March 2009

A grand way to go out

By Joe Auriemma
Austin Jackson, the Yankees’ top prospect, showed on Tuesday night why he has been bestowed that honor. He can really be a five-tool player. Jackson has shown his speed, prowess in the field and a little pop in his bat. Troy Benjamin and Josh Isaac, both YES employees and very good friends of mine, remarked to me this morning over breakfast that his swing reminds them a little bit like Mike Cameron’s. Other than the strikeouts, Cameron has had himself a very nice career, so that’s a pretty nice compliment.

This guy could really be something special with this team. In fact, in Tuesday night’s game, Jackson hit a long shot over the foul pole for a grand slam and then was greeted in the dugout by another Jackson, Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson. Good company to be in when you are just trying to make it up to the big leagues.

However, it was announced by manager Joe Girardi after the game that Jackson, along with Eduardo Nunez and Juan Miranda will be reassigned to Minor League camp. I’m sure that at some point we will see this dynamic player again, maybe sometime this season and maybe even for good one of these days, but for now it was certainly a grand way to make an impression on his way back to the Minors.

A New Clubhouse Chemistry

By Joe Auriemma

The one observation that I have made since my arrival to Spring Training is how loose the players are. These guys are just having a lot of fun out there. Derek Jeter arrived at around 2:30 right in front of me on a golf cart and within two hours it was like Jeter had never left. He was out on the field and laughing with his teammates.

Jeter and the “Clubhouse Clown,” as Brian Bruney called Nick Swisher, in his interview with Chris Shearn on YESNetwork.com, had a nice laughing exchange over at first base. Jeter had some fun with his best friend Jorge Posada behind the cage and they all seem to have their own new sayings. Two minutes for hooking is when someone in the cage pulls a ball foul. “Did he?” is asking the hitter in the batting cage if he got it all. Jeter always replies, “No, no, no, I’ll let you know.”

I spoke with Joe Girardi in my Q&A about the atmosphere and Girardi said he loves it. When asked to go more in depth about his squads new found penchant for the loose attitude, Girardi said, “That’s important because you’re going to go through some adversity and the closer your group is, the better you are.”

Swisher was actually quoted in our interview with him as saying, “The clubhouse was stuffy,” when he arrived at camp. This new attitude toward having fun, while still taking care of business might be just what the Yankees need.

Red Sox vs. Yankees: Day Blog

blog_032509.jpgWe’re back at George M. Steinbrenner Field prepping for tonight’s game with the Red Sox. If possible, there is a big-game feel around the park, even though it’s only Spring Training. YES’ cameras are setting up for tonight’s broadcast and there are already people scalping tickets, as the game is sold out.

The big news of the day is that Derek Jeter has rejoined the team after Team USA fell to Korea in the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic.

Here’s tonight’s Yankees lineup:

Johnny Damon LF
Derek Jeter SS
Mark Teixeira 1B
Hideki Matsui DH
Jorge Posada C
Robinson Cano 2B
Xavier Nady RF
Cody Ransom 3B
Brett Gardner CF

Pitching: A.J. Burnett, Mariano Rivera, Damaso Marte, Edwar Ramirez and Dave Robertson.

Many of the writers in the clubhouse are speculating that this will be the Opening Day lineup, which means Gardner will win the CF job. This obviously remains to be seen, but that’s what people are guessing right now.

2:45 p.m.
jeterarrives.jpgShortly before 2:30, Derek Jeter arrived to the Yankees clubhouse for the first time since leaving for the World Baseball Classic. He greeted A.J. Burnett before heading inside to get changed. Shortly after, nearly every writer in the world converged on Jeter at his locker. The Yankees captain said he feels good physically despite missing much of camp and is excited about getting into the daily routine again.

Editor’s note: Sorry for the paparazzi-style photograph. Jeter was so excited to get into the clubhouse that there wasn’t time to get a “real” camera out.

