome from fans, and hugs from players and staff.
Reggie Jackson was talking in the clubhouse before the game. Jerry Hairston Jr., who signed with San Diego during the offseason, got on a redeye flight, attended the ceremony and was headed right back to the West Coast. Hairston, who is 5-foot-10, seemed tiny standing next to 6-foot-7 CC Sabathia.
"I couldn't miss today. If I had to take a 20-hour flight, I was going to come out here today," Hairston said.
Blue-and-white flags fluttered from the flagpoles atop the stadium, replacing the regular colorful ones signifying each team and ordered to reflect the current standings.
Missing was the home of 26 championships -- the old ballpark next door. Most of it was still standing a month ago, but now it's a field of rubble, with only the stands on the first-base side still erect.
"It's sort of a weird feeling when you're driving in and the old stadium is gone," Jeter said.
As they celebrated, they also mourned the tradition lost when they moved across the street. As Jeter likes to say, they keep making new memories at their new home. Still, the old ballpark is missed.
"I think it finally hit me," Hal Steinbrenner said, "because so much of it is down now."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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