Yankees Pregame Notebook: Welcome back to the Bronx
"I think it's special, your home opener," manager Joe Girardi said this morning. "You do it a number of times in your career, but you still always look forward to it.
And despite the Yankees' 3-3 record, the early injury to Mark Teixeira and everything else, today is still all about Derek Jeter, who plays a home opener for the final time.
As of this morning, though, that hadn't entered The Captain's mind.
"To this point no, it's been like pretty much every other Opening Day," Jeter said. "Opening Day can sometimes be a rush; we got in last night, and the morning comes quickly, and there's stuff to organize in your locker and you have to stretch…at this moment, so far, it feels the same as always."
There is no doubt though that shortly before 1 p.m., when players are introduced and the home schedule gets underway, that the fans will make it anything but a normal day for Jeter.
"I think it will be a special day; I think the fans understand the magnitude of the day and what (Jeter) has meant to the Yankees, and I think it will be quite a long standing ovation," Girardi said of his expectations.
"I've always had a great relationship with the fans. They've pretty much seen me grow up, and one thing about Yankee fans is that they watch every day and pay close attention," Jeter added. "Being here for parts of 20 seasons, they've seen a lot of me. They've always treated me well and shown me respect; I've always said that Yankee fans are the best fans in the world, and that's no disrespect to any other fan base in sports that's just how I feel. They get excited for Opening Day; it's a big deal here, and as players, we feel that. The season has started, but it sometimes feels like ti doesn't officially begin until were here in New York."
The Captain comes in hitting .250 on the young season, and just yesterday in Toronto passed ex-Blue Jay (among other stops) Paul Molitor for eighth place on the all-time hits list. Jeter started slowly in Houston, but came alive in Toronto, and Girardi expects that to only continue as time goes on.
"We talked at the end of spring training that we thought his timing was getting better," Girardi said. "Derek thought it took maybe a little longer than a normal spring, but he forgot that he hadn't played in about a year-and-a-half. He is looking more like what we're used to seeing now though; he's driving the ball to right field and having good at-bats, and we think he's going in the right direction."
Jeter will hit in his customary No. 2 slot, but Jacoby Ellsbury will be behind him instead of in front, and Brett Gardner will be the one setting the table.
"We liked what we saw yesterday, and we like Gardy at the top of the order. It gives us some options, and without (Mark Teixeira) in the lineup we've changed a little bit," Girardi said. "I think we thought we knew what our lineup was this spring, but when Tex went down, it changed a little bit. When someone gets hurt you have to adjust a little; we probably would've run the same lineup out every day otherwise."
Prior to the game, as part of the pre-opener festivities, the rest of the "Core Four" will be here to celebrate Jeter and throw out some ceremonial first pitches. Girardi expects there to be "a lot of smiling and laughing and recalling a lot of wonderful times" when Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera are together again, and The Captain says it's going to be an experience he'll never forget.
"Those guys have been like brothers to me, and I think it will be a special moment, especially for a lot of fans that grew up watching all four of us play," Jeter said. "I don't know the last time we were all together; it was probably some point last year in spring training. I was hurt a lot though so I don't remember if we were all on the field at the same time. But I look forward to seeing them all the time; I've seen all three of them this spring, but it will be good to see them all together."
Girardi, though, wonders how moments like that, and everything that comes along with this final season, will affect Jeter.
"I think I'm curious how he's going to handle it, being his last year and how sentimental he gets about certain things," Girardi said. "Something like today, or the last time in a city maybe, I'm curious to see how he handles that. I'm sure he'll take a moment to reflect on that, but will it be visible that he's reflecting on it?"
It will be for the fans, and no matter whether Jeter hits .250, .050, or .850, Girardi expects that to continue until October.
"I think people are going to show him the appreciation no matter what happens just because of what he's meant. You think about his rings, his World Series, All-Star Games…everything he's done and the way he's played the game, I don't think his stats will have a very big impact on how they show appreciation," Girardi said. "But the stats might have an impact on people letting him go away after this season in a sense; if he has a season like we know he's capable of, people are going to say 'why aren't you going to keep playing?'"
We'll find out what the first true wave of what Girardi called a "season-long love fest" somewhere just after 1 p.m., when Hiroki Kuroda toes the rubber and we have lineups, first pitch, baseball.