The 2009 Yankees: Tradition Reborn
The 2009 New York Yankees are a different team than what Yankees fans have grown accustom to in recent years. This group of players seems to have a bond that is reminiscent of the teams managed by Joe Torre that won multiple World Series, something that has been missing in the Yankees the past few years.
The reason starts with the additions of Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and most importantly Nick Swisher. All four players have been known in baseball circles as great teammates and “team first” guys. Swisher is the ultimate teammate and the ring leader. When he was acquired by the Yankees in the off season from the White Sox many baseball pundents thought the Yankees were replacing Jason Giambi with him, but when the Yankees added “ Tex ”, Swisher was a player without a position.
In spring training, he won a position battle with Hideki Matsui (as the DH) and an everyday spot in right field after Xavier Nady went down with an elbow injury. His style of play quickly won over Yankees fans and teammates a like making him a fan favorite, but his biggest impact has been in the locker room with his presence and leadership. He has quickly become a leader amongst the likes of Yankee captain Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Alex Rodriguez.
Sabathia’s signing was not a surprise to anyone who follows baseball because of the Yankees poor pitching in 2008. When he signed his 7 year 161 million dollar deal the expectations went through the roof for C.C. and what he would bring on the mound, but maybe his biggest impact has been in the locker room. Bob Uecker said on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball that “C.C. is the nicest guy I have ever met in baseball”; he went on to say he (Sabathia) was a huge influence in the Brewers locker room.
Sabathia had started off slow, but he has done that the past few years, but now seems to have picked up where he left off in Milwaukee where he was the best pitcher in baseball last year. He has been the front line, big time starter that goes deep into games, a need for the Yankees the past few seasons. I think he will only get better as the season goes on.
A.J. Burnett has matured a ton since his days as a Florida Marlin. While playing for Toronto he learned a lot from Blue Jays ace Roy “Doc” Halladay. “Doc” showed him how to spot his breaking ball, take something off his 95 mph fastball while spotting it and remain effective late in games but more importantly, he showed him how to pitch. In Florida , Burnett was known to look at the scoreboard after every pitch to see how hard he threw (sometimes reaching triple digits). Burnett has matured to become one of the Yankees club house clowns and leader of the cream towel crew.
Teixeira has been everything the Yankees front office, teammates and fans have expected and more. After a slow start at the plate he has become the hottest hitter in baseball since May 8th (the same day A-Rod returned to the line up) leading the AL in homeruns and hitting well above .300. He also has been stellar in the field, playing at a Gold Glove caliber level all year. He has saved countless errors by diving and digging out poorly thrown balls as well as robbing opponents of extra base hits.
“ Tex ’s” personality has also rubbed off on his teammates. His signature moment happened while playing against the Texas Rangers at the new Yankee Stadium in early June. He was drilled twice by former teammate Vincente Padilla, the second time in the right shoulder. Teixeira went to first base and the next batter took out Elvis Andrus breaking up the double play and soon thereafter a three run home run by Matsui gave the Yankees the lead. When Nelson Cruz came to hit later in the game, Burnett threw at Cruz to let the Rangers (and any other teams watching) know that the Yankees are a band of brothers who have one another’s back.
The aforementioned players are not the only reason the Yankees are having a great start to the 2009 season. Robinson Cano’s play is back to All-Star form after a sub-par 2008. Cano was over aggressive and impatient last year, which made him off balance at the dish, but he seemed to have reverted back to his old strategy of patience and hitting the ball where it is pitched. Cano entered tonight (June 19th) hitting .328 with 12 HR and 42 RBI, not to mention playing a very solid defensive second base.
What can you say about Derek Jeter? He is one of the most consistent players ever and could be the greatest Yankee shortstop of all-time. He will go down as the Yankees all-time leading hitter (possibly by the end of this season) and the ultimate leader (on and off the field). He is one player that has NEVER been linked to any type of scandal, yet he continues to play at a level very few have ever played at.
Alex Rodriguez came into this season with various scandals over his head, and not to mention his hip surgery. The steroid scandal rocked the sports world, MLB and the Yankees organization, but I firmly believe that it brought this club closer together. When his teammates came out to support him when he arrived in Tampa for spring training, you could see the emotion on his face. You could see he had a burden lifted off his shoulders and he could now “just be a baseball player”. His teammates support (and even protection in some cases) seems to have given Rodriguez a new energy.
A-Rod will always be a “lightning rod for controversy” for various reasons (his contract, personal life and lack of a World Series title to name a few reasons), but he is human. His biggest flaw is he tries to please everyone (or so I have been told) for whatever reason, and only God and Alex knows why, but this I know, what he can do on a baseball field only a few men have done it better.
The Yankees also have a great supporting cast of players that have came up big so far this season, Posada, Rivera, Joba Chamberlain (who looks to have turned the corner and is becoming a dominant pitcher), Melky Cabrera, Johnny Damon, Brett Gardner, Ramiro Pena and Francisco Cervelli to name a few. I don’t mean to short change them (and others not mentioned) for what they have done, because I can go on and on (especially about Damon, Joba, Rivera and Melky) about their accomplishments thus far.
The “old” Yankee stadium will be (and is) missed. Much can (and should) be said about the “new” Yankee stadium and how often balls fly out for home runs, or how many times the Yankees can come from behind to win a game there or how it is the crown jewel of stadiums in Major League Baseball, but one thing will remain the same, the Yankee tradition. A tradition of winning (26 time champions), Hall of Famers and Legends. This 2009 team has the makings of a team of destiny….a destiny which could include a 27th world title.
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