Originally Published: September 24, 2015 12:50 a.m.
TORONTO (AP) - No matter what off-the-field problem Alex Rodriguez might have been facing as a new spring training began, he knew he could count on Yogi Berra.
"With all the craziness here with me in New York, and every spring it was a different story about me, he was always consistent and steady, supportive and constructive," Rodriguez said before the New York Yankees played the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night. "I really appreciate that."
There was so much said and written about Berra, the New York Yankees Hall of Famer catcher who died Tuesday night of natural causes at age 90. The current Yankees all had a chance to start a relationship with Berra, the 10-time World Series champion and 18-time All-Star. He was always around during spring training and was a short ride away from his home in New Jersey during the regular season.
Outfielder Brett Gardner said the Yankees can use Berra's passing as motivation as they close the regular season vying for a postseason berth.
"Yogi probably played as big a part in the Yankee organization being what it is today than any other person on the field," Gardner said. "I think that he'll be pulling for us. He always has, he's always kept up with us and continued to pull for us and root for us. I know that if we can, not just play well today, but finish strong this season and accomplish some of our goals that we want to accomplish, I think it'll make him proud."
A moment of silence was scheduled before the Yankees-Blue Jays game, the final meeting of the season between the top teams in the AL East. Toronto up by 2 1/2 games.
The Yankees had Berra's No. 8 on the sleeve of their gray road jerseys, and New York's lineup cards had an image of Berra wearing catcher's gear in the background.
"I think Yogi would want us to go out and play and win and have fun and play with passion and joy, just like he would play," Rodriguez said. "It would be very special to get a win for him today."
The Yankees will wear the No. 8 on their sleeve for the remainder of the season, and the team intends to honor Berra before Thursday's home game against the Chicago White Sox.
"He was just such a nice man," manager Joe Girardi said. "I always thought Yogi made people around him better and feel better about themselves."
The 5-foot-10 Gardner was one of few players the 5-foot-7 Berra could speak with almost eye-to-eye.
"He always called me 'Shorty,'" Gardner said. "It's Yogi Berra, he can call me whatever he wants. Something I'll always cherish."
Girardi said Berra was remarkably humble despite his Hall of Fame credentials.
"You think about the numbers Yogi put up, the rings that he's worn and the celebrations that he's been part of, you would have never known," Girardi said. "When he came into your office or you were in Yogi's presence, I always felt like I was talking to my grandfather. I just felt comfortable. I almost felt like he was going to pull something out of his pocket, like a piece of licorice, and give it to you, that sort of thing. It was just always a joy to be around him."
Girardi said he had fond memories of spending time with Berra at spring training during his own playing career with the Yankees.
"He would be there while we were doing the drills and talk to us about certain things," Girardi said. "I used to think, 'I can't believe I'm next to this guy. I can't believe I'm in his presence like this, in the same dirt he caught in.' I was always in awe of him, but he never made you feel that you should be. That was why he was so special."
Berra helped the Yankees reach 14 World Series during his 18 seasons in the Bronx.
"Yogi didn't have enough fingers for the rings that he had," Girardi said. "I don't think you'll ever see a player have the success that Yogi had. I think the closest thing that we've seen in sports today is maybe Michael Jordan with the six (NBA championships) in eight years. It's not going to happen."