Notes: Rivera wears No. 42 with pride
Closer only active player using universally retired number
NEW YORK -- Told of Major League Baseball's plan to honor Jackie Robinson by allowing each club to put No. 42 into circulation for one day, Robinson Cano's eyes widened.
"Oh, really," Cano said, his interest clearly piqued. "But wait, we have Mariano."
On April 15, the baseball world will celebrate Robinson's legacy as the Majors' first African-American player by allowing clubs to put the universally retired No. 42 back on the field for one game.
It will be business as usual for the Yankees, however. Mariano Rivera has been wearing the number since it was set aside in 1997, and is now grandfathered in as the last remaining player who was wearing the number before its retirement.
"As a minority, I feel honored wearing the No. 42 and carrying the legacy that Jackie Robinson left," Rivera said. "I wear it with good pride. That's the way it goes. All the guys retired or left, and I'm still carrying the number. I feel blessed for that."
This past offseason, with buzz circulating that Roger Clemens might entertain a Bronx return at some point in the future, Cano volunteered to change his uniform number and free up No. 22, which Clemens had worn during his Yankees tenure.
Cano's reasoning was twofold. The second baseman is named after Jackie Robinson, and with No. 24 available, he seized the opportunity to reverse the Brooklyn legend's digits in a gesture of recognition.
"That's the guy we have to say thanks to," Cano said of Robinson. "He opened the doors and gave us -- Latin players, [African-American] players -- the opportunities to play in the States. I think he's someone I'm thankful for, because I'm here now."
Rivera has grown accustomed to his status as the only active player wearing No. 42, and admitted it will be a little strange to see it back on the fields of play around the league -- particularly if he catches a television highlight involving the Dodgers, as the entire club will wear the digits in Robinson's honor.
"Things like that are beautiful," he said. "But it will look weird, because you don't see it now. It's nice. I'm glad they're doing they're doing that for Jackie Robinson."
Top of the order: With center fielder Johnny Damon sidelined by a strained right calf, Cano batted leadoff in Thursday's contest against Tampa Bay, the first time he has done so in his career. He said the new job description didn't faze him.
"Same thing," he said. "Same game, same approach. I just play my game."
Manager Joe Torre said that he made the switch acknowledging that Cano is not the Yankees' most patient batter -- he walked just 18 times in 482 at-bats last season -- but decided on the move after reflecting on Cano's solid spring, in which he batted .338.
Torre said that he briefly considered using either Derek Jeter or Bobby Abreu as a leadoff hitter, but did not want to disrupt either player, who remained as the Yankees' Nos. 2 and 3 hitters, respectively.
"I just didn't want to mess with the guys who are hitting in those spots," Torre said.
Torre said that reserve outfielder Melky Cabrera -- who started in center field, batting ninth -- would be a more logical leadoff hitter if it turns out that Damon requires additional rest or a turn on the disabled list.
But Cabrera struggled this spring, batting .206 in 68 at-bats with just one extra-base hit, and Torre doesn't believe that Cabrera's swing has been fine-tuned enough at this point.
"Once he starts swinging the bat the way he's capable of and [we] get him more comfortable, he seems like a logical guy up there," Torre said.
Minor matters: The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees fell to the Norfolk Tides at PNC Field in Moosic, Pa., on Thursday, their first game as the Bombers' new Triple-A affiliate. General manager Brian Cashman was on hand and threw out the first pitch before the Yankees' 7-5 loss.
Lefties ahead: The Yankees are slated to face a pair of left-handers this weekend, with Baltimore scheduled to pitch Adam Loewen on Friday and Erik Bedard on Sunday. Accordingly, Torre said that the Yankees' first-base platoon should be in action, with Josh Phelps in line to bat against the southpaws.
"I don't see why not," Torre said. "I think we'll start that way and see where we are."
Torre had hinted late in Spring Training that the Yankees might not necessarily be married to the platoon, which places Doug Mientkiewicz against right-handers. So far it has worked out, with Phelps logging an Opening Day start against Scott Kazmir and Mientkiewicz receiving his first start on Thursday, against Jae Seo.
Murcer to be honored: Oklahoma City University will honor broadcaster Bobby Murcer with the Abe Lemons/Paul Hansen Award for Sports Excellence at the annual OCU Sports Spectacular dinner and auction on April 30.
The award recognizes an individual who significantly contributes to the growth of sports in Oklahoma. Murcer made a surprise appearance at Monday's Opening Day game, receiving a standing ovation from a sellout crowd of 55,035.
A five-time All-Star, Murcer has been battling cancer, undergoing regular treatments following surgery to remove a malignant brain tumor. For ticket or sponsorship information, call 405-208-5309.
Coming up: The Yankees welcome the Orioles to town on Friday for a three-game series. Right-hander Mike Mussina (15-7, 3.51 ERA in 2006) will make his first start of the season for New York, with Loewen (6-6, 5.37 ERA in 2006) on the mound for Baltimore. The first pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.