Off-season bits: February edition

The groundhog said it would be an early Spring, something easily laughed at by the majority of the country buried under snow at the time. Of course, Spring never actually “comes early”, as according to the vernal equinox, it won’t officially be Spring until March 20. But in the baseball world, thanks in part to the climate of the Sunshine State (and Arizona), Spring always comes a bit earlier.

Major League Baseball is celebrating its sesquicentennial. In 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first salaried professional baseball team thus seen as the start of what became Major League Baseball. To honor this anniversary, all 30 teams will wear a special patch on their jerseys this entire season. It previously honored the 100th and 125th anniversaries in 1969 and 1994, respectively. Happy birthday, baseball.

And in what has to be the smallest alteration to the roster this season, Yankees’ reliever Zach Britton officially altered his name to Zack Britton. I’m not sure where the fluff up began as his legal name is actually Zackary Grant Britton, which means that Zack would make much more sense as a nickname than Zach. And as someone who’s had a few nicknames, mostly alterations of spellings, getting people to correctly address you and spell your name right is quite the ordeal. I’m still not sure why. So, welcome to the Yankees, Zack.

Speaking of new roster blood, the Yankees signed another reliever to fill David Robertson’s vacant spot after he signed with the Phillies. Adam Ottavino, previously with the Rockies for the last 7 seasons, is set to help provide a further veteran arm in the bullpen and in the clubhouse. Ottavino is joining former Rockies’ teammates like Tulowitzki and LeMahieu in pinstripes this year. Interestingly, Ottavino usually wears #0 on his jersey, so he requested to wear the final single digit available as a Yankee. It will be quite something to see a single digit on a Yankees’ jersey this year.

Yesterday, all pitchers and catchers were to report to camp, and today, they had their first workout session of the season. Manager Aaron Boone held his first press conference of the year yesterday afternoon, discussing many of the roster changes, the substitutes and competitions for spots, and surgeries and injuries this off-season. Gary Sanchez had shoulder surgery in the off-season, but he is recovering well enough to start the season and Spring with no delay.

However, Jacoby Ellsbury is one of those who will be delayed into camp this year. Though position players don’t report until Monday (Feb. 18), his recovery has been delayed by plantar fasciitis after his surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip. He missed all of last season due to an injury plagued year and was hoping for a triumphant return to what could be the first of his final two years in baseball (or what’s left on his contract with the Yankees).

And Dellin Betances will be a little delayed as his wife Janisa gave birth to their first child, a son they named Dellin Betances Jr. yesterday. They are a little busy being new parents, but the new father will join the team once mother and son have been discharged from the hospital in a few days. A big congratulations to the new family.

Who’s really stealing the show in this final off-season bit is CC Sabathia. Sabathia will be announcing his retirement at a press conference Saturday, calling a close to his long career after this season, his 19th in the major leagues. And thus begins his own farewell tour, which will include a trip to the UK for the much-anticipated series against the Red Sox, but follows his health and personal struggles including knee surgeries, a stint in the heart this off-season, and dealing with his alcoholism.

Add in a storied post-season career and a legacy of community outreach through his PitCChIn Foundation, Sabathia is ready to hang up the cleats in dramatic fashion. This will probably include hitting a major milestone — 3000 career strikeouts, something he will do with just 14 more big strikeouts, which by my best guess could be as early as late April. It will be quite the celebration for the retiring legend, and what a way to go out.

And in honor of what would have been Jackie Robinson’s 100th birthday, Sabathia visited the Jackie Robinson School in Brooklyn (P.S. 375) to connect with the kids there and talk about Robinson’s legacy of service and activism. Upon reflecting Robinson’s life and legacy as he saw in the students there, Sabathia said that he just wants “[to] be strong and deal with adversity. Just sitting here and listening to the kids chanting his name — he would be 100 years old today. That legacy is what all players want. That’s something you can’t accomplish on the field. It’s something you have to do off the field, leaving your name for kids and organizations to deal with after the fact.”

But looking forward to this Spring, there are 40 men on the regular roster that are contractually required to be there. And every year, the team extends an invitation to others in the organization to attend camp and see if they can earn a spot or promotion or just recognition. This year, the Yankees invited 23 non-roster players — 12 pitchers, 4 catchers, 3 infielders, and 4 outfielders. (Note: the original article was written prior to 2 additions to the invitee list on Wednesday.)

Welcome to camp: pitchers Rex Brothers, Nestor Cortes Jr., Cale Coshow, Danny Coulombe, Phillip Diehl, Raynel Espinal, Danny Farquhar, David Hale, Drew Hutchinson, Michael King, Brady Lail, and Trevor Stephan; catchers Kellin Deglan, Francisco Diaz, Ryan Lavarnway, and Jorge Saez; infielders Mike Ford, Kyle Holder, and Giovanny Urshela; and outfielders Trey Amburgey, Billy Burns, Estevan Florial, and Matt Lipka.

So if you recognize a few of those names, you’ve been following the Yankees closely. If you are excited to see how those have progressed in the last year, you and I are in the same boat. I think Spring Training is always one of my favorite times of the year because you get a first-hand look at the future of the club, the future of baseball really.

And if that future gives you hope, then it’s all worth it.

Believe me. It’s always worth it.

Go Yankees!

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