Game 98: COL vs. NYY — Hall of Fame Weekend thankfully overshadows Sunday’s loss

Sure, the focus was on New York this afternoon. Just about 190 miles north of the Bronx. And on yet another hot summer day, one setting of Yankees clearly overshadowed another. I’m not sure anyone is disappointed by that today.

In the final game of this home stand and in the weekend series against the Rockies, the Yankees struggled their way through the scorching afternoon that just didn’t pan out like the earlier games thanks to a combination of sluggish pitching and defense and offense. Basically, the Yankees didn’t play well, and they added mental anguish to the physical oppression of the humid atmosphere.

James Paxton got the start and threw 77 pitches into just the 4th inning. He gave up 5 hits, 3 walks, and 7 runs (only 4 earned runs) and still struck out 6 Colorado batters to earn the inevitable loss. Things got off to a bad start when his first batter smacked his 2nd pitch into the right field seats. But then Paxton sailed his way through 6 outs. So things were looking up. For a moment.

In the 3rd, he loaded up the bases with a walk, a bunt and fielding error, and a single. After a strikeout, a double scored 2 runs before a fielder’s choice out kept runners on the corners. A walk loaded the bases again, and a long single scored 2 more runs. After a walk and 1-out single put runners on the bases that ended up in scoring position due to slow defense, the Yankees went to the bullpen.

Chad Green’s first batter hit a ground-rule double that scored both runners. But then Green settled into that strong pattern he’s known for and carried the game into the 6th inning. Ottavino kept things scoreless through 3 outs overlapping the 6th and 7th innings.

Stephen Tarpley closed out the 7th and pitched through the 8th. But he found a bit of trouble in the 8th. He gave up a lead-off walk that moved to 3rd on a 1-out double. After another out, he loaded up the bases with an intentional walk. But a passed ball moved all the runners up and score the lead runner. Chapman’s 9th inning wasn’t a save opportunity, but he efficiently worked through it with 18 pitches.

Like I said, things were looking up earlier in the game for the Yankees. Including tying up the game early with a 1st pitch solo home run shot to lead-off the 1st by DJ LeMahieu. Then down by quite a bit, Mike Tauchman’s 2-out solo home run in the 5th doubled the Yankees’ score.

In a last-ditch effort, the Yankees got one more chance on the scoreboard in the 8th. Tauchman led-off by working a walk. Two outs later, Aaron Hicks launched a 2-run home run deep into the 2nd deck of the right field seats to again double the home team’s score. But that was all they could piece together today — runs scored on small homers.

Final score: 8-4 Rockies, Yankees win series 2-1

Next up: The Yankees hit the road for a week-long road trip. They will play a midweek series at the Twins starting Monday, and then head back to the East Coast for a 4-game weekend series against the Red Sox. They will then head home for another home stand against the Diamondbacks and Red Sox.

Meanwhile, in upstate New York, Yankees fans were in full force to celebrate their Yankee alumni and legends as they were officially inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. And 58 Hall of Famers (including Joe Torre, Reggie Jackson, and Hank Aaron) packed the stage to watch the festivities as thousands of fans basked in the sunny, clear skies to witness the festivities in Cooperstown as six very special men were honored.

Bernie Williams opened the afternoon by playing the national anthem on his guitar in his smooth signature musical style. He later came back to play “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, much to the delight of the crowd. Then, Yankees’ pitcher Mike Mussina kicked off the festivities, setting a familiar pattern of sharing stories from his childhood and playing days and honoring those special people and his family that helped him along the way.

Brandy Halladay, wife of the late pitcher Roy Halladay, spoke next in honor of her husband’s honor. Halladay split his career between the Blue Jays and Phillies and settled in the Tampa Bay area (near where both teams host Spring Training), before passing away in a tragic plane crash off the Florida coast in November 2017. His teenage sons following in his footsteps in high school sports, and his eldest Braden was recently drafted by the Blue Jays though he will continue on to Penn State first.

Mariners’ legendary power-hitter Edgar Martinez finally made it into the Hall after being selected in his 10th and final year on the ballot. Fans from his fellow Puerto Rico were thrilled to see their hometown hero honored and cheered on as he specifically thanked them in Spanish.

White Sox designated hitter Harold Baines and Cubs’ closer Lee Smith were selected by the Today’s Game Era Committee in December. Often overlooked by the original ballot rounds, Baines and Smith rightfully join the rest of their inductees on the stage and in the Hall today.

