PANAMA CITY -- The New York Yankees arrived in Panama at about 10 Thursday night in a private plane and were greeted by representatives from Major League Baseball and a very special fan -- Panamanian Mariano Rivera.
"This is a dream come true. It's wonderful to see my former teammates. This is priceless," a beaming Rivera said after arriving at the hotel with his wife to spend some time with his old teammates at a private reception along with members of the team's front office and the Steinbrenner family.
After landing the Yankees, who will play two exhibition games against the Miami Marlins on Saturday and Sunday at Rod Carew National Stadium, boarded two buses that traveled approximately 12 miles from Tocumen International Airport to a luxurious hotel in the center of Panama City, where dozens of fans anxiously anticipated their arrival.
The games on March 15 and 16 between the Yankees and the Marlins, referred to as the "Legends Series," will be celebrated in honor of Rivera, who retired last season after an illustrious 19-year career in pinstripes that placed him amongst the best of all time.
Among the first to step out of the bus were manager Joe Girardi and bench coach Tony Peña, closely followed by the captain, Derek Jeter, starting pitcher CC Sabathia and outfielders Carlos Beltran and Alfonso Soriano, all of whom were guarded by a strong contingent of security guards that didn't allow them to stop to sign autographs for clamoring fans.
Girardi chose 28 players to represent the Bronx Bombers for the trip to Panama, among them Venezuelans Francisco Cervelli, Yangervis Solarte, Jose Pirela and Jose Gil, Dominicans Zoilo Almonte, César Cabral and Gary Sanchez as well as Cubans Adonis García and Robert Coello.
Many on the team arrived sporting classic straw hats known as "Panama Sombreros," which they received from the event's sponsor.
CERVELLI IN FOR MCCANN
New York Yankees
Earlier in the week, Girardi named Brian McCann the starter for the exhibition games against the Marlins. On Wednesday night, before flying out to Panama City, Cervelli was told he'd be joining John Ryan Murphy behind the plate for starting pitchers Adam Warren and Sabathia.
The Yankees manager said he decided to send the Venezuelan backstop so that McCann could have the chance to catch for some starters that remained in camp in Tampa, especially Masahiro Tanaka.
"We switched McCann for Cervelli. Thought that it would be better for [McCann] to stay here working with our starters," Girardi said after a pair of split-squad games Thursday against the Baltimore Orioles, a 6-0 victory, and the Philadelphia Phillies, a 6-2 loss.
Upon arriving Thursday night, Cervelli told ESPNDeportes.com he felt extremely happy getting the opportunity to spend time again with one of his idols. "I'm looking forward to spending some time with Mariano because I feel like I was part of his career and I was very fortunate to have been behind the plate receiving his pitches," the 28-year-old Venezuelan said.
"I'll live the rest of my days with that image in my head of every time I caught Mariano."
The sudden adjustment to the roster for the trip coincided with the rise in production from the Venezuelan, who's become one of the team's best bats this spring with a .500 average, raising the strong speculation that the Yankees are contemplating a trade.
The Yankees have great depth at catcher, and because of that strong rumors have circulated with Cervelli being the key piece in a trade before the start of the 2014 season for an infielder or a setup man for new closer David Robertson.
A source close to the Yankees told ESPNDeportes.com that the team doesn't have any imminent trades. Even Cervelli himself has spoken on several occasions that he's ignored all the speculation.
"No calls have been received from any team nor have we been in any conversations with anyone about a trade [that would include Cervelli]," the source said about the rumors, which have mainly included the Chicago White Sox and the Arizona Diamondbacks.