Only six months after playing in his last game, Posada said he had no problem coming back as a Yankees legend so soon. On Thursday, at the team's annual "Welcome Home Dinner," Posada was presented with the "Pride of the Yankees Award." He was the 11th former Yankees player to return to Yankee Stadium to throw out a first pitch before the home opener.
And shortstop Derek Jeter thought it couldn't be any more strange.
"I'm happy for him," Jeter said before the game. "It's a moment he's looking forward to. It's one he's going to remember, coming off retirement a few months ago. I'm sure it probably feels a little odd to him, coming from playing and a couple of months later, throwing out the first pitch. He deserves it. I think he's going to get a warm ovation from the fans."
That he did. A sellout crowd at the Stadium greeted Posada warmly as he was introduced and rose to its feet when he threw that cherished pitch. The crowd then gave Posada a long ovation as he walked from the mound to the Yankees' dugout, a trip he had made many times.
"When I was out there, fans were standing up, giving me an ovation, and I was thinking, 'Don't bounce it or throw it over his head. Just lob it up there so he could catch it,'" Posada said. "My teammates were standing right behind me. That was super. I was really excited -- excited about today."
Posada made it official on Jan. 24, retiring after 17 seasons, all spent with the Yankees. He was part of the "Core Four," along with Jeter, Rivera and Andy Pettitte, who played on five Yankees World Series winners. Pettitte retired prior to the 2011 season but re-signed with the ballclub last month, although he's not expected to pitch again in the big leagues until May.
Posada was asked at a post-pitch news conference if he felt a pang when Pettitte came out of retirement.
"I've been enjoying the house [in Miami], enjoying being home," Posada said. "And then Andy made his decision. I've got to wait one year. He waited a year. Next year, ask me that question again."
About his immediate future, Posada added: "I'm looking for a job, but I really want a summer off."
Posada's last game was Game 5 of the American League Division Series against the Tigers on Oct. 6, 2011, when he had two singles in four at-bats. In his final plate appearance, Posada grounded out to shortstop to open the eighth inning, and the Yankees lost the game and the series, 3-2.
Posada was a free agent this past offseason, but when it became clear that the Yankees had no intention of re-signing him, he decided to call it quits.
"I had teams that were calling -- some pretty good opportunities," Posada said. "But when it was all said and done, I wanted to stay here. I still belong as a Yankee. I didn't want to be another guy on another team. If the Yankees would've called, that would've been a little different. It would've been a little tougher. But I think I was ready after the last out of that playoff series against Detroit. I was ready to come home."
Posada had a tough final season. He was removed as catcher last season in lieu of Russell Martin and played 90 games as a designated hitter, an assignment he did not relish. Posada hit .235 with 14 homers and 44 RBIs, and he played only one game behind the plate, lasting six innings.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who lost his starting job as Yankees catcher to the young Posada in 1998, worked hard with Posada last season as the switch-hitter adjusted to a different role at age 40. But nothing seemed to work, as Posada struggled at the plate.
"During the season, my contract was up," Posada said. "Things weren't going the way I wanted them to go. At the end, I just wondered, 'Should I keep doing this? Should I try to keep hanging on, not playing a position I wanted to play?' That made the decision easier when the season was over."
For his career, Posada hit .273 with 275 homers and 1,065 RBIs, and he ranks among the top catchers in Yankees history, along with Elston Howard and Thurman Munson and Hall of Famers Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey.
"It is a little bizarre not to have him out there," Jeter said of Posada. "But it started with Andy retiring. He came back, but we'll forget about that right now. You're used to playing with guys. I've played with them for parts of 20 years. You're used to seeing them every single day, and when you don't, it's different. You realize life goes on, things go on.
"They move on to other parts of their lives. Then Andy changed his mind and came back. You wish them the best, because they're like brothers to me."