Finally, after a brief video introduction by former teammate and friend Andy Pettitte, Yankees legendary closer Mariano Rivera was inducted in the Hall of Fame, taking his turn to tell his story. He began by thanking God, his wife and sons, his parents and family, and the Yankees organization and fans. Rivera was graciously intentional as he told his story of persevering — from his try out for the Yankees, to learning English in the minors, to being sent back (along with Jeter) after his initial call up, to finding his rightful home as the Yankees’ closer. He closed out his speech with a flurry of gratitude for his family and friends in Panama, spoken in Spanish for their benefit and enjoyment.

{Media note: Further video clips can be found here for future perusal.}

Next year’s ceremonies will be July 26, 2020, and could feature names like Jeter, Soriano, Abreu, Giambi, Lee, and Beckett (in addition to repeat names like Pettitte, Bonds, Vizquel, Ramirez, and Sheffield). It could be an even larger class than the fairly “large class” of 6 for each of the last 2 years.

Go Yankees!

Yankee alumni continue to make history in Hall of Fame

There was a lot of talk leading up to Tuesday night’s announcement as to who would be inducted into the Hall of Fame this coming summer. The select few would join Lee Smith and Harold Baines, the two veteran players selected by the Today’s Game Era ballot late last year. And if recent years have taught us anything, no one is ever a solid shoo-in, and certainly no one is ever voted in 100% of the time.

But no one is Mariano Rivera.

For the first time in 75 years of inductions, Rivera was the first player to ever garner 100% of the votes of the members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. And he beat some of the best in the business to get there. Ken Griffey Jr. got really close in 2016 with 99.32% of the votes, breaking Tom Seaver’s previous record from 1992 with 98.84%.

But you really couldn’t find a better person or player to be inducted with the highest honor of unanimous. Mariano Rivera was one of those players who just seemed to get better as the years went on. His 19-year professional career in pinstripes was marked by that special pitch, “the cutter”, something that was just a “lights out pitch” for nearly every batter he faced. He remains the all-time saves leader with 652 saves, was a 13-time All-Star, and was the MVP of the 1999 World Series, 2003 ALCS, and 2013 All-Star Game.

In addition, he was a family man and a man of strong but quiet faith, who brought a great sense of fun, joy, and leadership to the clubhouse and to his community. His family was with him when the announcement was made and their celebrations are just a small preview of all of Yankee Universe’s. The Hall of Fame’s glass ceiling of inaccessibility via unanimous has been broken, and the record holder was not only a Yankee, but one of the best guys to ever play the game on and off the field.

Joining Rivera this year on the stage in Cooperstown will be former teammate Mike Mussina, Edgar Martinez, and the family of the late Roy Halladay. Halladay enters with 85.4% of the vote. A pitcher with the Blue Jays and Phillies, he passed away in November 2017 in a plane accident near his Florida home, legacy on the field was outstanding, winning 2 Cy Young awards (2003, 2010), completed 7 games, was a 3-time 20-game winner and an 8-time All-Star. His sons continue his legacy, one currently a star pitcher for Penn State, who also got a chance to pitch in a Spring Training game last year against his dad’s former team (Blue Jays).

Edgar Martinez, a Mariners’ power-hitter for 18 seasons, boasts quite a few batting titles and 5 Silver Slugger awards. Martinez worked his way up the Hall of Fame election ladder, this being his 10th and final year eligible for the Hall, and ending up with 85.4% of the final vote.

And Yankees fans will remember Mike Mussina’s now famous moment telling manager Joe Torre to return to the dugout because he was going to finish the game in May 2006. He ended up finishing the game with 101 pitches, fending off the Tigers for the win. But that was just one of many in Mussina’s storied career, first with the Orioles and then with the Yankees for 18 seasons, including 7 Gold Gloves and being a 5-time All-Star. This was his 6th year on the ballot and finally eked over that 75% mark with 76.7% of the votes to become enshrined in the Hall.

Festivities will honor the six men this summer (July 19-22), with the formal ceremony occurring on Sunday, July 21. Seeing as Cooperstown is still in the middle of winter and about to get more snow (already over 2 inches this month alone) this weekend, summer festivities are sounding better and better. Congratulations to the whole 2019 Class on their well-deserved honor!

In quick Yankee news: the Yankees have officially traded starter Sonny Gray in a 3-team deal earlier this week. Sonny Gray and a minor league pitcher were traded to the Reds for an infield prospect and a future draft pick, but the Yankees turned around and sent that prospect to the Mariners for an outfield prospect Josh Stowers.

Gray’s deal was contingent on his acceptance of Cincinnati’s terms, which he ultimately agreed to — an additional 3-years with a club option for 2023. While Gray certainly will be missed in the clubhouse, his struggles at home led to early trade conversations. New York is a hard city to play for, so our best wishes follow Gray to the Midwest as he finds his footing in red rather than pinstripe blue.

