Yankees ready to jump into the Fenway fire
Quest for back-to-back championships begins in Boston
TAMPA, Fla. -- The final sleepy innings of Grapefruit League baseball were playing out on a television screen behind Andy Pettitte's left ear, as the veteran left-hander reached for a remote control and wordlessly reduced the volume to zero.
After an unusually harmonious Spring Training that proved the defending World Series champions could actually have the 'Camp Quiet' that general manager Brian Cashman had fantasized about for years, Pettitte could be excused for savoring the last few moments of peace before everything takes an inevitable 180 degree turn.
The Yankees are about to be forced into the fast lane, dispatched to hit the ground running in a season-opening series at Boston's Fenway Park. Opening Day is usually played in front of sold-out crowds no matter what, but putting the pinstripers on Yawkey Way assures that there will be an extra frenzy in the air.
"It's special. Always, going in there is special," Pettitte said. "It's fun. The fans make it fun. The atmosphere is always great, but what makes it great is the excitement. When you walk out of that dugout and go to the bullpen, there's that buzz, man. That doesn't get old."
When Boston's Josh Beckett throws the first pitch of the 2010 Major League season on Sunday evening, an offering that hurtles in to Yankees shortstop and leadoff hitter Derek Jeter, a familiar quest will begin once more.
The Yankees haven't tried to defend a championship since 2001, and of the players who populate the clubhouse today, only the 'Core Four' of Jeter, Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera know what it is like to be successful at that task.
Among the many motivational meetings that the Yankees sat through this spring, 'Win The World Series' really didn't need to be placed on the course catalogue.
"The motivation is simple: you want to win," Jeter said. "That's the bottom line. It's very, very difficult to win one time, let alone to try and do it again. The motivation, I don't think it is an issue.
"You can try to explain to people how difficult it is, but you have to experience it. If it was as easy as sitting down and telling someone what they have to do in order to win again, they'd be doing it all the time."
It is a fair point, but even in a clubhouse where winning back-to-back World Series titles is somewhat foreign, the newest faces need little introduction to the organizational expectation of being that last team standing each and every single year.
Two of New York's major offseason acquisitions, right-hander Javier Vazquez and designated hitter Nick Johnson, are putting the pinstripes on for the second time in their career.
A new Yankee, center fielder Curtis Granderson, used part of Spring Training to become more familiar with team history. He wins points among the fan base for acknowledging that he will follow in the footsteps of greats like Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and -- more recently -- Bernie Williams.
Yet prior experience and book knowledge can't do much to take care of one important aspect for the Yankees' success in 2010 -- chemistry. Like the roster before them, the team will need some time to gel and become a unit, and regardless of what transpires Sunday in Boston, there will be 161 more opportunities to get the formula right.
"It's going to be a little different," said first baseman Mark Teixeira. "I think like last year, we're going to take a couple of weeks to settle into the season and find our identity.
"We might run a little bit more with Granderson and [Brett] Gardner in the lineup this year. Nick's going to get on base and hopefully Alex [Rodriguez] and I can drive him in. Most of the team is back, and I don't think we're going to skip a beat."
While Cashman's offseason work relocated several members of the '09 championship roster -- for example, Hideki Matsui can pick up his World Series ring when the Angels visit the Bronx later this month -- count A.J Burnett among those who think the Yankees still have the right pieces to be the leading force in the American League East.
"I think it stacks up the same, if not a little better," Burnett said. "You see how Curtis is fitting in, and Marcus [Thames] and Randy [Winn]. Things they're doing on the basepaths and in the outfield.
"Like we've always said before, you're going to miss the home runs and the RBIs from the other guys, but I think these guys are buying into what we do here. They're professional gamers. They're here to play every day like we are."
And 2009's imports, $423.5 million of Grade A free agent, fit in just fine. Of Sunday's starter, CC Sabathia, and the Game 2 starter Burnett, Pettitte said: "They know what it takes and what to do to get there, and get it done. There's not a whole lot you can't like about where we are right now."
Well, as Pettitte stood in the emptying clubhouse at George M. Steinbrenner Field, watching prospects play out the last frames of what would be a tie against the Orioles, he might have wanted to amend that last statement.
After seven weeks in the Florida sun, the general sense around the Yankees was that they didn't like where they were. Spring Training was lasting a bit too long, and with the real deal on the horizon, Pettitte said the last few days were "miserable" in camp.
If it takes jumping face-first into the Fenway fire to get out of exhibition baseball, the Bombers are all for it. Behind closed doors, players had been conveying the same sentiment -- let's get out of here and get down to business.
"I think everybody is ready," Pettitte said. "Everybody has got all of the reps that they wanted as far as our position players. I know CC is ready to go. We're good to go. I think everybody is confident, feeling good about what we're doing, and looking forward to this year."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.