PANAMA CITY (AP) — The New York Yankees prepared Friday for a pair of exhibition games against the Miami Marlins in the home country of Mariano Rivera, the retired career saves leader.
A fundraising dinner for Rivera's foundation and the games Saturday and Sunday at Rod Carew Stadium highlight a weekend that is a tribute to the pitcher, who retired after last season.
Rivera told reporters Thursday night before the Yankees' split squad arrived that "I feel like a peacock."
He said "it was my dream to bring my team and my teammates to enjoy my homeland."
Appropriately, the Yankees players were wearing Panama hats when they got off their plane. On Friday, a group of players visited the Panama Canal, a waterway built by the United States a century ago that is credited with spreading the baseball tradition in the Central American nation.
No ships crossed during the team's visit, but the players and manager Joe Girardi took pictures and signed autographs for tourists at one of the canal's viewpoints.
"You never think they could fit a ship through this canal, but somehow they do," said David Robertson, who has taken over Rivera's role as closer.
Later on Friday, Robertson and the Yankees captain Derek Jeter visited the Children's Hospital of Panama, along with Rivera.
"The children were very happy," Rivera said at the dinner to raise funds for that hospital. "We want to help and that's what this is about."
The Yankees hadn't visited Panama since 1947, when they played several games against the then Brooklyn Dodgers. A year before that, their roster included Joe DiMaggio when they played a Panamanian team.
Rivera said he was happy Panamanian families who cannot travel to the United States will be able to watch the Yankees play this weekend. The 44-year-old Rivera, a native of the fishing village of Puerto Caimito, spent his entire 19-year career in the major leagues the Yankees.
Both the Yankees and the Miami Marlins only traveled with part of their squad, leaving the rest to play split-squad games in Florida. The Marlins arrived in Panama City on Friday.