Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Jeter Laces 'Em Up For Last Opening Day

Opening Day is a magical time in baseball. Check that, it's a magical time in life. Despite all the crappy weather we've endured in the northeast - not all the snow has melted yet - it feels like it's 80 degrees and sunny when baseball starts. (And if you must, you can crank the heat up to 80 degrees in your living room).

This year though, the opener feels weird, and not just because it's in Houston. I will stop thinking Houston is still in the National League. I will stop thinking Houston is still in the National League. I will stop thinking Houston is still in the National League.

It's the last season opener for Derek Jeter. What? Get out of here. He's like, what..30, 31 tops, right? How did the skinny kid with the fade haircut and the supermodel on his arm get to be the solid, nearly faded-hairline, 40-year old (in June) with the supermodel on his arm?

Though I hate the phrase, "the core four" (not as much as "Quan-Gor-Mo"), Jeter is the last of the quad to be in the lineup and that ends this year.  We lost Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte to retirement last year. Just like that, two of the three remaining "Fantastic Four" joined Jorge Posada in street clothes. (Mo would definitely be Mr. Fantastic in that superhero reboot.)

You hear people, especially Joe Torre, wear out the word "special" in describing Jeter, but his play on the field and how carries himself off of it, have been just that. From his rookie-Opening Day  home run and over the shoulder catch to the flip play to his dive in the stands to his passing Lou Gehrig as the Yankees all-time hits leader to his 3,000th hit and of course his five World Series rings. And of course there is his Turn-2 Foundation.

Could there be a ring number six in the last hurrah? It's going to be tough, though he has a lot better chance than Mariano and Pettitte had last year. The Yankees spent a boatload this winter to re-energize the team, just as they did after the 2008 post-season swing and a miss.

Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Masahiro Tanaka, and Carlos Beltran woke the Yankees' payroll department out of their 2013 slumber. The pitching staff of CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Tanaka, and Michael Pineda could be fantastic, if all are healthy, Sabathia learns to pitch with less speed, and Tanaka is the real deal.

The Yankees offense should be good, but again, health is a big issue, particularly when discussing Ellsbury. Beltran's knees are another matter for concern as well and of course, there's Mark Teixeira's wrist.

There's also no Robinson Cano, which is still weird to me. He's already getting obliterated by Yankees fans for leaving, which is as hypocritical as it can get since the Yankees have thrown their money around for years. No Yankees fans complained about that and they shouldn't when the reverse happens.

But back to Jeter. My thoughts are much the same as with Rivera last year. Enjoy every moment, whether good or bad. It's his last time around the diamond.

Be sure to check out Designated for Assignment for Jim Monaghan's discussion with Harold Reynolds on Derek Jeter.

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