NEW YORK – Gene Monahan was still in high school when he showed up at spring training with the New York Yankees in 1962. His eyes were wide as he looked around the clubhouse.
There was Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, fresh off their historic chase of Babe Ruth's home run record. Over there was Tony Kubek and Bobby Richardson. Yogi Berra and Elston Howard took turns catching a pitching staff that included an aging Whitey Ford and a young Jim Bouton.
The names and faces changed over the years, but Monahan remained one of the few constants for the Yankees franchise. After getting his start as a ball boy and clubhouse attendant, he eventually rose to become the head trainer, fulfilling that role for the past 39 years.
Monahan said Wednesday that he'll retire after this season, his 49th with the club.
"I knew this day was coming, but I didn't realize it was coming this soon," the typically shy Monahan said during a news conference, often appearing on the verge of tears. "There are too many people to thank for the opportunity and privilege to serve this organization."
Monahan said he received a wake-up call early last year, after he felt a lump on his neck and put off seeing the doctor. The sobering diagnosis finally came back: He had throat cancer.
With the support of his daughters, Kelly and Amanda, Monahan underwent surgery to remove his tonsils and then round after round of radiation treatment. He ended up missing spring training for the first time in 48 years, but eventually returned to the team.
"I did come back a little prematurely, because I was tired and weak and didn't feel right, but it was good that I came back," he said. "The moment I left the house, it was in the car, I felt better. And when I got here, I felt like a million bucks."
Monahan has been with the team every step this season, enjoying every minute of it.
Manager Joe Girardi, whom Monahan treated for so many years as a catcher, learned that one of his closest friends was retiring only a few days ago. It hit him hard.
"Even though in a sense, as a player, he was responsible for keeping me healthy, Geno was someone I could go to for anything," Girardi said. "His sense of humor, his love for the game, his passion — I'm really going to miss it."
Monahan wasn't sure how he'd break the news to the team. Then he realized that he needed to let everyone know about some routine exams that were coming up, so he figured he would simply tack on the news of his retirement at the conclusion of the other business.
"My plan was to get them all together, 'Here's what we're doing tomorrow, here's what we're doing the next day, and oh, by the way, this is my last season, let's try to win it,' Monahan recalled saying. "And that was it."
The game hasn't changed much the past five decades, though the players certainly have.
Three of his favorites — Bobby Murcer, Thurman Munson and Catfish Hunter — have passed away. Berra still wanders into the clubhouse from time to time, though he's had his own health issues in recent years. Hundreds of others have come and gone, like a blur.
Now, when Monahan looks around the clubhouse, he sees guys like Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera who formed the bedrock of the Yankees' 1990s renaissance — and he realizes that they too are nearing the conclusion of their playing careers.
"One of my favorite people in the world," Posada said. "Everything he's done for me, for my family, for everyone else — he always treats everyone the same."
Rivera praised Monahan for the attention he gave every player, All-Star and rookie alike.
"I admire his discipline, determination, his love and his passion," Rivera said. "He decided to retire and enjoy the rest of his life. There's nothing wrong with that."
Monahan said he plans to move to North Carolina — right between where he grew up in South Florida and his adopted home of New York, and in the heart of his beloved NASCAR country.
He called himself "a dreamer," and he's thought plenty about the future.
"I need to have a dog, need to have a house, need to have a yard and a garden, maybe a pickup truck," Monahan said. "So I'm moving down South, that's where I'm going to live, but the Yankees will always be my family. They have been since I was 17 years old."