A “fully functional Death Star” prepares for 2019

The Yankees are often considered “America’s team”, its interlocking NY logo globally recognized, its championship and historic legacy legendary. But to those not fans of the Yankees, for whatever reason one can dream up, a comparison to a popular pop culture villain resonated with the anti-Yankee contingent when a former Red Sox President dubbed them the “Evil Empire“, a nod to the iconic antagonists of the original Star Wars trilogy.

Now, I’ve not met any Yankee fan that took offense at the moniker. Rather, fans seem to embrace the intended insult with an almost amused chagrin, recognizing jealousy and sour grapes of its longtime rivals just before they won their recent four championships. But it hasn’t stopped the nickname from sticking. Now, sixteen years later, Yankees GM Brian Cashman affirmed their assumed villain status by saying recently that the Yankees were “a fully operational Death Star“. I can see the new merchandise already.

Cashman joined other baseball executives, owners, a few players, and sports media over the last week at baseball’s annual Winter Meetings, this year in Las Vegas. The week was full of trades, drafts, negotiations, rumors, meetings, and so many press interviews, and the Yankees continued to dodge most of the dominant rumors while working their way into a deal to re-sign starter JA Happ to the Yankees’ rotation for 2019. The final deal is being held up only by a routine physical and is expected to be confirmed before Christmas.

Actually, it’s not like the Yankees haven’t been quiet this off-season. At the end of last month, they tendered contracts to all 9 arbitration-eligible players on their roster, including those they are considering trading (Betances, Bird, Gray, Gregorius, Hicks, Kahnle, Paxton, Romine, and Severino). So, the roster remains at 40. For now.

Just prior to this move, the Yankees orchestrated a trade that irked some of the more die-hard Yankee fans. They claimed reliever Parker Bridwell off waivers from the Angels, and to make room for him on the roster, they designated fan and clubhouse favorite Ronald Torreyes for assignment. Two days later, they sent Torreyes to the Cubs for a player to be named later or cash considerations

The Yankees claimed right-handed pitcher Parker Bridwell off waivers from the Angels and designated infielder Ronald Torreyes for assignment on Monday, two days before they dealt Torreyes to the Cubs for a player to be named or cash. But “The Toe-Night Show” in Second City didn’t last long. The Cubs did not tender him a contract, and thus the infielder was once again on the move. However, within a week, Torreyes was signed to a new team — the Twins nabbed the versatile utility player. Best of luck to him, though he will be greatly missed in Yankee pinstripes.

With much anticipation on the upcoming series in London next summer, the Yankees and Red Sox are gearing up their fan bases on both sides of the Atlantic. This weekend, each team will send a well-known representative to do some press and connect with local fans to promote the series, and the Yankees will send veteran pitcher CC Sabathia. An avid sports fan himself, Sabathia and his Red Sox counterpart (outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr.) will also visit other local sporting sites like the iconic cricket grounds and then each catch a Premier League football game (that’s soccer, for my American readers).  The Yankees and Red Sox face off in June at London Stadium, the former 2012 Olympic Stadium, now the home of one of London’s five major football clubs.

The committee for the Baseball Hall of Fame revealed the results of their vote on Today’s Game Era ballot to elect former players or executives to the Hall of Fame that might have missed the first go-around. While two former players (who rightly deserve the honor) did make the cut, former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was on this year’s ballot but failed to garner enough votes for induction. The “Evil Empire” mentality is alive and well and reaches all the way to Cooperstown. The new class of more recent players (the more traditional ballot) will be announced January 22, with names like Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte as possible inductees.

Yankee Universe is mourning the loss of another Steinbrenner. Surrounded by her family Joan Steinbrenner, George’s wife, has passed on at the age of 83. Following the death of her husband in 2010, Joan served as vice chairperson for the Yankees organization, but she had long been a fixture in the her native Northeast Ohio and adopted home of Tampa, serving on numerous charity, hospital, and community boards. She is fondly remembered by friends and family for her generosity and grace. May her memory be a blessing.