And a small reminder: the Yankees’ first Spring Training game is exactly one month from today. Spring is just around the corner.

Go Yankees!

Games 102 & 103: KC vs. NYY — Split doubleheader thanks to more rainy days

The Yankees’ game last night was rained out, making it the 9th time that the Yankees have been weather-delayed this season. Fortunately, there was time (and a clear skies kind of forecast) for the next day for the Yankees and Royals to play and split a make-up doubleheader.

Game 1
Luis Severino had yet another bad outing in the regularly scheduled game that became the first game today, earning his 4th loss in an otherwise stellar season. He threw 95 pitches into the 5th innings, gave up 8 hits, a walk, and 6 runs, and struck out 5 Royals’ batters.

In the 3rd, a 1-out double and walk both scored on a long double to get the Royals on the board first. A lead-off single in the 5th ended up at 3rd on a ground-rule double, and then they both scored on a single. The next batter hit a 2-run home run to further the Royals’ lead, and that was it for Severino’s night. Warren came on in relief and sailed his way through the next 8 outs.

The Yankees had no trouble getting on base, but instead finding trouble scoring runs for most of the game. They were held off until the 5th inning, with Hicks’ 2-out single and Giancarlo Stanton’s 2-run home run to get the Yankees on the board. In the 6th, Torres singled, moved to 2nd on Bird’s single, and then scored on Neil Walker’s single. Austin Romine hit into a double play but Bird still scored a run.

But then later in that inning, they loaded up the bases and couldn’t get anyone home once again. In the 7th, Gregorius led-off with a single and then scored on Gleyber Torres’ double. Torres, however, got thrown out trying to stretch his double into a triple. The Yankees continued to put runners in scoring position, but couldn’t chip away any further at the Royals’ early lead.

The Yankees’ later relievers David Robertson and Chasen Shreve had less than ideal outings themselves, but it didn’t matter in the long run as the damage was already done. A 3-run home run in the 8th and a sacrifice fly in the 9th added more runs for the Royals this first game of the day.

Final score for game 1: 10-5 Royals

Game 2
The second game of the day was officially the make-up game. Friday’s game was preceded by a giveaway of a bobblehead featuring CC Sabathia, who happened to be scheduled to pitch and promptly did so in tonight’s game. Sabathia had a decent outing, throwing just 79 pitches into the 5th inning, gave up 6 hits, 2 walks, and 2 runs, and struck out an impressive 8 Royals’ batters.

He gave up a 1-out solo homer in the 3rd, and then loaded up the bases in the 5th. With 2 outs, he gave up another walk to walk in the Royals’ second run of the game. But then Jonathan Holder got a stellar strike out to end the threat. His 6th inning was less heroic, giving up a lead-off single that moved to 2nd on a sacrifice bunt. Chad Green came in and gave up a single to score another run but held the Royals off from further damage.

New Yankee Zach Britton had his own issues in the 7th. After 2 quick outs, he had trouble finding that 3rd out, giving up a double, a single, a walk to load the bases, and another walk to score another Royals’ run. But then Betances and Chapman each had scoreless innings to keep the Royals from adding to their score like in the first game.

Of course, this would mean nothing if the Yankees continued to put runners on base but stranded them there. So, when they struck first in the 1st, things were looking up. Gardner led-off with a single, moved to 2nd on Stanton’s single, then onto 3rd on a fly out, before scoring on Miguel Andujar’s single. Bird was hit by a pitch, which loaded the bases, and Neil Walker’s sacrifice fly scored Stanton. And Shane Robinson hit his first home run as a Yankee, a big 2-out solo shot in the 4th.

After the Royals tied up the game and then took the lead, the Yankees needed another good inning so they wouldn’t end up on the wrong end of today’s games. They got that in the 8th. Greg Bird hit the 2nd pitch of his lead-off at-bat into the Yankees’ bullpen for a solid home run to re-tie up the game. Then the Yankees loaded up the bases (again) with Walker’s double, Romine’s single, and Torres’ walk. It would be Aaron Hicks’ solid sacrifice fly to score Walker, the winning run.

Final score of game 2: 5-4 Yankees

Roster moves: after Aaron Judge was moved to the 10-day DL thanks to his fractured wrist, the Yankees recalled Tyler Wade, who can easily function as a reliable utility man in the infield and outfield. They also activated pitcher JA Happ as the 26th man for today’s doubleheader. Happ will be the starter for tomorrow’s game.

