Yankees get re-acquainted with Stadium
Back from Florida, players work out in preparation for opener
NEW YORK -- The foul lines are drawn and the field is ready. The Yankees and Tigers dropped in on Yankee Stadium for their final preseason workouts on Wednesday, one day before they'll meet again for Opening Day. Each team got an hour-long practice in on the field, and the grounds crew readied the park's final preparations around them.
The Yankees, in fact, spent the morning moving back into their lockers and getting re-acquainted with their own home park. New York is ready for the season to start, and manager Joe Girardi said his players are happy to be back home.
"It's exciting. I think there's this feeling that you want to get everything done and make sure that everything is where it's supposed to be," Girardi said of the upcoming season. "I think every Opening Day -- as a player, a coach or a manager -- you have those little butterflies, and I think it's because you're excited about getting things going and the prospects of the year.
"I think, with the winter we've had, that we've all looked forward to this day. When the snow was above our head at the end of the driveway, you'd wonder if this day would ever come. But I'm excited and I can't wait to get it started."
Girardi took care of some business on Wednesday, naming Brett Gardner his leadoff hitter against right-handed pitchers. But the manager said the Yankees are still unsure as to whether Curtis Granderson will be able to play in Thursday's opening game. Girardi also said that A.J. Burnett is suffering from a head cold, but should be able to pitch his scheduled turn on Saturday.
This day, though, was about tying up the loose ends and preparing to take on the unwieldy length of the regular season. Several Yankees said that they got all they wanted out of Spring Training and that they're ready for the season to begin. Right fielder Nick Swisher, one of the team's most affable players, said that he can already feel the excitement of Opening Day.
"Just walking around the city today, the buzz is out there. We're all excited to get this thing going," said Swisher. "It's funny. We were talking in Spring Training a couple weeks ago, and we kind of have that same feeling like 2009. Obviously, we're not the type of guys who live in the past. We close the yearbook and we're done. But for all of us, that's a great feeling to have."
"We're all professionals. We've been around a long time," added first baseman Mark Teixeira of switching gears from Florida and going directly into Opening Day. "This is my ninth Opening Day and it hasn't lost any of the excitement. But at the same time, you know what to expect and you don't get too worked up about one game, because it's just one out of 162."
And as the assorted Yankees stood at their lockers and met the local media, one isolated theme began to emerge. Reporter after reporter questioned the players about their rare status as underdogs in a division many analysts expect the Red Sox to win. Some of the Yankees welcomed that assertion, but some others wanted it to go away as quickly as it appeared.
"We have a great team," said closer Mariano Rivera, "And whatever people say or don't say, it doesn't mean anything."
"As crazy as it sounds, with all the talent we have in here," said CC Sabathia, "nobody seems to believe in us."
"This is a motivated group on a daily basis," Girardi said. "I haven't really heard any talk from our guys about not being favored to win or being the underdog. I have not been privy to those conversations, if they've taken place. I told our guys that our job is just to be the best that we can be. ... I haven't heard that, but if that's what the talk did, that's not a bad thing."
Joba Chamberlain, who didn't walk anyone in Spring Training, said the Yankees can't worry about outside perceptions.
"If you're looking at another team as the favorite, you're not doing your job," said Chamberlain of how the Yankees view the various preseason predictions. "We know the ability we have in this clubhouse. Everybody else is going to say whatever they want about the other teams, but we believe in ourselves, we believe in our ballclub and we believe in this organization."
Girardi, entering his fourth season at the helm, said that he can't remember a season in the last 15 years in which the Yankees were regarded as underdogs. Now, he hopes that his players use that as inspiration and motivation.
"Maybe you don't have as much attention drawn to your club during Spring Training," he said of the potential benefits. "Maybe guys don't feel the weight of the expectations as much. I don't know. Sometimes, when you're the underdog, you kind of go under the radar a little bit in a sense of dealing with the public. Guys come to Spring Training and just want to get their work in, and I think guys were able to do that this spring. There were really no distractions, and that's basically what I think about it."
Reserve outfielder Andruw Jones, who has batted .296 with five homers in 25 career games against the Yankees, began settling into his new digs on Wednesday. Jones, a five-time All-Star who burst onto the scene by batting .400 for the Braves against the Yankees in the 1996 World Series, said that he just wants to blend in and become a part of his new team.
Jones, who also batted .077 against New York in the '99 World Series, admitted that it was a little weird to be a Yankee in Yankee Stadium. He's got 162 games to get used to it, and he said Wednesday that his Atlanta tenure is firmly behind him. Jones, who has played for the Dodgers, Rangers and White Sox in the last few years, said the World Series was a distant memory.
"To be honest with you, I don't remember much. I'm just happy to be here," said Jones. "I'm amazed at how the clubhouse is so far. I've already gotten lost here already. I'm just happy to be part of a great organization, and that's how it is here. Everybody sees how everybody goes about their business, and how everything goes around. We're all excited about it."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.