2:52 p.m.
Jeter tells reporters he was obviously disappointed that Team USA got knocked out, but was happy he got an opportunity to get to know the players he played against for years. When asked what Americans can learn from the Japanese style of play, he joked that he would like to learn how to run down to first before actually hitting the ball.

4:09 p.m.
Joe Auriemma just spoke with Ray Negron about doing a feature with him this Friday. For those who don’t know, Negron is the author of a new book, One Last Time: Good-Bye to Yankee Stadium and asked us to interview Richard Gere about the book as well. Gere will be voicing the audio version of the book. Check back here Friday for the interview.

reggie_150.jpg4:25 p.m.
Reggie Jackson sends his best wishes to Whitey Ford, who will be celebrating his 80th birthday this year. Look for the video on the Yes Network later this season.

pauljeterbp032409.JPG4:35 p.m.
After taking his hacks during BP, Jeter continues to get reacquainted with those in the Yankees organization, including YES’ Paul O’Neill.

Its clear that this season’s squad is much more relaxed than the ’08 team at the same time last spring. Seems like Swisher is the ring leader, joking with each player as they swing. He gives each player “two minutes” for hooking… Hooking their ball foul, that is.


4:52
p.m.

Girardi met with the media in the Yankees dugout. The manager plans on having the CF job ironed out by Sunday or Monday. He thinks both Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner had really good springs and that he is happy with both.

Regarding talking to Nick Swisher about Xavier Nady being his right fielder, Girardi said he was pleased to see that Swisher was still the same fun-loving guy after the news broke. The manager compared Swisher’s limited playing time to when he played for the Yankees and shared at-bats with Jorge Posada. According to Girardi, sometimes you have to give up a little to get to your ultimate goal of a World Series championship.

lilyank.jpg6:50 p.m.
As the fans ready themselves for the start of tonight’s game, many enjoy a little carnival-style pitch-speed game. This little Yankee packs a 40 mph heater. He’s a lefty, too. Perhaps we’re looking at a future major leaguer.

7:03 p.m.
We’re moments away from first pitch. Tune in to YES, as Michael Kay and Paul O’Neill bring you all the action. Then keep it tuned to YES after the game for the Spring Training special, featuring the highly-anticipated Alex Rodriguez interview.

7:09 p.m.
National Anthem, followed by a military flyover. We’re told it was quite emotional. We couldn’t see it from the press box, though.

7:47 p.m.
Tonight’s attendance: 11,113. The largest crowd to ever see a game at Steinbrenner Field.

Tuesday tidings

stadium_450.jpgBy Jon Lane
It’s a wonderful spring day here in the Big Apple. Walking down Eighth Avenue I was greeted with a lovely wind chill that made the real-feel temperature a wholesome 21 degrees. This is the time of year when Mother Nature experiences a few too many Happy Hours.

Anyway, thanks to everyone who joined in on both Chris Shearn’s and Team Tampa’s live commentaries from sunny Florida. The crew has produced a plethora of exclusive interviews and features for your viewing pleasure as everyone gets geared up for the 2009 season. In fact, individual game tickets went on sale on line this morning and will be available and the Yankee Stadium Ticket Office and all Ticketmaster locations starting tomorrow. From what I hear, the new Yankee Stadium is a phenomenal facility, so be sure to be a part of it. Next week, I’ll be getting my first look around and I can’t wait!

Some other random thoughts for a Tuesday:

It’s Red Sox vs. Yankees airing on the YES Network tonight at 7. Afterwords, stay tuned for the premiere of “Yankees 2009: Pride, Power & Pinstripes,” featuring Michael Kay’s exclusive interview with Alex Rodriguez. The New York Daily News grabbed excerpts of the conversation, taped prior to his hip surgery, where A-Rod said he doesn’t want the names of the other 103 players tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs released.

“Well this is really about my mistake,” Rodriguez said. “You know, many nights I fell asleep thinking about who I can blame, and this guy, or that guy. And when I woke up I kept coming back to the same person – it’s me. I mean, there’s no one to blame. I hope those 103 names never come out.”