Finally, as you prepare to celebrate the end of the year holidays, remember that baseball will be returning in about two months. Pitchers and catchers report for duty in Tampa on February 13, with their first workout on February 14. The rest of the squad reports February 18, with the first full squad workout on February 19. The first game will be against the Red Sox (February 23) at their Spring home, with the first home opener on February 25 against the Blue Jays. Spring is just around the corner.

Go Yankees!

One more sleep until baseball…

I’ve been contemplative all day really. When you write a daily blog that revolves around a single thing, your life is pretty much built around that. Like when you grow up, your entire world is built around the school schedule. You know when your vacation days are, you known when exams will be so you know when you will need to pull all-nighters, you structure your days, your life around one stable thing. And it works.

That’s me and baseball. The season technically starts tomorrow with the first Spring Training game against the Tigers (more on that in a moment). And the last baseball game was November 1, Game 7 of the World Series when the Astros defeated the Dodgers to become champions last year. For the average fan, they catch a random game some time between March and September, maybe use a mobile app a few times a week to see where their team currently sits in the standings. But my life pretty much revolves around the baseball season, which means from the first pitch of Spring Training to the final out of the World Series, I’m locked in. I take my blog with me on vacations (even to Europe a few years ago), I write after weddings and birthday parties (sometimes late into the night or early the next morning), I’m pretty much always on my phone (thanks to Twitter and my own mobile apps).

I know it’s sometimes confusing to my friends and family that I’m not always present or available during the season. I’m not quite a journalist, though because I went to school for journalism, my approach is often more sports writer than your average blogger. But I’ve found something that works. I get to appreciate the game from the fan’s perspective, recap it for those who don’t watch every game, and then talk about the state of the game and the team how I see it. My approach, my perspective, my appreciation, even my opinions have evolved over this blog, as they should, as we should grow in ourselves and expand our worldview.

I started this blog five years ago on a whim, just to see if I could do it for a season, and honestly, hoping I could follow one team through to winning the World Series. In the last five seasons, I’ve seen big retirements, big signings, and thousands of little moments that matter even more. I’ve made memories at stadiums all over the country, friends from all over the world, and discovered that the sport we love is so much more than the game we see on the field.

Now, on the eve of my sixth (!) season following the Yankees, I’ve never been more hopeful for this team. The roster is different, younger, and catching the eye of the talking heads (and actually in a good way). The fans in general are cautiously optimistic after last year, and I don’t blame them. And while the real season starts in about a month, baseball’s warm-up season begins tomorrow afternoon.

I don’t think I really understood the value of Spring Training until I started this blog. But now, I think I look forward to it more than any other time of year. I’ve been watching the likes of Aaron Judge and many prospects now on other organizations’ 40-man rosters. As much as everyone wanted to see Judge so much earlier, watching Spring Training proved both his potential but also that he needed another season or two working out the quirks. Now, he’s the reigning Home Run Derby champion, All-Star, Silver Slugger, and Rookie of the Year. Had they brought him up before he was ready, awards would not be there, and he would have had to work out all the quirks on a much bigger stage. How the “talking heads” would have loved discussing that!

But the value of Spring Training was understanding why the minor league system works. That very same system that brought all of the Core Four into the last dynasty, and the same system that is filled with prospects like Gleyber Torres, Chance Adams, Justus Sheffield, and Miguel Andujar, all of which have a very real chance to see the big leagues this year (maybe even the starting roster). The beauty of Spring Training is being able to see the random players in the organization that might be the next something special.

Or maybe they’re the star quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, Russell Wilson. Wilson was acquired in a trade earlier this month from the Rangers and will be assigned to AA Trenton during the season. Wilson, who grew up playing baseball and football, was drafted by the Rockies in 2010 and spends his NFL off-season (which is now, of course) playing minor league ball, now with the Yankees this season. He posted on his social media today that he’s on his way to spend time in camp in Tampa, though as he’s not on the roster or not an official non-roster invitee, he won’t be playing any games at Steinbrenner Field. He’ll instead spend his time at minor league camp joined progressively by all those non-roster invitees and players on the roster that won’t be on the Opening Day roster.

So, it’s one more sleep until baseball…

And it’s all just beginning… once again…

Go Yankees!