And in order to get down to that magical number of 25 for the roster, the Yankees used tonight’s big trade to do so. In a deal with the Cardinals, the Yankees got infielder Luke Voit and Future Considerations (or cash for their international signings) in exchange for relievers Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos. Shreve, a favorite in the clubhouse, was on a recent upswing after some pretty disappointing outings earlier this season. Trades area always hard, but sometimes, it’s the best for everyone to shake things up and get a fresh start with a new organization. Best of luck to them all.

Also, it’s Hall of Fame Weekend in Cooperstown, New York. The induction ceremony for the class of 2018 is tomorrow afternoon. While no Yankees are entering the Hall this year, it should be a memorable event, as always, featuring some well-known faces from the other side of the field during some key events in Yankee history. With some of the recent retirements of the stars of the most recent dynasty of Yankees (like the “Core Four”), the next Yankee in the Hall is just a year or two away.

Go Yankees!

Hall of Fame near miss & other random off-season moments

After several months of speculation and journalists openly sharing their votes, the Baseball Writers Association of America released the much-anticipated results of the annual Hall of Fame election. In December, the Veterans Committee selected 4-time World Series pitcher Jack Norris (1984 Tigers, 1991 Twins, 1992-93 Blue Jays) and his 1984 Tigers’ teammate, 6-time All-Star shortstop and 1984 World Series MVP, Alan Trammel. Joining them, the BBWAA announced newest inductees Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Trevor Hoffman, and Vladimir Guerrero, all well-deserved honorees.

Elected with 97.2% of the vote, Jones spent his entire 19 year career with the Braves at 3rd base and became a fixture in the Atlanta area. He was part of the 1995, 1996, and 1999 World Series teams, winning a ring with the Hall of Fame worthy 1995 team against the Indians. (Jones joins other 1995 Braves teammates Tom Glavine and Greg Maddox (HOF class of 2014) and John Smoltz (class of 2015) at Cooperstown.) Jones also earned the NL MVP Award in 1999 and was an 8-time All-Star.

{Worth reminding my primary audience here: the Braves team in 1996 and 1999 faced and lost to the last dynasty of the Yankees. It was 6 games in the 1996 series, before they were swept in the 1999 series by the unstoppable Yankees that year.}

On the other side of that World Series was a noted 1st baseman and fellow 2018 inductee Jim Thome (89.8% of the votes). Thome spent his 22 year career primarily with the Indians (1991-2002, 2011), helping them reach the 1995 and 1997 World Series but failed to get a ring (losing to the Braves and Marlins, respectively). Over the course of his career, he was a 5-time All-Star and led the National League with 47 home runs in his 2003 season with the Phillies. Thome also won the 2002 Roberto Clemente Award for his outstanding contributions both on the field and off.

Reliever Hoffman (79.9%) spent the bulk of his 18 year with the Padres (1993-2008), including the year they met the Yankees in the World Series in 1998. The Yankees swept them in 4 games (again, part of that unstoppable dynasty era). But Hoffman still made quite the impact in his career as a 7-time All-Star and leading the NL in saves both in 1998 (with 53) and in 2006 (with 46).

Guerrero (92.9%) spent his 16 year career in the outfield, the bulk of which first with the Expos (1996-2003) and then with the Angels (2004-2009). He also got a shot at the World Series with the 2010 Rangers, but they fell to the Giants that year. Guerrero was a 9-time All-Star and 2004 AL MVP. He also polishes his well-earned 8 Silver Slugger Awards in his trophy case as part of his career accomplishments.

Falling just short of the 75% of the votes needed included Yankee pitcher Mike Mussina, getting 63.5% . Any player receiving less than 5% of the votes are automatically dropped from the ballot the following year (including former Yankees Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui). However, those above 5% and less than 75% move on to hope for another year including Mussina, Roger Clemens (57.3%), Gary Sheffield (11.1%), and Andruw Jones (7.3%). Mussina keeps missing the mark, while Clemens battles the rumors of his past PED use, similar to Giants legend Barry Bonds (who fell short at 56.4%).

It is also worth noting that there were 422 submitted ballots, including 1 left intentionally blank (because where would the fun be in someone getting elected with 100% of the votes). Of those, only 12 ballots didn’t elect Jones, which is why he only got 97% of the vote. Notably, there was also one voter that only voted for Indians alumni (Thome and Omar Vizquel). And if you’re feeling a weird flashback to high school elections for prom court or student council, you’re 100% on track. Some people use their vote to make a point (the blank ballot or all Indians ballot), some to play favorites (a few intentionally anti-Yankee alumni), and some thought through the process of such an honor and chose players that rightfully deserve legacy status. I have mixed feelings every year — I agree every time with who will be feted in July, but I am always irked by who “falls short” due to those who vote in the first two categories.

