Piniella reflects fondly on old days with Yanks

Published July 11, 2004

NEW YORK - A victory would have been nicer, of course, but Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella enjoyed the opportunity to be part of Saturday's Old-Timers' Day festivities, seeing the old Yankees he played with, played for and managed during his 15-plus years in pinstripes.

"It was good seeing all my friends ... it's very rewarding, very exciting," Piniella said. "They're good people I played with. What do you cherish most from your playing days? The people you played with and the things you accomplished together. To see that group around the mounds, that's fun for me, it really is. They were great players and good friends."

Piniella didn't participate in the old-timers' game, joking that since he played until he was almost 41, "I think I was an old-timer when I retired."

But he was introduced - last for effect - and received a warm, loud ovation when he joined a group of former teammates who formed a half circle behind the mound as Thurman Munson's widow, Diana, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

"That was fun," Piniella said. "I played hard. I think the people appreciated that. I was more of a blue-collar player and I think they appreciated it. I always enjoyed playing here. It's fun. It really is. It brings out the best of you."

Forty former Yankees came back for the 58th Old-Timers' Day, including Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Phil Rizzuto and Reggie Jackson, along with Ron Guidry, Don Larsen, Graig Nettles, Joe Pepitone, Mickey Rivers and Tom Tresh, delighting the sellout crowd of 54,680.

The Yankees honored Munson with a video tribute to mark the upcoming 25th anniversary of his death in a plane crash during the 1979 season.

Munson's 28-year-old son, Michael, added his own special touch, proposing to his girlfriend, Michelle Bruey, in front of the plaque in Monument Park that honors his father. She said yes.

"I was really nervous," Michael Munson told the Associated Press. "I wanted her to get a sense of all this, too, just so she could understand."

The Yankees also unveiled a plaque to honor Hall of Fame pitcher Red Ruffing.

Piniella, who was a star player, coach, manager, general manager and TV broadcaster for the Yankees, had a good time reliving his past.

But that doesn't mean he stopped thinking about the future.

"Now we've got to figure out how I can come in here as a manager and beat these guys," Piniella said. "That's what I have to figure out. And that's what I'd like to do more than anything else."