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For four Yankees neophytes, Opening Day to be an all-new experience

03/30/2014 10:33 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro with Chris Shearn

Dean Anna will make his first Opening Day roster when the Yankees face off against the Astros on Tuesday.(AP)
There's a quasi-proverb about decorum in moments of extreme jubilation that tells one to "act like you've been there before."

On April 1, though, one can forgive Dellin Betances, Vidal Nuno, Dean Anna or Yangervis Solarte if they don't -- simply because, well, they haven't.

Come Tuesday in Houston, those four men will be on an Opening Day roster for the first time, with Anna and Solarte making their first appearance on a major-league roster.

"It's been nine years that I've been waiting for this. It's a dream come true, outside of having my family and my children," Solarte said on Saturday after finding out he had made the team. "This is a new beginning, but now I have to work hard. This is when the work actually starts."

"When I got traded (from San Diego) and everything went down, that's just an opportunity," Anna said Friday when he found out he had made it. "That's really all I can ask for. I'm not a high-round guy, I'm not a money guy. You just want opportunity."

Those two won backup infield jobs after coming from outside the organization over the winter, although their status now surely comes with the knowledge that if and when Brendan Ryan is healthy, one of them is likely headed to Triple-A.

Perhaps there's no such feeling for the pitchers, who each spent time on both the Yankees and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre rosters last year, but will begin 2014 in the boldest pinstripes.

"It's really special knowing all the hard work I put in in the offseason has paid off a little bit," Nuno said. "It was a big rush (finding out), and it's unbelievable how everything just came true. Now I have to stick here and produce. It's a long season ahead, so I'm just going to take it day-by-day now."

Like Solarte and Anna, Nuno was just looking for an opportunity when the Yankees signed him out of an Independent League in 2010. A starter most of his career, Nuno will be working exclusively in relief for the first time, but if that's what keeps him in the majors, so be it.

"(Girardi) didn't tell me (a certain role), but swingman, lefty specialist, long innings guy…whatever they decide that day or however the game plays out is what I'll do," Nuno said. "It's going to be a challenge just coming in the later innings and pound the zone and getting ahead of the batters."

And Nuno knows how well a move like this can work out, because he watched it save long-time teammate Betances' career. The 6-foot-8 righty, who has been in the Yankees' system since being drafted in 2006, struggled so badly in 2012 and early 2013 that many wondered if he'd go from "Killer B" to DFA. However, he was switched to a relief role last May, dominated in that role, and now will break camp with the team he has followed since he was a small child growing up in the Bronx.

"This is an honor, because I grew up in this organization, and I grew up watching them. I had a lot of ups and downs, but this is definitely the most memorable moment for me," Betances said of his addition to the roster. "Making the team out of camp is a big deal for anybody, and for me to get called in that office and to have them tell me that…I'm still kind of in shock."

Opportunity knocked for Betances in the offseason too, as the Yankees lost a lot of pitchers between free agency and retirement. The righty said a September call-up last year helped him with his poise and gave him more confidence, and he knew that after a 2013 resurgence, this spring would be his chance at final redemption.

"I knew there was an opportunity, and I told myself I wasn't going to be satisfied going down (to Triple-A), I had to do whatever I could to earn a spot," he said. "Thankfully I came in healthy and was able to compete at a high level. I came in and did what I had to do, and I feel like I earned my spot -- and I am going to try to continue to do that during the season."

There are still a few days to go before those lights shine bright on Opening Day, but for three of the quartet, emotions are already mixed as the hours tick away.

"I kind of feel a little numb more than anything right now. I think maybe Opening Day, that's when I'll start to feel what I feel," Anna said. "Everyone else is really excited for me, but it really just feels like another day right now. It's kind of weird, really, the feeling. It doesn't really feel like much, like I thought it would be. I think Opening Day is going to be a little different story."

"I can sleep a little bit better now just knowing that I am heading to Houston and New York," Nuno added. "But it's back to work now."

As for Betances?

"The first person I told was my fiancé, and then I called my mom, my dad and texted my brothers and sisters -- everybody is excited," he said. "I've gotten a lot of texts, a lot of friends and family are back home and excited -- but this is only the beginning."

There is one piece of pressure that Betances, for one, feels he won't have to worry about, though: getting tickets for all those friends and family for the April 7 opener at Yankee Stadium.

"I don't know when I will be pitching, so I am going to tell them it's better to watch from home," he laughed.

This year, it's perfectly fine that he's the only one who's not.

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