No, I don’t have a vote. But I do have an opinion.

In lighter news, and back to focusing on Yankees, the off-season has been pretty good for the boys. They’ve been working out, having fun on the practice fields, and enjoying fan art. Meanwhile, the biggest end of season trend last year was Gary the “Thumbs Down” Guy, a Mets fan who flashed the “thumbs down” during a Todd Frazier home run at the special game at CitiField in September. It became a huge meme and thing for the Yankees to do during something amazing and gave New Yorker Gary Dunaier his 15 minutes of fame (or rather 4 months and counting). Frazier and Dunaier finally met earlier this week at an event on Staten Island.

Legend-in-the-making and video game cover guy Aaron Judge got to practice his swing (and bat flip) in a motion-capture suit. He will premier on the cover of MLB The Show 2018 and show off his home run swing for Play Station come March 27 (or March 23 for pre-orders). I’m sure video game players are eagerly awaiting the chance to be the 2017 Rookie of the Year, but I’m just looking forward to the real live player in Spring Training next month.

In Yankees’ Minor League news: The Yankees AA team, the Trenton Thunder, will honor its 25th anniversary this year by playing every Friday game as the “Trenton Pork Rolls“, starting May 18. I swear this is not a “fake” story. Apparently, it’s a local thing, the pork roll, and I’m sure it’s delicious (albeit not very Kosher). And sadly, that is not the weirdest name (and this doesn’t include the Jumbo Shrimp and the Baby Cakes) of a minor league team in the system. And fortunately, it’s only on Fridays. (But what a thing to have on your resume!)

Meanwhile, the Advanced-A Yankees affiliate (and current Steinbrenner Field residents), the Tampa Yankees, made the announcement last month that they would begin the 2018 season with their own name change — the Tampa Tarpons. The Tarpons were a team for about 3 decades in the middle of last century, though baseball has been played in Tampa for over 100 years, including extensively hosting Spring Training. Locally, the tarpon is a large fish, popular with sports fisherman and found off the Gulf Coast, and a neighboring local city is Tarpon Springs. So the Tampa Tarpons found something steeped in local tradition and lore.

The 2018 season is rapidly approaching. 20 days until pitchers and catchers report (Feb. 13). 30 days until the first Spring Training game (Feb. 23 against the Tigers). 65 days until the first game of the season (March 29 in Toronto). And 69 days until the home opener (April 2 against the Rays).

But who’s counting?

Go Yankees!

Game 103: TB vs. NYY — Big show by “Toe” ends in “no go”… a timely trade and Cooperstown Class of ’17

And that is my last time I attempt a New York Post style headline…

Anyway, the Yankees were looking for a sweep of the Rays with this final game of their 4-game weekend series. But despite some great offense by a single player, the pitching early on had some serious issues, so Ronald Torreyes’ shining afternoon wasn’t enough to pick up the Yankees over the Rays.

Jordan Montgomery got the start today and just had a really difficult time getting through his afternoon. He threw 71 pitches into just the 3rd inning, giving up 6 hits, 2 walks, and 4 runs, and still struck out 5 Rays batters. In the 1st, a 1-out walk moved to 2nd on a 2-out single and then scored on another single to get the Rays on the board early. Montgomery loaded up the bases in the 3rd with 2 outs and then cleared the bases through the process of a 2-RBI single and an RBI single.

Luis Cessa was called in to get out of the jam, and despite an initial wild pitch that moved runners to scoring position, Cessa got that necessary strikeout to escape the 3rd inning unscathed. Cessa ended up pitching into the 7th inning, throwing a rather clean game up until that 7th inning where he gave up a walk and single before handing things over to Chasen Shreve.

Shreve loaded up the bases but got 2 outs in the 7th before passing the baton to Chad Green who got out of the jam with a great strikeout (though the Rays batter certainly didn’t like the call). Green went on to finish off the game, getting into his own bit of trouble only in the 8th inning. A lead-off single stole 2nd and then scored on a 2-out double. Green added 6 strikeouts of his own through his pretty good outing to the total for the Yankees’ pitchers tonight at 16.

The Yankees’ offense rested on a single utility/bench player. Ronald Torreyes is really good when he needs to be. In the 2nd, Headley worked a 1-out walk and ended up at 2nd on a wild pitch. Then it was Torreyes to hit a great 2-run home run into the left field seats to briefly give the Yankees the lead. Behind again in the 4th, Todd Frazier worked a 2-out walk and then scored on Torreyes’ solid double to put the Yankees within a run of the Rays’ lead.