The off-season is over, at least for pitchers & catchers…

Tuesday, pitchers and catchers invited to Spring Training camp reported for duty at the Yankees minor league campus in Tampa. Yesterday, they spent Valentine’s Day working out for the first time together this season, doing throwing and catching drills and starting this season right with a sense of team unity. For the last few days, people have lingered on the sidewalk outside the complex, fans on the right, media on the left, and players have showed up to chat with the media and sign for the fans periodically leading up to this week. Now that things are in full swing, the location has shifted from the smaller facilities (on Himes Ave.) to those at Steinbrenner Field, with limited fan viewing available for the daily workouts (free for anyone with the time).

But for the media, it means official press conferences and pictures that aren’t shot through the chain link fence. Tuesday was new manager Aaron Boone’s first official conference addressing the media, and as expected, most of the questions included how he will approach managing differently. Of course, it’s going to be different because Boone is a different person than his predecessor Girardi or his predecessor (and Boone’s own manager when he was last in pinstripes) Torre. And right now, not a single pitch has been thrown or home run hit or out made, so discussion of play, potential, or even approach is really a little premature. It takes a while for players to gel with each other, and gelling with an almost entirely new different coaching staff could also take some time. Best case scenario: all the kinks get worked out in Spring Training because that’s what it’s for.

Last November, Aaron Judge underwent shoulder surgery to remove excess and loose cartilage in his left shoulder (non-throwing) and has been rehabbing this off-season. According to a press conference Wednesday, Judge has been a frequent face around the minor league complex this off-season and is considered “right on schedule”, despite potentially missing the first few Spring Training games. Fortunately, the goal isn’t February 23 (the first Spring game) but rather March 29 (the first season game).

Meanwhile, other teammates have focused on their own aspects of prepping for 2018. Gary Sanchez spent the off-season refining his defensive skills, something of much discussion last year. Dellin Betances dropped some weight in hopes of being able to have a better 2018 than some of the lag he experienced in 2017. CC Sabathia also focused on his health, adopting a vegan diet, and hoping to build strength to combat lingering knee issues. And new Yankee Giancarlo Stanton used his social media to show #NoOffSeason in anticipation of becoming a Yankee this year.

Pitchers and catchers continue their daily workouts this week, as more fielders show up ahead of their check-in day Sunday (February 18), with the first full squad workout day this coming Monday. Meeting the team this year are an interesting group of guest instructors — veteran guests: Ron Guidry, Reggie Jackson, Lee Mazzilli, Stump Merrill, and Willie Randolph; and new(ish) guests: Tino Martinez, Hideki Matsui, Alfonso Soriano, Nick Swisher, Mark Teixeira, and Bernie Williams. I expect the Opening Day cheers to be intense as they see some of these fan favorites back in pinstripes and on the field during introductions.

Spring Training is just days away, and it’s already shaping up to be quite the adventure. One that I think we’re all hoping can translate into that elusive #28, the ultimate goal of every season, but one that is completely possible at this point in the year.

Go Yankees!

Note: I was setting up to work on this post yesterday when the news broke out of south Florida, just 270 miles (about 3.5-4 hours) southeast of Tampa. In light of the unfolding story, it didn’t feel right to preempt the news with baseball preparations and wishing people a “Happy Valentine’s Day”, when for far too many it will now never be a happy day. Instead, we remember those once again lost to mass shooting, our hearts and prayers with their families and friends. I hope I never have to delay a post for such an awful reason or write another of these postscripts. It is heartbreaking and disheartening. Parkland, we mourn with you and anticipate days when such terrible news is as rare as violent home plate collisions are now in baseball.

One week left of the off-season, tying up details

There is just one week until pitchers and catchers report to the Yankees minor league complex in Tampa. Though quite a few players (like Luis Severino coming off a great 2017 season) are already working out on the fields and in the cages, a great off-season perk for being part of the organization. With some recent departures, there are a handful of spots to be earned this Spring, including 2nd and 3rd base and a finalized starting rotation and bullpen.

