A chip on the shoulder works

Spring Training batting practice, Chase Headley (#12) waits his turn (Photo via YES Network)

Today, beneath ironically overcast skies in the Sunshine State, the Yankees hosted their first full squad work-out day. 67 men found their way on the field in pinstriped pants and navy BP jerseys to run drills, hit some BP, and show off their stuff for the coaching staff.

This coaching staff included several of the guest coaches, former Yankee players asked to return to camp to help the new guys work on their stuff with the guys “who’ve been there”. Today, noted Yankee alumni included Hideki Matsui, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, and Mariano Rivera. Former Yankee and current Yankee scout Eric Chavez has been seen around camp for the last week; he will also get some time in the broadcasting booth this season. Other guest coaches will include familiar face often seen during Spring Training like Andy Pettitte, Billy Connors, Goose Gossage, Ron Guidry, Lee Mazzilli, Stump Merrill, and Reggie Jackson.

Of course, for the last couple of days, much of the chatter has been centered around Rivera, who stated he probably could still pick up and throw his famous cutter if he wanted to. No doubt about that. But Rivera isn’t here for himself, and he enjoys spending time working with some of the young pitchers. Actually, he always has. In his last year (2013), Rivera was often seen talking to young pitchers in the bullpen, something I think many cherished — whether a lesson in pitching or a lesson in life. When Rivera talks, you listen.

Steinbrenner Field opened its doors this week to any fans who want to watch their favorite players work out before the games officially begin (First Game is March 3, Opening Day is March 4). Many are interested in seeing how returning players like Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, Carlos Beltran, and Masahiro Tanaka are doing after their struggles this last year(s) or how Alex Rodriguez is transitioning back to the team after his suspension. And fans are interested in the new guys like Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Jones, Didi Gregorius, and Andrew Miller (and more!). I’m glad to report that for the first time, everyone seems happy and healthy and fired up to win this year.

Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury called it a “chip on their shoulder” — that undercurrent that seems to prevail in camp this year after falling short last year. Players come to New York to win, and anything short of that is frustrating, especially for guys like Ellsbury who signed up for that kind of team. I was thinking about his comment, and I think I have to agree with that mentality. But I also have to say that this is the right season for that kind of attitude. It’s a very new team, a weird combination of the “old guys”, the “career veterans”, and the “new kids”. And I have to say it again. It reminds me oddly of another weird year — 1996. So I guess that’s why I’m holding out some hope. It’s too eerily familiar.

I spoke with a Cubs’ fan recently, and we joked about the Back to the Future II prediction for the World Series. If you don’t remember, Marty McFly heads into the future to 2015 and sees on a digital billboard that the Cubs won the Series over Miami, something that he finds weird because at that point Miami didn’t have a team. Now, Miami does have a team (though it’s not the “gators” as seen in the movie), but they are in the National League with the Cubs. Cubs fans are assuming that this means they’ll be celebrating the NLCS victory over the Marlins instead of the Series. And due to the date Marty travels into the future (October 22, 2015) and how late the season will go this year, an NLCS prediction at this point seems more likely… that is if the movie is an accurate predictor of baseball.

It’s amusing to dream about such things, but like so many other media-soaked predictions, they are just that — predictions. Some teams are already assuming they have the best team. One player already asked for his “ring” due to some recent acquisitions for his team, only really half-joking. A broadcaster I didn’t expect to be so level-headed clarified that player’s comment by saying that he is right in a sense because his team does look amazing on paper. But paper doesn’t mean squat at the end of the season. Other teams seem to build similar patterns of strong starting rotations, but really lack where it ultimately matters — offense.

This left me thinking. Lately, so much of the focus has been on pitching. And I understand that. The old adage “if you don’t have pitching, you don’t have anything” isn’t just an adage. But if all you have is pitching, you won’t win that many games. To win games, you must score runs. To score runs, you must have hits. To have hits, you need a good offense. So (pardon the corruption of the adage) if you don’t have offense, you won’t win any games and thus no World Series. Many teams have a small group of players capable of some power, but relying on a small group of guys isn’t enough. Far too many teams seem to rely on this formula, which usually leads to divas and reduces a team to a single star carrying the weight of the hopes and dreams of an impossible goal.

Instead, I’d prefer to see a balance. Good rotation + good offense + good defense + great morale = championship. Teams win games. Good teams win lots of games. Great teams win championships.

Here’s to a great team this year…

Go Yankees!

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