Unfortunately, the Rays had a random day where their bullpen actually did its job, so the Yankees were stunted a bit in the latter half of the game, despite some hope with 2 base runners in the bottom of the 9th that just didn’t pan out in the end.

Final score: 5-3 Rays, Yankees win series 3-1.

Injury news: Austin Romine seemed to have a target on his body today for the ball. He was hit twice by the ball. In the 2nd, an bad foul ball bounced up into his throat, which stunned the catcher for a bit, but he stayed in the game like the trooper he is. But then in the 6th, while at bat, he was hit by a pitch on the side of his hand. He stayed in the game initially, but as his hand continued to swell, he was pulled from the game and sent for the requisite x-rays. X-rays came back negative, but I imagine lots of ice and rest (for both hand and throat) are in order for the next few days.

Scranton Shuttle: Before today’s game, the Yankees optioned Caleb Smith back to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and recalled Chasen Shreve, who ended up in today’s game.

Over night, the Yankees finalized a trade to add to their lagging starting rotation. They acquired left-handed veteran starter Jaime Garcia from the Twins for minor league pitchers Zack Littell (previously with AA Trenton) and Dietrich Enns (previously with AAA Scranton) and cash considerations.

Garcia was with the Cardinals for much of his 9-year career, even helping them win the 2011 World Series. He started this year with the Braves before moving briefly to the Twins, only to be used as trade-bait for the Yankees. They now expect him to make his Yankee debut on Thursday in Cleveland when the Yankees start their 4-game weekend series there.

And just a couple hundred miles northwest of Yankee Stadium, crowds gathered to celebrate the newest inductees to the baseball Hall of Fame. Former players Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan Rodriguez and executive John Schuerholz and MLB Commissioner Emeritus Bud Selig were honored and officially became part of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. Congratulations to the newest legends of the game we all love!

Go Yankees!

It’s almost Spring…

Well, now that the other major American sport has taken its bow, it’s time to focus on the real American pastime. And before you’re wondering, I write a blog about the New York Yankees, which team could I possibly back in the big game last night — the team that plays in Boston or the one that doesn’t?

Anyway, just a couple of days ago, the Yankees posted pictures of their staff loading up all their equipment, loading it onto the truck, and sending it on its way down to Tampa. Many on the current roster and invitees (including quite a few of the Baby Bombers on the top 100 prospects list) are showing up at the minor league complex for early workouts. Tickets to games are being purchased, renovations at the field are almost done, and the countdown in down to mere days. Yes, Yankee Universe, it’s almost Spring Training.

The Yankees have wrapped up the last few weeks of their off-season in many ways. Last month, Chance Adams, Starlin Castro, Clint Frazier, Chase Headley, Matt Holliday, James Kaprielian, CC Sabathia, Gary Sanchez, Justus Sheffield, and Gleyber Torres helped out with the Yankees first ever “Winter Warm-up“, an event designed to introduce new players to New York and its legacy and community with the help of some of the veterans. This included surprising a life-long fan with VIP tickets; touring the City and Yankee Stadium; holding a live-streamed town hall for fans; visiting a senior center, an elementary school, a senior community event, and cancer center; calling season ticket holders personally; and surprising Bronx residents joining them for lunch at a local restaurant.

At a special awards banquet in January, quite a few Yankees were recognized for their contributions in baseball this past season. Last year’s “Warriors Three” (or No-Runs DMC, as some rogue reporters seems to believe they should be dubbed), Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman were recognized by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America with the “Willie, Mickey, and the Duke Award” for their outstanding teamwork this year. What is especially significant is that this three-headed monster was split in July when Chapman went to the Cubs (and got a ring) and Miller went to the Indians (and almost got a ring, settling for the AL MVP instead). Betances took over the closing role to finish the season but is more than willing to slide back to set-up man after the Yankees resigned Chapman in December. The local writers’ group also honored other Yankees at that dinner. Chase Headley received the “Good Guy Award” and Mark Teixeira shared the Slocum Award for Long and Meritorious Service with Boston’s David Ortiz, in addition to a number of other awards given across baseball.

Overlapping Spring Training once again is the World Baseball Classic. As of this posting, only two Yankees have committed to play for the WBC. Didi Gregorius will play for the Dutch team, which is scheduled to start its games March 7 in Seoul against South Korea, Taipei, and Israel. Dellin Betances has committed to play for the Dominican Republic, which starts its games March 9 in Miami against Canada, the United States, and Columbia. There was talk that Sanchez might join Betances on the reigning championship team, but the closer to Spring Training, the less likely the chances. Masahiro Tanaka was offered a spot on the Japanese team, but opted for Spring Training to get back in the momentum of being a Yankee and come out stronger than last year.