The Yankees announced last week that they have finalized their coaching staff behind new manager Aaron Boone, filling out most of the staff with mostly familiar faces from the Yankees organization. Larry Rothschild, as we already knew, will return as the Yankees’ pitching coach, now joined by Mike Harkey as bullpen pitching coach, Marcus Thames as hitting coach, and Brett Weber as coaching assistant and MLB leading instant replay coordinator (currently sitting at 75% success rate). Yankees settled on Reggie Willits for their 1st base coach, Carlos Mendoza as quality control coach and infield instructor, P.J. Pilittere as assistant hitting coach, Jason Brown as catching coach, and Radley Haddad as coaching assistant and bullpen catcher. They also bring in two new faces in the form of new bench coach Josh Bard (former Dodgers’ bullpen coach) and new 3rd base coach Phil Nevin (former Giants’ minor league coach).

And Spring Training invitations have gone out to all 39 men currently on the 40-man roster, plus 20 non-roster invitees. And because there’s been quite a few departures and only a few big signings (Stanton sound familiar?), here’s a list for you to prep for the Spring. On the 40-man roster: pitchers Albert Abreu, Domingo Acevedo, Dellin Betances, Luis Cessa, Aroldis Chapman, Giovanny Gallegos, Domingo German, Sonny Gray, Chad Green, Ben Heller, Jonathan Holder, Tommy Kahnle, Jonathan Loaisiga, Jordan Montgomery, David Robertson, CC Sabathia, Luis Severino, Chasen Shreve, Masahiro Tanaka, and Adam Warren; catchers Kyle Higashioka, Austin Romine, and Gary Sanchez; infielders Miguel Andujar, Tyler Austin, Greg Bird, Thairo Estrada, Didi Gregorius, Gleyber Torres, and Ronald Torreyes; and outfielders Jabari Blash, Jake Cave, Jacoby Ellsbury, Clint Frazier, Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, Billy McKinney, and Giancarlo Stanton. Non roster invitees: pitchers Chance Adams, Cody Carroll, Cale Coshow, Raynel Espinal, J.P. Feyereisen, David Hale, Brady Lail, Wade LeBlanc, Justus Sheffield, Dillon Tate, and Taylor Widener; catchers Francisco Diaz, Erik Kratz, Chace Numata, and Jorge Saez; infielders Danny Espinosa, Kyle Holder, Jace Peterson, and Nick Solak; and outfielder Estevan Florial.

On a brief side note, free agent and last year’s part-time 3rd baseman Todd Frazier signed with the Mets this week. The Mets are fortunate to have a great veteran presence on the field and in the clubhouse. However, it is almost oddly fitting for the guy who triggered the “thumbs-down” movement last year come full circle. The fan who stood up and gave the thumbs-down sign at the make-up Yankees-Rays game last September (Gary) is a die-hard Mets fan, only attending the game because he was able to get cheap tickets to a ball game at CitiField. So now, Gary can “thumbs-up” Frazier at CitiField on a regular basis, but something tells me those two will keep the thumbs down as one of those trademark “you had to be there” things for a long time to come. Good luck, Frazier! See you at the Subway Series!

The Yankees lost a fan-favorite alumnus last week. Power-hitting outfielder Oscar Gamble played 7 seasons with the Yankees (1976, 1979-1984) towards the end of his 17 year career (1969-1985) as a professional ball player. Gamble helped the Yankees with their postseason attempts in 1976, 1980, and 1981 to bookend the brief “Bronx is Burning” dynasty era. He was nicknamed the “Big O” by Phil Rizzuto, another Yankee alumnus (and broadcaster, at that point) and was known for his large afro peeking out below his helmet and ball cap, though the infamous Steinbrenner grooming rules certainly tamed that hair for a bit in those late-70s. Despite no history of chewing tobacco, Gamble was diagnosed with a rare tumor of the jaw 9 years ago and underwent several removal surgeries over the years before it became aggressive just over a year ago and ultimately fatal last week. Our prayers and condolences go out to his many friends and his wife Lovell, and their sons Sean and Shane and daughter Sheena.

Again, we’re counting down the days until baseball starts again, and the Yankees have already shipped all their goods from the Bronx, making its way down I-95 towards Sunny Florida. Hopes are running high for this year, but they always do this early in the year. Because right now, anything really is possible. And isn’t that the greatest way to live life? On positivity, hope, and faith.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 34: NYY vs. PHI — Farewell to Spring! Bomber Alert!

