Today was the first full-squad work out for the 69 players to wear the pinstripes (or rather the Spring Training version of the pinstripes) this Spring. With Opening Day less than a week away, rookies and veterans, invitees and superstars alike got back into the “swing” of things today in front of an assortment of fans who showed up to cheer them on and watch them practice.
I like that they do this for the fans. It gives some people the opportunity to watch their favorite players, take some pictures, and hopefully get an autograph or two. Especially if they can’t make it to a game this March. Many of the “big names” are pretty good about stopping to greet the crowds and sign stuff for the kids. They do understand how important it is to thank their fans in this way, much in the same way that they make themselves available for the media. Both sources (the fans and the media) can make or break a reputation, and without either, these guys don’t have a job. (No press coverage, no fans, no money, no job — simple math.)
Anyway, there are some talked about stories among the 69 players working their way around the Yankees’ complex in Tampa. Mark Teixeira is going into his last season of his contract, but he is already thinking ahead. He will be 36 this year, and he is interested in playing until he hits the big 4-0 but acknowledges that means he’ll spend his last years more as a Designated Hitter rather than at 1st base (which could be a good option for the Yankees with a fully recovered Greg Bird ready in the next few years).
(By the way, here’s a great behind-the-scenes video about Bird, his love of the game, his growing up years in Colorado, and his hopes for the future.)
Brett Gardner suffered a bone bruise on his left wrist during the Wild Card Game last October and has spent much of the off-season resting it and focusing on his health. He has been taking it easy, gradually working his way back into baseball activities, and Girardi (and the powers that be) are completely on-board with going as slow as necessary until they are sure he’s back to 100%. There’s no point in rushing recovery only to snap a bone and do further damage and a stint on the DL early in the season and then deal with a lingering issue for the remainder of 2016. No, the Yankees need a healthy Gardner, so slow and steady it is.
There is a bit of chatter on new addition closer Aldrois Chapman and his personal issues. Today was his second excused absence to deal with family issues that have nothing to do with other personal issues hanging over his head. I’ve opted not to comment on this so far because I’ve chosen not to talk about negative news or unsubstantiated rumors until there is a concrete resolution or decision. Currently, Chapman faces possible consequences regarding a domestic violence charge last year. MLB has yet to make a decision to suspend him or regarding any possible consequences as they have opted to further investigate the charge themselves to best decide on their response. Should a suspension or punishment come forth, Chapman has every right to appeal and fight it if he and his union representative deem it unjustified. Until then, Chapman will focus on baseball. As he should. And as we all should.
And someone who understands such a thing (and had some pretty good advice for his new teammate) — Alex Rodriguez‘s first Spring appearance (and press conference) is certainly much different than a year ago. Fans cheered, the media laughed, and Rodriguez looked like he was ready for March and to continue his upward climb he began last season into this new year. Rodriguez is contracted with the Yankees through the 2017 season, and he alluded today that after his first 40 years dedicated to baseball, he will be focusing his next 40 on being a dad and a good role model for his daughters. However, based on last year’s postseason stint, I expect we’ll see him a bit more frequently, but in a different kind of suit (one with a tie) and with a microphone rather than a bat. These retired guys really have a hard time staying away from the game they love for too long.
Other than that, there’s a whole lot of normal going on in Tampa this weekend. Veterans are taking young prospects under their wing. Guest coaches like Randolph and Guidry are helping tweak swings and defense and angled pitches. Fans are gathering to cheer on their boys. The anticipation of a new season is so palpable you can almost taste it. And the “talking heads” are already predicting the Yankees won’t win the World Series in October. Because… of course. It’s just like any other year. And I fully expect the Yankees to defy the “odds” and do something unexpected once again. No one expected they’d make the postseason last year, but there they were.
Because… why not? The team of legends and legacy isn’t defined by who was on the roster or who isn’t there now. No, it’s defined by who continues the spirit of excellence and passion and competition. And I can think of 69 young (and not so young) men who are making that their entire job.