Yankees To Honor Steinbrenner At Spring Opener

(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — There will be a major absence at the ballpark when the New York Yankees play their 2011 spring training opener.

Saturday’s game between New York and the Philadelphia Phillies will be the Yankees’ first spring game since team owner George Steinbrenner died in July at the age of 80.

Steinbrenner will be honored during a pregame ceremony at George Steinbrenner Field that will include his wife Joan being escorted by the couple’s two daughters — Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal and Jessica Steinbrenner — to place a rose on home plate. Haley Swindal, Steinbrenner’s granddaughter, will perform the national anthem.

“The ceremony for him, I think, that will be very special,” Yankees captain Derek Jeter said on Friday. “It was awkward in New York, they had a tremendous ceremony for him. I mean, he passed away in July and it’s still awkward to know he’s not here. It seems like it’s hard to believe. That hasn’t changed.”

Former Yankees, including Yogi Berra, Ron Guidry, David Wells and Rich “Goose” Gossage will be introduced before the game.

“It’s already so different,” Gossage said. “You hated to see him coming. Now you miss seeing him coming. He had that kind of affect on you. He’d walked in, it was like, ‘Hold on to your chairs!’ When he passed last year, —you could see the failing health over the last few years — still it was very sad.”

Steinbrenner attended most of the Yankees’ home spring training games last year.

New York will start Bartolo Colon, who along with Freddy Garcia, Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre, is competing for the final one of the two rotation spots. Philadelphia will counter with Cole Hamels.

Hamels is part of an impressive rotation that also includes free agent Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt.

“Obviously, they have an outstanding rotation and people are going to expect big things from them,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “You look at a rotation that has a lot of aces. But, I think people were going to expect big things before they got Cliff Lee because of who they have and the success they have had.”

All of the Yankees’ regulars, except for catcher Russell Martin, are scheduled to play Saturday.

Martin, coming off surgery for a small tear in his right knee, will miss the first few spring training games. He caught batting practice thrown by Phil Hughes on Friday, and for the first time used lateral movement to block balls in the dirt.

“Best I’ve felt … absolutely,” Martin said.

Notes: Closer Mariano Rivera threw off a mound for second time and didn’t rule out pitching in a game after one more bullpen session. Rivera has taken a slower approach at spring training the past few years. “He knows how to get ready,” pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. … RHP A.J. Burnett also threw BP. … Minor league RHP Andrew Brackman has been shutdown with a groin strain, which the Yankees believe is a minor injury. His status will be reevaluated Sunday.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.