So, the Yankees are closing out their Spring season on a distinctive upswing. After today’s game, they end the season with a record of 24-8-1, tying their best record in the modern era (post-expansion era, or 1962-present), which happened to be the Spring of 2009. And for trivia’s sake, let me take a moment to remind everyone that 2009 also happened to be the last time the Yankees won the World Series, after an amazing season of 103 regular season wins. Not that a good Spring is ever a clear indication of how a regular season will unfold, but allow us all to savor the loose connection and hope for a moment.

{Note: technically, the Yankees did win 25 games this Spring. But the game against Team Canada wasn’t an official Spring Training game and thus doesn’t count towards the official statistics. So, read into that what you want.}

This afternoon, the Yankees traveled back across Tampa Bay to close out their Spring with the Phillies, effectively bookending their Spring in Clearwater this year. And it was Luis Severino to show off why he will be an asset to this team this year, something he did quite successfully too.

Severino’s 1st inning was a bit of a struggle. The lead-off batter walked, moved to 2nd on a 1-out single, and then scored on another single. Despite loading up the bases a bit later, Severino got out of the inning without further harm, before proceeding to shut down the next 9 batters (or 10 outs in a row). Even with runners in scoring position allowed in the 5th, Severino still worked his way out of trouble to keep the Phillies from adding to their score.

And then all 4 relievers followed suit. Warren, Clippard, Marsh, and Frare all took an inning to breeze through the Phillies’ lineup and shut them down rather effectively. In total, the Yankees’ pitching staff turned out an impressive 10 strike outs for a nice statistic this afternoon.

The Phillies’ pitching staff had a less-than-stellar afternoon, much to the favor of the Yankees’ offense. And like they’ve been doing all Spring, the Yankees saw their opportunity and pounced. So, they racked up 13 hits and 5 walks in total off Phillies’ pitchers today. And most of that was in the 1st inning. A very messy, 49 minute 1st inning. (Yes, it beat Tuesday night’s messy 1st inning by 2 minutes longer in length.)

Here’s how the Yankees won in the 1st inning: Ellsbury led-off with a single and then ended up at 3rd on Bird’s 1-out walk and a throwing error. Ellsbury then scored on Aaron Judge’s 2-out single. After Hicks’ walk loaded the bases, Ronald Torreyes’ single scored 2 runs. A passed ball moved runners to scoring position so that they could both score on Rob Refsnyder’s single. The Phillies decided their starter had enough and couldn’t get that 3rd out, so they went to their bullpen. It didn’t help them. After Kozma’s single, back at the top of the roster, Ellsbury singled and scored Refsnyder and Kozma ended up at 3rd after a rundown went awry thanks to fielder’s interference. And then it would be Gary Sanchez to hit his 5th home run of the Spring, a sharp 3-run home run to push the score into double digits. Bird walked again, but a ground out mercifully ended the inning after 13 Yankee batters.

Oh, but the Yankees weren’t done yet. With 1 out and Hicks on base with a single in the 2nd, Ronald Torreyes hit a big 2-run home run to continue the Yankee dominance this afternoon. In the 6th, with 1 out and another reliever on the mound, young prospect Ford doubled and then scored on Chris Carter’s ground-rule double. McKinney came on to pinch-run for Carter only to end up scoring as part of Rashad Crawford’s 2-run home run to cap off the Yankees’ offensive show this afternoon.

Final score: 14-1 Yankees

And we have a final roster. Before the game, the Yankees optioned Rob Refsnyder to AAA Scranton, which leaves Ronald Torreyes and Pete Kozma for infield utility on the 25-man roster. This works because Kozma and Torreyes can play 2nd, 3rd, and shortstop all fairly well to help platoon the infield. And it will be Aaron Judge in right field on Opening Day, and Luis Severino as the Yankees’ 4th starter. This also works because Aaron Hicks can platoon at any position in the outfield, and Severino clearly outperformed all the other possible pitchers for the 4th and 5th starting spot this Spring. (Here’s a depth chart to help give you some idea of who’s playing what base and who’s their back-up as of today.)