In a single day last month, the baseball world lost two of its members in separate car accidents in the Dominican Republic. Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura, 25, was a key part of the Royals’ 2014 World Series attempt and their 2015 World Series win, even earning Rookie of the Year in 2014. Former third baseman Andy Marte, 33, was originally signed by the Braves in 2005 before spending the bulk of his career with the Indians and most recently the 2014 season with the Diamondbacks and a team in South Korea. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with their families and friends as they mourn their loved ones.

I wish I could tell you the Yankees had some good news about the Hall of Fame results, but it was not to be this year. Instead, the BBWAA (the same guys who recognized Teixeira, Betances, and Headley) decided that just three former players would make it to Cooperstown this year — Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. The trio are the only three who made the cut-off at 75% of the earned votes. Most Yankee fans will probably only remember two names — Mike Mussina (holding on for another year at 51.8% of the vote) and Jorge Posada (who failed to get the minimum 5% voting needed to stay on the ballot next year at 3.8%).

Bagwell spent all 15 seasons (1991-2005) with the Astros, as their star first baseman. Raines is predominantly known as the left fielder of the Expos (1979-1990, 2001), but he also spent some of his 23 seasons with the White Sox, Athletics, Marlins, Orioles, and Yankees. Raines spent his time with the Yankees during the start of the most recent dynasty, 1996-1998, even earning a 1996 World Series ring for his postseason contributions. Rodriguez spent the majority of his 21 seasons with the Rangers (1991-2002, 2009), eventually spending time with the Marlins, Tigers, Astros, Nationals, and Yankees. Rodriguez may be the most familiar to current Yankee fans as he spent the latter half of the 2008 season in pinstripes as back-up catcher. As expected, neither of the former Yankees will be donning a Yankee insignia on their monument plaque in the Hall of Fame, which will be honored and unveiled on July 30.

Okay, so here’s important Spring dates to remember: February 14 — pitchers and catchers report to camp (8 days away); February 15 — pitcher and catchers work out day, Steinbrenner Field open to public if you want to watch the work outs (9 days); February 18 — full squad reporting day (12 days); February 19 — full squad work out day (13 days); February 24 — Spring Training home opener vs. Phillies (18 days); April 2 — Season Opener at the Rays (55 days); and April 10 — Home opener vs. the Rays (62 days).

Yes, it’s almost Spring…

Go Yankees!

All the latest updates, farewells, outreaches, and honors… it’s been a busy 5 weeks!

Between the Cubs’ victory parade, postseason awards, Thanksgiving, Winter Meetings, and now the approaching week filled with Christmas, Hanukkah, and the New Year, the Yankees have been everything but quiet and stagnant. Some years, Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman’s job seems to just sit back and watch other teams do the postseason dance that is somewhere between an elegant waltz and a fire-sale at times. But not this year.

Cashman has been busy, even making some pretty big moves. First, in the middle of last month, he traded catcher Brian McCann (and cash considerations) to the Astros for a pair of young pitchers Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman. Sorry, McCann fans, but McCann wasn’t exactly ready to be a once-a-week player with Gary Sanchez taking a much larger (and well-deserved role). This was a good move for everybody.

Earlier this week, as part of the Winter Meetings (hosted at the beautiful Gaylord Resort, just south of D.C.), Cashman also made a play for two big players. First, he signed Matt Holliday, a veteran outfielder who is slated to primarily fill the position previously occupied by Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran (outfielder/designated hitter). Holliday, a 7-time All-Star, began his career with the Rockies, spending 5 seasons there and making a name for himself, before finding a nice home with the Cardinals for the last 7 1/2 seasons, being a crucial part of their 2011 World Series championship. Holliday seems very excited to be playing in New York, which isn’t really surprising as he wore #7 in St. Louis for Mickey Mantle. You know, David Ortiz said once last season that there are two kinds of players — those who were born to play with the Yankees and those born to play against them (Ortiz being the latter).

Another big pick-up was the deal made when the Yankees signed Aroldis Chapman to a 5-year, $86 million deal. Yes, Chapman fans, two of the Warriors Three will be back in the Bronx for the foreseeable future. This time, with Chapman’s shiny World Series ring glaring and pushing the Yankees to give him another one. A physical exam is still pending the finality of this contract, but things look good for the closer to return to Yankee pinstripes for the next five seasons.