Kay also asked A-Rod if he’s worried that people may not like him:

“Well, I’ve given up on that!” Rodriguez said. “I’ve given up on that; it’s just the way it is. I mean, look, I feel like right now, that not too many people like me, so I’ve given up on that. As long as my teammates like me, and they respect me, and my two daughters love their daddy, I’m going to go out and do the very best I can. Look, I really screwed up, and for that I’m sorry. I’m just happy to be playing baseball again.”

I’ve written and said this over and over: If A-Rod does what he’s done his entire career, that’s all people will care about. Play the game — and play the game to win.

Because Brian Bruney’s spring ERA is 7.42, Joe Girardi said the Yankees need to find a way to get him going. Don’t get this confused with the manager putting Bruney on notice. He’s still going into the regular season as the eighth-inning man, so please don’t start with the Joba to the bullpen stuff. The operative word in my first sentence is “spring.”

swishnady_250.jpgXavier Nady was named the Yankees’ starting right fielder. This was the featured story in the papers yesterday because quite simply it was the news of the day. In actuality it’s much ado about nothing.

Nick Swisher will get his share of playing time and will thrive when called upon. Yes he was upset and disappointed, but who wouldn’t be? I wouldn’t know what to do with a player who accepts the fact that he won’t play every day. Swisher has a new lease on his professional life and Mark Texieria’s signing failed to dim his bright outgoing personality. He’ll handle this too.

Funny observation from Pete Caldera: “Shelley Duncan to Xavier Nady, upon seeing a bunch of writers speaking to Nady this afternoon: ‘Are you on the same list as Alex?'”

Brett Gardner could grow into the Yankees’ version of Dustin Pedroia, writes Mike Lupica. It’s highly unlikely Gardner will become the AL’s Most Valuable Player, but like Pedroia, Gardner’s small package is saturated with grit, heart and desire. Said Girardi in the story: “There’s no size chart in baseball.”

Derek Jeter looked his age during the World Baseball Classic, writes Jack Curry. Jeter batted an uneventful .276 with no homers, RBIs or stolen bases in eight games for Team USA and faced more questions about his defensive shortcomings. I’m choosing not to worry about it until 2011, but Jeter is 34 years old and if his range is determined to be shot, it’s the outfield, a part-time role or (gasp) farewell to an icon.

Robin Yount was 29 years old when shoulder surgery ended his career as a short stop. He moved to center field to reduce the pressure on his throwing arm and proceeded to bat above .300 four straight years and win an MVP in 1989. The difference here though is Jeter’s arm is fine, so will this perception about his range suddenly improve or disappear when he’s in the outfield? Let’s get there first.

The long battle for long relief

By Jon Lane
The Yankees announced this afternoon in Clearwater that Kei Igawa has been reassigned to the Minor League camp. Such ends the worrisome thought that the left-hander would make the big club.

My guess is that they’ve been trying to buff Igawa’s trade value, which right now is the pits. Allow me to offer assistance: He was 14-6 with a 3.45 ERA in 26 games (24 starts) with 45 walks and 117 strikeouts in 156 1/3 innings pitched for Scranton last season. In 25 of those 26 appearances, he allowed four runs or fewer.

Well, um, he has good stuff when harnessed correctly. At best (generously), he’s a Quadruple-A pitcher who flat-out gets bombed by big-league hitting, but he could have some success as a fifth starter in a quiet market.

Hey, I’m just trying to help. Remember that the Brewers almost took him off the Yankees’ backs as part of a proposed deal for Mike Cameron that flamed out.

Igawa’s demotion leaves Alfredo Aceves, Dan Giese and Brett Tomko as contenders to make the team as a long man (Jason Johnson was reassigned over the weekend). The Phillies belted Giese for three runs on four hits in an inning (Chris Shearn’s live blog). Aceves is 1-1, 4.97 in five spring appearances (two starts). Tomko is 0-1, 1.46 in six games after pitching a scoreless inning in Clearwater.

At this point, with two weeks’ worth of exhibition games left, Tomko may be the one to stay north, but he’ll be neck-and-neck with Giese. Yeah, Giese may sport a 7.42, but he was also beaten up by heavy rains as well as the Phillies’ bats and has equity with Joe Girardi after stepping up as his long reliever and spot starter last season.

Aceves is a promising right-hander would only benefit from more work at Triple-A and would be called up should the bullpen require reinforcements.

Who should be the Yankees’ long man and why?
Aceves
Giese
Tomko

Haterade becoming scarce

By Glenn Giangrande
Pedro Martinez is long gone. The Orioles haven’t been a threat in close to a decade. It’s been more than twice as long for Kansas City. The A’s continue to perpetually rebuild. Now Curt Schilling has called it quits.
 
I’m not saying it’s a sad day, but Yankee supporters are running out of people to bring the venom out in them.
 
What fun are sports without opponents to hate? Schilling gave Yankees fans enough fodder through the years, starting with his legendary comments about “Mystique” and “Aura” back in 2001 with the Diamondbacks and running right up through his growing presence on the ‘net during his time in Boston. As a man who earned two of his three World Series rings at the direct expense of the Yankees, Schilling grew to be a pretty loathed figure in the Bronx, and justifiably so. After all, the lasting memory of Schill’s career will be the bloody sock game that came at the expense of the Yankees in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS.

I think it’s a career that should take him to Cooperstown, but I can understand the feelings of dissenters. Sure, the Red Sox will always draw ire in general, but some Yankee fans I know will tell you that they can’t hate someone as “loveable” as David Ortiz. Maybe Kevin Youkilis fills the role one day, but they certainly don’t make public enemies like they used to, if at all.
 
Had Schilling’s retirement announcement come in Yankee Stadium, I’m not sure he would’ve gotten a standing ovation like the Pacers’ Reggie Miller did at Madison Square Garden in his final game there against the Knicks before hanging up his sneakers. But the vitriol level among the pinstriped faithful definitely dropped a few levels today.

Tribute to Schilling – the player

schilling_250_032309.jpgBy Jon Lane
Curt Schilling officially retired today after 20 seasons in baseball. He leaves with a rap sheet of conflicts with players and media a mile long, but I’m not talking about that here. Rather, I recall the night when his grit and guts transformed him to one of the greatest impact players in the game’s history.

I begin with the afternoon of Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. I’m standing on the field at Fenway Park figuring out my next move when Kevin Millar comes out of the dugout and heads towards the outfield for a workout. The Red Sox were down 3-0 to the Yankees and their dubious history was about to strangle them for the 87th consecutive year. The tension around the team and the city was palpable … or so it seemed.

In response to an inquiry, Millar turned to me and a few of us hanging out behind the first base line. Wearing that infectious — and in this case a devious — smile, Millar said, and I paraphrase, “These guys [the Yankees] had better win tonight. Or else we have Pedro [Martinez] in Game 5 and Schill in Game 6. Once it’s 3-3 anything can happen!” Of course, this eventually became part of Boston lore, but me and this small group of writers were the first to hear it.

The Red Sox won the next two games beginning with a Game 4 rally that started when Mariano Rivera walked Millar to lead off the bottom of the ninth ahead by a run. We’re back in New York for Game 6 and a showdown between Schilling and Jon Leiber, the Yankees’ best postseason starter that October. The Yankees smashed Schilling for six runs in three innings in Game 1. As it turned out, Schilling pitched with a loose tendon in his right ankle and his status for the rest of the series was in doubt. The next few days, Red Sox manager Terry Francona was peppered with inquires as rumors persisted Schilling would give it a go if the series were to extend to six games. When the pieces were put together, a surgical procedure done by the team doctor sutured the loose tendon and Schilling was on the mound for another of one of the Red Sox’s infinite do-or-die games.

schilling_120_032309.jpgBlood seeping through his sock during the game, all Schilling did was pitch seven innings of one-run ball to carry Boston to a 4-2 win, one that wasn’t secured until closer Keith Foulke struck out Tony Clark with two runners on in the bottom of the ninth. Like many of his teammates, Schilling talked tough, standing up to the Yankees’ mystique and aura tag-team, and backed up every word.

Schilling finishes 216-146 with a 3.46 ERA and 3,116 strikeouts, 14th on baseball’s all-time list. Much more important are his postseason numbers: 11-2 (the finest of any pitcher with at least 10 decisions) and 2.23 ERA in 19 career starts. The sock lives in the Hall of Fame. Sock, blood and right foot will reunite in five years. You can love, loathe or not give a damn about Curt Schilling, but you cannot deny his courage and grace under pressure.

Monday musings

By Jon Lane
While I remain in New York dealing with a stubborn Jack Frost, Team Tampa is in Clearwater today covering today’s Yankees-Phillies game. Keep it locked in for a live blog and later, Chris Shearn and Co. will have interviews, news and nuggets as the Yankees take another step towards April 6, Opening Day in Baltimore.

Some quick hits and observations from today and over the weekend:

BREAKING NEWS: Curt Schilling has retired, posting a message on his blog. More on this later.

Xavier Nady would be the starting right fielder if the season started today, said Joe Girardi, but Nick Swisher will play an important role with the team. Swisher’s versatility is well-documented, as is his penchant for keeping things loose in Yankeeland. Shearn interviewed Swisher this morning, which YESNetwork.com will have up later.

Chien-Ming Wang will start the exhibition game against the Cubs on April 3. Andy Pettitte and A.J. Burnett will split the game on April 4.

As Shearn reported on Saturday, Phil Hughes was optioned to Triple-A Scranton. He was simply a victim of a numbers game and needs to pitch multiple and complete innings rather than sporadic innings. This makes sense to everyone except the Loyal Order of Joba to the Bullpen (LOJB).

In case you care, Alex Rodriguez made the news again for something not related to baseball, but his personal live. The New York Daily News first reported that Kristin Davis (not the actress but the former Manhattan madam who supplied Eliot Spitzer with hookers) dated A-Rod and supplied him with clients.

Draw your own conclusions. If you want to read the story, it’s here. (Racy photo alert!)

In more refreshing news, Yankees senior advisor Ray Negron’s new book, One Last Time: Good-Bye to Yankee Stadium was released last Tuesday and rose to No. 1 on the Amazon’s Best Seller List. Negron’s second book, The Greatest Story Never Told: The Babe and Jackie was No. 4. Negron doesn’t make a dime on the proceeds. They all go to multiple charities, so keep up the support. 

Live from Clearwater

autograph_250.jpgFor the first time this Spring, YESNetwork.com is heading into “enemy” territory as we go to Clearwater, Fla., to cover today’s Yankees game against the Phillies. Keep checking back here for a diary of today’s events.

9:30 a.m.
The Phillies’ Spring Training complex is truly amazing. This place is top notch, as are the Phillies staff. Very accommodating.

10 a.m.
Phillies batting practice originally appeared just like every other MLB BP. Then Ryan Howard stepped to the dish. With the batting donut still on his stick, he managed to whack the ball to all fields. Very impressive.

10:30 a.m.
The Yankees make their way out of the clubhouse for the first time. Fans nearly trample themselves in an attempt to secure autographs. Looks like we might get some rain.

bruney_150.jpg10:35 a.m.
Chris Shearn just interviewed Nick Swisher. It was a fun piece that talked about loosening up the clubhouse. Brian Bruney messed with Swisher during the Q&A session. Look for the video later today.

10:52 a.m.

YesNetwork.com’s Jim Kaat
makes his way onto the field to watch Phillies BP. Having Kaat here
clearly surprised Joe Girardi, who made a beeline to see his old buddy.
The two men are currently having a conversation with Philadelphia
manager Charlie Manuel.

10:55 a.m.
The oft-comical Nick Swisher joked with hitting coach Kevin Long: “Hey, Long is here. [Derek] Jeter must be coming back.” Both men shared a healthy chuckle over the funny comment.

Today’s lineup
Melky Cabrera CF
Johnny Damon LF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Xavier Nady RF
Robinson Cano 2B
Cody Ransom 3B
Jose Molina C
Ramiro Pena SS

Pitching rotation: Brett Tomko, Dave Robertson, Jon Albaladejo, Dan Giese and Brian Bruney.

11:20 p.m.
Jim Kaat just agreed to do a live chat on YESNetwork.com during the first game at the new Yankee Stadium. He will be fielding your questions while the Cubs and Yankees christen the new home in the Bronx on April 3.

11:45 a.m.
Yankees continue to take BP as the rain starts to come down pretty hard.

12:06 p.m.
1206.jpgThe Yankees bolt off the field as the grounds crew put the tarp on the field. Looks like we might not get any baseball today.

12:28 p.m.
The sun looks like it wants to come out, but the clouds appear to be winning this war. We’ll keep you updated.

gcrew.jpg1:08 p.m.
The crowd erupts as the grounds crew takes the tarp off the field. Projected game time: 1:45 p.m.

1:29 p.m.
For those who care, it looks like the Phillies use Hooters girls as their ball girls down the lines … gives the gentlemen something to look at in between innings. We’ll try to get a photo of them in action once the game starts.

1:46 p.m.
First pitch. Game time temp: a chilly 66 degrees. Chris Shearn will have inning-by-inning analysis of the game. Check it out here. But also stay here on YES Blog for additional analysis from Bright House Field.

2:01 p.m.
Turns out Hooters is a major sponsor of this stadium. In addition to having their famed owl logo all over the place, there is a special Hooters dining area, hosted by the girls in orange, Adrienne, Ashley and Liz. (game analysis)

2:22 p.m.
A mild “hip, hip, Jorge” chant gets going from the Yankees faithful that made their way to the Phillies complex. It’s amazing how many Yankees fans made the trip. Although, the Yankees Spring Training complex is only about 25 minutes away. (game analysis)

2:26 p.m.
Rain drops.

2:40 p.m.
As was the case with his first at bat, Chien-Ming Wang is as far away from the plate as possible, with zero intention of swinging the bat. Very amusing. (game analysis)

lmdeal.jpg2:43 p.m.
Similar to minor league games, the Phillies have some entertainment in between innings. One lucky fan just chose “box No. 3” during a Let’s Make a Deal game. She won a Chase Utley autographed baseball and a Phillies hat. Pretty cool.

3:09 p.m.
Wang goes down looking again. Watching him not swing in the box is simply hilarious … he’s obviously being told not to swing. The Yanks don’t want him on the basepaths in a Spring Training game. (game analysis)

3:16 p.m.
Wang leaves the game to a nice ovation. Brian Bruney in. We interviewed Bruney earlier today, he said he’s excited to have his own personal clown in the clubhouse (Nick Swisher). (game analysis)

3:19 p.m.
More rain. Fans are starting to make their way to drier ground.

3:25 p.m.
The rain is clearly impacting the batters. Raul Ibanez had his bat slip out of his hands twice in an at bat. The first time it happened, Mark Teixeira ran like he never ran before in an attempt to get out of the way. Luckily, he did. The bat ended up in shallow right field.

stands.jpg3:46 p.m.
Typical Florida – the rain has ceased (almost). But most of the fans have already made their way to the exit. The once-packed Bright House Field is emptying quickly here in the bottom of the 7th. Phillies lead 8-2. (game analysis)

4:02 p.m.
The Phillies announce that today’s game is a sellout of 9,394 fans.

4:15 p.m.
Brett Gardner flies to left to end the game. Phillies win 8-3. Thanks for reading. And a special thank you goes out to the Phillies for their amazing hospitality. Finally, sorry no Hooters photos. They weren’t in their usual Hooters garb anyway, due to the poor weather.

Cervelli optioned

Catcher Francisco Cervelli was optioned to Double-A today after the game. Chris Shearn has more from Tampa.