NEW YORK -- Gene Monahan found his way down the first-base line on Tuesday, choking back tears as he pointed from his heart to the first-base dugout, where every person wearing pinstripes was applauding in unison.
The team's longtime head athletic trainer missed all of Spring Training with what the organization has termed a significant illness, but he made his return as the Yankees claimed their 2009 World Series rings before a home-opening 7-5 win over the Angels.
"The toughest ring I gave out was probably the first one, to Geno," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who held back tears during his postgame news conference. "Knowing what he's going through, it was really emotional. We're all thrilled to see him, I've got to tell you that. He's been here a long, long time, and he's meant so much to me and everyone in that clubhouse. It was a great ovation that he got."
This year marks Monahan's 48th consecutive season with the organization, the last 38 as head athletic trainer at the big league level. He is staying in New York to receive further treatment but could rejoin the Yankees later in the year.
Seeing him in the clubhouse after months apart was emotional for many Yankees. Jorge Posada said that it was his favorite part of the day.
"He does everything possible to keep us on the field," Posada said. "To be there for him, I think it's special. It was emotional for me, it was emotional for him. I'm glad he was here. I'm glad his family was here."
"I know that was a big lift for our team today," Alex Rodriguez said. "A lot of us were very happy to see him. That, for me, was one of the nicest moments of the whole afternoon. Geno is a rock and a guy that we look up to. I know we just gave him a lot of love."
Derek Jeter added: "It was tough on him not being in Spring Training. He's been here as long as anyone. I think it probably meant more to us than him, getting the opportunity to see him."
In the absence of Monahan, the longest-tenured active head trainer in the Majors, assistant athletic trainer Steve Donohue has been attending to the Yankees.