Cashman’s focus was clearly on building up the bullpen as most of the roster moves these last 5 weeks. So try to keep up: Branden Pinder was originally designated for assignment early in November, but then was outrighted to AAA Scranton, so we’ll be seeing Pinder again; Joe Mantiply (after being claimed off waivers from the Tigers), Nick Rumbelow, and Nathan Eovaldi were designated for assignment and then released all three of them just before Thanksgiving; James Pazos was traded to the Mariners for reliever Zack Littell; Dustin Ackley was released; Jacob Lindgren elected free agency; and the Yankees then filled a bunch of holes on their roster with minor leaguers Jorge Mateo and Yefrey Ramirez (from the Single-A Tampa Yankees), Ronald Herrera and Miguel Andujar (from AA Trenton),  and Dietrich Enns and Giovanny Gallegos (from AAA Scranton).

But it didn’t stop there. In coordination with the Rule 5 Draft, the Yankees moved some minor leaguers around and said some goodbyes. The Brewers claimed reliever Caleb Smith, the Red catcher Luis Torrens, reliever Tyler Jones went to Arizona, and the Pirates got reliever Tyler Webb. The Yankees themselves picked up a few minor leaguers, catcher Jorge Saez (Blue Jays) and reliever Colten Brewer (Pirates).

All the postseason awards have been doled out, and the Yankees got… two. And nothing went to our Rookie of the Year, Gary Sanchez. No, the big Yankee winner this postseason was Brett Gardner, who took home both the Gold Glove and Defensive Player of the Year for doing the outstanding job we’re used to seeing out there in left field.

However, there are a few alumni honors come next month. BBWAA vote for the Class of 2017, with any new inductees to be announced next month. Several former Yankees grace the ballot this year, none more so than Jorge Posada (the first of the Core Four to reach such an honor). However, the chances everyone seems to hold for Posada (and the few other Yankees alums) seem rather slim, especially as the voters seem to be rather stringent in their voting, less nostalgic as your average baseball fan and more strategic in their selection parameters.

Also selected for Hall of Fame honors this year are current Braves’ president John Schuerholz and former MLB commissioner Bud Selig, both elected by the Today’s Game Committee. Other familiar faces on this ballot, who failed to make the cut this year, include former manager and player Lou Pinella, former players Albert Belle, Orel Hershiser, and Mark McGwire, and former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Debates as to which of these deserve to be in Cooperstown rage on.

Two other awards honored journalists for outstanding writing and broadcasting — the late Bill King, known for his coverage of San Francisco sports, distinctive facial hair, and his catchphrase “Holy Toledo!”, and veteran journalist Claire Smith, who became the first woman to receive the honor. Neither will be officially in the Hall of Fame, but will be part of a permanent exhibit to honor such journalist excellence and contribution to the game. I mean, without them, our knowledge of the game would not be what it is today, even with direct information like social media. It would certainly make my job a lot harder!

And speaking of Yankee alumni, the Yankees announced that they will be officially retiring the number 2 in honor of Derek Jeter on before the game on Sunday, May 14. Rather fitting really, with the extensive knowledge of how close Jeter is with his family, Jeter’s long-sacred number will become the 22nd one the Yankees send to Monument Park, and with that move, all the single digits (save a zero) are officially removed from jersey circulation. Single game tickets are not directly available yet (though they feature prominently on the secondary online marketplaces), though season tickets and multi-game ticket packages are available.

This week, in Tampa, the Yankees foundation hosted their holiday celebration, led by Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal with special guests Alex Rodriguez, Tino Martinez, and Nick & Joanna Swisher. Hundreds of local children were treated to the Yankees 28th Annual Holiday Concert, complete with gifts and carol singing, in preparation for the holidays. The Yankees also hosted other local community outreaches in New York for the holidays including a Thanksgiving food drive and giving back to the children and families of the Bronx with a great goodie bag full of both basic necessities and special gifts.

Looking ahead, many players have already committed to playing for various teams around the world in the World Baseball Classic this March. The Yankees only current representative is Dellin Betances, who agreed to play for the reigning champions, the Dominican Republic, alongside former teammate Cano. Other former Yankees who will play in the WBC include Martin for Canada and Beltran for Puerto Rico. Betances, who was also recently married, will be an outstanding contribution to any team. Also, a big congratulations to Dellin and Janisa Betances!

As far as everything else, there’s still 63 days until Pitchers and Catchers report for Spring Training. So there’s a lot of time left for the Yankees to do something else, despite reports that they’re pretty much done with big moves this off-season. That statement, however, doesn’t preclude any minor “tweaking”, and you must know by now they love their “tweaking”. Enjoy your holiday season!

Go Yankees!