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THE HOUSE THAT RUTH BUILT

Honoring a player for the ages

September 21, 2008|Roderick Boone | Newsday

Nearly everyone in the sellout crowd stood and cheered, giving him a thunderous ovation and offering up more love for him once he tipped his cap and waved it around a couple of times.

Was it for Derek Jeter perhaps?

Alex Rodriguez?

Was Bernie Williams back in the house?

Nope, it was all for 102-year-old Emilio "Millito" Navarro, the oldest living former professional ballplayer.

Navarro, whom the Yankees selected in the ceremonial Negro League draft in June, threw out the first pitch before the Yankees' series finale against the White Sox last week. It's not every day the Yankees welcome someone older than Baldwin's own Bob Sheppard, the Yankees' longtime public address announcer whose age hovers somewhere in the 90s.

But that's exactly what they did Thursday and Navarro, who speaks mostly Spanish, soaked up every second of his moment in the spotlight, which included having his name splashed on the scoreboard in right-center field.

"This is a dream for me," he said, "and I feel like I'm in heaven."

During his session with the media, Navarro was asked what's the biggest difference now and the time he played.

Drawing on some of his obvious humor, he gave a universal sign that didn't need any translation: He began rubbing his thumb and index finger together before saying, "Dinero."

Navarro was presented a bat and as he posed for pictures with Yankees senior vice president Felix Lopez, he wielded the bat with furor, showing he still has a lot of life left in him.

Heck, with the way the Yankees have looked this season, he might've injected a little life into their sluggish lineup.

Navarro, who turns 103 on Sept. 26, was a shortstop and second baseman for the New York Cubans from 1928-29, and also played in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

Elected to the Puerto Rican Hall of Fame in 1992, he had never been to Yankee Stadium until Thursday.

"It means a great deal to him, more so than to the average person," Lopez said. "I think it's something that the Yankees are always willing to do for anybody that represents so much. . . . We are fortunate also that he is the oldest player alive, so it's a great thing. I think it's a good thing that he's able to come and he is such in good health that he is able to do all these things."

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