It looks like it could be a pretty good season. The Yankees travel to Atlanta to play in an exhibition game tomorrow night. The game will help inaugurate the Braves’ new stadium on the north end of the Atlanta area. All you Turner Field devotees, no worries, Atlanta isn’t getting rid of the Olympic landmark just yet. They plan on using it for college games, concerts, and special local events. Much like Yankee Stadium when the Yankees aren’t in town, so a good use of an existing stadium.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 33: NYY vs. TOR — The “youth movement” continues

So, apparently, today is the day when everyone submits their prediction for the 2017 season. Like making lists as to where everyone will end up in the standing all the way up to picking the postseason awards (like Rookie of the Year and MVP) to a postseason bracket prediction. I’ve read seven today alone, and they couldn’t be any further apart. The only thing everyone seemed to agree on was that the Yankees weren’t going to do much this year. While I am cautiously optimistic about the Yankees chances in the postseason, I just got to wonder if these people have seen the Yankees play at all this Spring.

I mean, the Yankees are closing out the Spring on the very top of the standings, and I am aware that sometimes that’s not a great foundation for how the season will turn out. But to completely write them off seems rather dismal and unrealistic. Not that I expect much from the talking heads. With some very few exceptions, the Yankees tend to be the team every non-Yankee fan seems to love to beat up on or spew negative thoughts upon. They didn’t call Yankee Universe the “Evil Empire” for nothing, right?

Anyway, today, the Yankees traveled to Dunedin to play the Blue Jays, and it was Jordan Montgomery’s last chance to show off his stuff this Spring. And show off, he did. The young pitcher went 5 innings, giving up 6 hits and a walk, and striking out 4 Toronto batters. And his lone allowed run came in the 4th inning. A lead-off ground-rule double moved to 3rd on a single, and then scored on a 1-out single. But between his defense and some good pitching, he got out another threat, something he did nearly every inning.

Ben Heller sailed through the 6th and 7th with minimal threats, and Chasen Shreve’s 8th inning allowed only a single baserunner. After Shreve gave up a single in the 9th, Graham quickly shut things down in 2 batters, thanks to a snazzy double play to end the game.

The Yankees’ offense was limited by the Blue Jays’ pitching staff, but they got in enough to make a difference. In the 2nd, Starlin Castro hit a beautiful 1-out triple and then scored on Aaron Judge’s big single to start the scoring and give the Yankees the early lead.

And in the 5th, Hicks and Judge worked a walk and a single and then pulled off a double steal to put themselves in scoring position just to make things interesting for the new reliever. Romine’s single scored Hicks and put runners in the corners. After a pop-out, Brett Gardner singled and scored Judge, but then Gardner and Romine ended up in scoring position thanks to a throwing error. After Headley’s walk, the bases were loaded, but this opportunity to further their lead ended after a quick infield pop-up and strike out.

Honestly, the pitching staffs today were fairly even matched, getting nearly the same statistics for their overall day. So the difference was the minute opportunities taken at the most opportune times. And you know, scoring runs.

Final score: 3-1 Yankees

Roster moves and news: It looks like some decisions have been made as to who’s going to make the team this year. Infield hopeful Tyler Wade and catcher Kyle Higashioka were sent back to minor league camp before today’s game. Which means that the battle for infielder seems set on Ronald Torreyes making the team as Gregorius’ replacement, and the extra infielder is down to Pete Kozma and Rob Refsnyder.

And in an unexpected turn of events, the Battle of the Aarons might go to Aaron Hicks, who’s had a fantastic Spring. Girardi mentioned that he’s considering sending Aaron Judge to start the season in Scranton just so the young outfielder could play every day.

Finally, the Yankees still haven’t named a 4th or 5th starter. But they won’t do the latter until they need one on April 16 (thanks to a scheduled filled with off-days). This means they’ll be carrying 8 relievers until then. And recent conversations have indicated that Luis Severino would be a starter, but he might be doing so in Scranton to start the season. In other words, they like his stuff, but they want him to get more starts than he might get as part of the major league team.

