"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Get Your Phil of Hughes Puns

[Note: I wrote this post Tuesday afternoon. Since then I’ve heard a rumor that the Yankees played the Devil Rays, but I am dismissing it as mere hearsay. I suggest you do the same.]

Spring is a time of hope and renewal. And allergies, but never mind. It’s a gorgeous day, and I refuse to ruin it by dwelling on the state of the Yankees’ pitching over the course of the last few days. Er, weeks. Moving on! I’m not here, as they say, to talk about the past.
Let’s talk about the immediate future instead: an obscure, unheralded minor leaguer flying under everybody’s radar by the name of Phil Hughes. Hey, you know you weren’t going to talk about anything else today anyway.

I’ve been in the minority, I think, in that I wasn’t opposed to leaving Hughes in AAA Dunder-Mifflin a while longer; I thought it made sense to go carefully with him, and build up his innings, arm, and confidence — that was the Yanks’ original plan, and I can only assume they had their reasons for it. After all, it’s still only April, the guy can’t even drink legally (which certainly must have made it tough to watch these last few games), and he didn’t look quite ready for the bigs in spring training – though, for what it’s worth, Alex Rodriguez didn’t look quite ready to shatter every existing offensive record for the month of April, either. Regardless, when I heard Hughes was starting Thursday, it took me all of three seconds to decide to buy a ticket.

Normally when I go to the Stadium I sit in the bleachers, or the far reaches of the upper deck (don’t get me started on Yankee Stadium ticket prices). This time, though, I figured if I was going to be there, I might as well spring for a semi-decent seat. I imagine I’ll tell my children one day that I watched Phil Hughes’ very first major league start. I also imagine I’ll be telling them this by way of explaining why we don’t have the money to buy new shoes or turn the heat up, but what the hell.

I am a little worried. Expectations are stratospheric. I believe Hughes is the real deal, but many highly touted prospects never do make it in the majors, for reasons no one completely understands (although obviously one, two, or even twenty sub-par starts won’t mean that’s the case here). Expecting a guy in his first ever trip to the big leagues to not only pitch well, but also go deep, against a tough Toronto lineup, is asking a lot.

That said, I’m not particularly worried about his lack of AAA experience; it doesn’t seem to matter much, as demonstrated most recently by the performance this season of Mets reliever Joe Smith, who was in college less than a year ago and has yet to allow a run in 11 appearances. I also don’t see how making a few starts up here while the rotation scrapes itself off the DL would hurt his long-term health — my understanding is that it’s his season-long workload that’s the (potential) issue. Plus there’s the fact that the longer they wait to bring him up, the more the pressure will build. Maybe it’s best, after all, to get that first major-league start out of the way while it’s still early, before each game feels so freighted with importance, in a non-nationally televised contest with the Blue Jays (who, no matter how good they are in a given year, somehow just never manage to come across as legitimate rivals. Why is that? Give me your best cheap Canadian jokes).

So I’m psyched, but let’s try to stay realistic. It would be nice if Hughes could feed the whole stadium with just 20 kosher hot dogs and heal Carl Pavano with a laying-on of hands . . . but I’ll settle for six full innings.

Bonus Discussion Point: Let’s see if we can call the eventual Daily News/NY Post next-day headlines: Phil it Up? Hughes Your Daddy? The Post on Tuesday went with “Hughes Da Man For Rotation,” which strikes me as a bit of a stretch, while the Daily News disappointingly used merely “Panic!” instead of my dark horse pick, “Panic! At The Disco.”

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver