This article was concurrently published at NoCoastBias.com on April 5, 2015.
After a long winter, America’s pastime returns with hot dogs, mown grass, and “Take me out to the ballgame.” One team is trying to defend a championship and 29 others are hoping to steal it away. Spring training now in the rear-view mirror, the teams take the field to see how the offseason training and roster moves will pan out. For the New York Yankees, this year’s Opening Day begins not just a new season, but the start of a new era. Once the dominant dynasty of the late nineties, the Yankees are now just trying to stay competitive with the league’s upper-tier. Four championships between 1996-2000 seems like ages ago. AL Pennants in 2001 and 2003 (and very nearly another in 2004) continued a remarkable run for the Bronx bombers. Another championship in 2009 was the 5th for the “Core Four,” this time with some help from a few new faces.
But like all sports careers, eventually the toughest opponent is time. Veterans retired and rosters changed. New players arrived, and others left. By the the the 2009 trophy was hoisted, only 4 were left from the golden era. Then Jorge Posada, one of the most popular players on the Yankees, hung up the cleats after 17 seasons, and suddenly the Core Four became the Key Three. Andy Pettitte, who had returned from Houston and solidified his reputation has one of the best postseason pitchers, was next to retire (for the second time, that is). Mariano Rivera also bowed out in 2013. After recovering from knee surgery, he ended a fantastic final season, retiring the number 42 for good upon his departure. Then it was the Captain’s turn, as Derek Jeter stood fittingly as the last vestige of the Yankees’ former dynasty. Derek Jeter’s climb up the career hits record list was one of the few highlights of his farewell season, which ended with the Yankees on the wrong side of the wild card chase. With his retirement, the Yankees not only said goodbye to their most beloved player in recent history, they finally saw the sun set on the glory days of era that was almost good to be true.
Now the Yankees are a team searching for a new identity. While they’re at it, they would do well to search for some young talent and a way to keep their roster healthy for a full season. Only 4 players remain on the roster from their last World Series championship. Their promising star in Robinson Cano is now in Seattle. Alex Rodriguez has been the story of the off-season, but not exactly for his production on the field. Sabathia is no longer the dominant top-rotation starter he once was; Tanaka and Pineda are coming back from injuries. The bullpen is solid, as has been for a while, but they will need quality starting pitching to keep them competitive into the late innings. A-Rod may end up with more headlines than home runs, and most of the hitters in their lineup are aging, injury-prone or both. Brett Gardner and Didi Gregorius are the young bats in town, but the Yankees will need production from Mark Teixeria, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran to give them a lift. Best case scenario: they stay healthy enough to remain in striking distance of a wild card spot. Worse case: well, let’s just say there isn’t exactly a wide margin for error.
And through it all, the Yankees still have the most passionate fans who proudly don the pinstripes and file into the Bronx to watch one of the most storied franchises in professional sports. A history of success doesn’t guarantee future dividends, but it certainly maintains high expectations. All reigns eventually come to an end; and after two decades, the Yankees (whether they wanted it or not) have a fresh start. After all, that’s part of the pageantry of Opening Day: the beginning of a new journey, and waiting to see where it leads. It’s fun to reminisce about the championship days, but the Yankees best not be looking backward for too long. Those times are firmly in the past, and they can only press onward. It’s a new era in the Bronx, and the Yankees have to build themselves back up, just like they did when they drafted a certain shortstop from Kalamazoo in 1992. They might as well start now. AN