All of this stuff makes me glad it’s not my job to make those decisions. All those people I hear chattering away in the stands about how they think Cashman (or usually Girardi) should play this guy or get rid of this other guy make me just shake my head. It’s easy to be an armchair coach or message board manager when no one’s job or career is really on the line. There’s also all sorts of contract details and specific reasons as to why every decision is made. Do I always agree with it? No. Do they always agree with it? No. But you learn from your bad decisions and your good, and you grow and make better decisions in the future.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: limited video availability today. Hope you enjoy the 2 I included. Just hold on until the season, and they’ll be many more to view.}

Spring Game 32: DET vs. NYY — Tanaka falters start at home Spring closer

The Spring isn’t over yet. There’s still 2 more away games and that exhibition in Atlanta to open their new stadium before the 2017 baseball season officially begins on Sunday. But tonight was the last game at Steinbrenner Field. It’s always a bit bittersweet, and it usually comes too soon.

After a flawless Spring, Masahiro Tanaka proved he was human once again with a rather flawed start against the visiting Tigers. In his 5 innings, it would be his 1st that would be the big black mark on an otherwise perfect Spring. Coming into tonight’s game, batters were scoreless against the Yankees’ ace, and even after tonight’s game, he’s still got an ERA of 0.38 (meaning he doesn’t let runners score while he’s on the mound). He gave up just 3 hits and 2 walks, striking out 6 batters in the process.

Despite taking full responsibility for his pitching being “all over” tonight, it really wasn’t all his fault. In the 1st inning, the lead-off batter singled and then scored quickly on a double. The next batter reached 1st on a fielding error before Tanaka got his first out, a strikeout. He walked the next batter, and on a throwing error, the lead runner scored. Tanaka got it together and closed things out with 2 consecutive outs.

The Yankees answered back with their own long-half inning in the bottom of that 1st inning (which would stretch out to 47 minutes total for just the 1st). Gardner, Sanchez, and Bird worked consecutive walks to lead-off the inning and load the bases. One out later, Jacoby Ellsbury hit into ground out, moving all the runners up and scoring Gardner to get the Yankees on the board.

Then with Tanaka (and the rest of the team) finding a better momentum, things moved at quite the pace for the next few innings. It was on to Dellin Betances for the 6th inning. Betances gave up a double to lead-off the inning, only to follow that up with a big 2-run homer to double the Tigers’ score. Betances then got it together and got 3 consecutive strikeouts. Holder followed him in the 7th, breezing through the Tigers’ roster.

The Yankees sliced into the Tigers’ lead in the bottom of the 7th, as Aaron Judge led-off with a monster solo shot straight up center field. Wade then hit a nice 1-out single and ended up on 3rd thanks to a fielding error. He immediately scored on Rob Refsnyder’s long sacrifice fly.

The 1-run difference didn’t last long. Frieri came on in relief in the 8th, and after 2 quick outs, had some trouble getting out of the inning. He gave up a walk, a stolen base, and then a solid 2-run home run. JP Feyereisen came on in the 9th and threw a beautiful inning, adding 2 more strikeouts to the Yankees’ total of 14 tonight (compared to the Tigers’ total of 4).

Games are counted by strikeouts, but by runs. And despite their best efforts, post-1st-inning, the Yankees just couldn’t come back and pull it off in the end. Even with a post-game fireworks show to tempt them.

Final score: 6-3 Tigers

Okay, final Player of the Game: I’m giving it to JP Feyereisen tonight. Feyereisen has been actually pretty stellar Spring as a non-roster invitee. He came to the Yankees organization as part of the Andrew Miller trade last July (which included Heller, Frazier, and Sheffield), and has made quite a name for himself this Spring. In his 6 games, he’s thrown 6.1 innings, given up just 3 hits, 3 walks, and 2 runs (both homers), and struck out 9 batters. Batters have a .143 batting average off him, and he currently holds a 2.84 ERA (which is outstanding for any pitcher, but great for a reliever with so few innings pitched). Tonight was no exception, just continuing the young pitcher’s show of force and making him worth remembering.

Okay, so I have to share one very funny Yankees OnDemand video that showed up on my news feed today. Just a quick clip of Brett Gardner and Greg Bird, in the wild. (I’ve watched it like five times already, so enjoy!)

Go Yankees!

{Media Note: Yep, no broadcast tonight, so no video clips available. Sorry, folks! Once the regular season starts, it’ll be clips galore!}