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Yankees head to Panama for weekend exhibition series

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CORRECTION Panama Legend Series Baseball [2]I was sitting in the press box at the time and didn’t step outside to make sure the bus left on the time, but the Yankees were scheduled to leave for the airport at 6 p.m. Their flight to Panama was to land this evening, and tomorrow’s scheduled includes a visit to the Panama Canal and some sort of big — and I’m assuming, fancy — dinner. Mariano Rivera is meeting the team down there.

“I think we’ll get a much bigger sense tomorrow, when we’re there, about how much it means to the country of Panama,” Joe Girardi said. “… I think we know what the Yankees mean to Mo, and I think we know what his country means (to him). To be able to combine the two, I think it’s really special to him. Mo, every winter, goes back home and sees family. Before spring training he would go. He loved his time there. For me, if I was ever able to bring the Yankees to East Peoria, it would a huge deal for me, right? And that’s in the same country. So it is a huge deal.”

Players chosen for the trip seemed excited about going, especially some of the young guys. Girardi said he based his traveling squad around the idea of keeping a bunch of the infielders together in Florida and keeping most of the outfielders together in Panama. He also tried to pick some Latin players to make the trip.

“I’m sure they follow a lot of the Latin stars,” Girardi said. “But I’m sure they follow all our players because of Mo. They follow their team. But I kind of in a sense almost kept the outfield together, Jeet had a responsibility (to go), and then keeping the infielders kinda together.

Girardi said he talked to Rivera a little more than a week ago, and he said there was a definite sense of excitement from the long-time closer, whose role on this trip is expected to be exclusively ceremonial.

“I’ve joked with him about playing an inning in center field,” Girardi said. “But it really hasn’t gotten too far.”

Associated Press photo of Rod Carew Stadium in Panama City