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Donnie Baseball returns to Bronx wearing Dodger blue

Donnie Baseball returns to Bronx wearing Dodger blue

Donnie Baseball returns to Bronx wearing Dodger blue

For Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, New York City feels like home.

Mattingly is a Yankees icon. He played his entire 14-year career with the Bronx Bombers, was a six-time All-Star and won nine Gold Glove Awards at first base.

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Mattingly's best season was in 1985, when he hit .324 with 35 home runs and led the American League with 145 RBIs and 48 doubles on his way to winning the AL Most Valuable Player Award. He ended a successful career after the 1995 season, and the Yanks retired Mattingly's No. 23 two years later.

With the Dodgers set to open a two-game series with the Yankees on Tuesday, Mattingly is back in the Bronx for his first visit in uniform since 2007.

"When I fly in to New York, it's like flying back home," he said. "I grew up there. I always like going back."

But like much of the Big Apple, things change.

Mattingly's signature mustache from his days in pinstripes is long gone. So too is the old Yankee Stadium, where Mattingly slugged 131 home runs and hit .313 from 1982-95. He's visited the new Yankee Stadium just once, for the unveiling of George Steinbrenner's plaque in center field in 2010.

Like Steinbrenner and so many other Yanks legends, Mattingly has a plaque of his own in Monument Park that reads in part, "A humble man of grace and dignity, a captain who led by example, proud of the Pinstripe tradition and dedicated to the pursuit of excellence."

Joe Torre accompanied Mattingliy during that visit nearly three years ago, when Torre was managing the Dodgers and Mattingly was the hitting coach. The pair left New York for Los Angeles following the 2007 season, when Joe Girardi took over as the Yankees' manager instead of Mattingly.

But Mattingly says that was "a blessing in disguise." He had been the Yanks' hitting coach from 2004-06 under Torre, and served as the bench coach in 2007. Before that, Mattingly spent seven seasons with the organization as a special instructor during Spring Training from 1997-2003. Still, the timing wasn't ideal for him to take the next step.

"They treated me fairly," said Mattingly, who added Steinbrenner wanted him to manage. "Things work out for a reason. That would have been really bad timing for me. Terrible. I was going through some personal stuff that would have been miserable trying to manage for the first time and have that going on."

It didn't take long for Mattingly to become manager, though, and he replaced Torre with the Dodgers late in 2010. In two-plus seasons at the helm, Mattingly is 197-194.

"Coming to L.A. has been great, and obviously there's been a lot of turmoil this year, but I love what I'm doing, and I like being in L.A.," he said. "So it's been a blessing for me to end up in L.A."

Mattingly's return to New York isn't only about him, though. He wants the Dodgers to win, gain some momentum, and break out of the funk that has lingered around the club for much of the season. A sweep of the Yankees would certainly help.

"It's pretty much business because you're on the other team," Mattingly said.

While he will take his post in the visiting dugout, Mattingly believes he will receive a warm welcome from the crowd. After all, he was loved in New York despite never reaching the World Series as a player or coach.

"It's a good feeling knowing that people respected the way you played," he said. "That's a good feeling for a player to go back and say, 'Hey, these guys liked the way you played.' "

Of course, that positive reception might not last long.

"I know how those fans are," Mattingly said. "They're going to be nice to me, but I know they're going to want to win. It will be fun."

Still, it's been almost 18 seasons since Mattingly wore a Yankees uniform as a player, six years since he sat on the bench as a coach and nearly three more since his last visit to the Bronx.

So won't it be just a little bit strange?

"No, just because I know the guys, I know the people," Mattingly said. "Some of it's a little weird, a little uncomfortable. But for the most part, seeing those guys, players, coaches and stuff, they're guys I know."

They know him, too. He's the one they call Donnie Baseball, and he's back.

Austin Laymance is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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