"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: March 2023

And So It Begins…

And just like that, here we are again. I’ve written about this many times here, but I still haven’t gotten used to how quickly the season rolls back around again. When I was a boy, the stretch of time between October and April was interminable. I was interested in football and basketball, but really just as placeholders for my true love. Long before the James Earl Jones soliloquy, baseball was marking the time for me.

In December and January I would catch an article in the sports section about a trade or a free agent signing, in March I’d begin to see baseball cards and preview magazines in the grocery store, and then finally, at long last, there would be baseball. Back then it would likely be weeks before I might get to see a Yankee game on television out here in California, but just knowing that my heroes were back playing in the Bronx was enough. The boxscores that popped up in the morning paper were the daffodils in my flower bed; signs of spring signaling the end of a long, cold winter.

Things are different now. After fifty-three trips around the sun, each orbit seems shorter than the last, so last season’s exploits are still fresh. Aaron Judge’s 62nd home run seems to have just landed, and the team’s eventual (and disturbingly annual) demise at the hands of the Houston Astros couldn’t have been more than a month ago.

But even if I haven’t been counting the days through a long off-season, today is no less exciting, because today we have baseball. Today we’ll see Aaron Judge take his first swings, and wouldn’t it be great if he picked up where he left off and launched a ball deep into the left field stands? We’ll watch as Gerrit Cole takes the mound, and wouldn’t it be comforting if he threw seven shutout innings and struck out twelve?

Oh, and we’ve got the added fun of watching a young kid at shortstop, the team’s top prospect and the jewel of the organization. As hard as it is for me to believe, it was almost three decades ago that Derek Jeter opened his rookie season as the starting shortstop in the spring of 1996, and today we’ll get to watch Anthony Volpe. It isn’t fair to compare him to one of the greatest ever to wear the pinstripes, but this is what we do. This is the way.

We can’t possibly know what the next six months will bring, but today brings baseball, and that’s always enough.

The Eternal Hope

If it’s true that hope springs eternal, we can agree that no hope springs as eternal as the hope of spring training.

Can it possibly be that the season starts this week? The biblical rains out here in Southern California have pushed the spring so far from my mind that I only just now realized that the vernal equinox has come and gone, so how can Opening Day be only four days away?

If you’ve been paying attention to the Yankees through February and March, you no doubt enjoyed the spring tease of Jasson Domínguez. With Harrison Bader set to begin the season on the injured list (more on that crowded room in a bit), there was part of me that hoped the Yankees would take a page from the Atlanta Braves’ book and just give the centerfield job to the young phenom, but I knew that would never happen. Sending the Martian back to the minors for another year of development was obviously the right move, but it wasn’t the exciting one.

Speaking of minor leaguers with potential, where do you come down on the Oswald Peraza vs. Anthony Volpe debate? After his successful September stint last season, most observers assumed that Peraza would emerge as the starting shortstop this spring, but then the Yankees let it slip that Volpe, the organization’s top prospect (and the #5 overall according to MLB Pipeline) would be part of a competition that would also include last year’s starter, Isaiah Kiner-Falefa.

Our friend IKF quickly became an afterthought — he’ll be on the roster, but likely as a super-utilityman — and the battle currently comes down to the 22-year-old Peraza and the 21-year-old Volpe. To call it a battle at this point, however, is a bit generous. Peraza has struggled while Volpe has starred, currently hitting .314 with a gaudy 1.064 OPS and five stolen bases over 51 spring training at bats.

If Volpe were 24 instead of 21, this wouldn’t even be a conversation, but some worry that pushing a prospect to the Bronx after only 89 AAA at bats could be a problem. Brendan Kuty and Chris Kirschner debate the competition in the Athletic and include this statement regarding the possible pitfalls of choosing Volpe over Peraza: “If Volpe fails early, the team will face ridicule for promoting him too soon.”

That seems ridiculous to me. There’s obviously no guarantee that Volpe will enjoy the same success in April and May as he has in March, but there’s also no reason not to give him the chance. I’m sorry that I’m about to be the thousandth person you know to point this out, but we’re talking about an organization that passed on a parade of all-star (and a couple Hall of Fame) shortstops that were available through trade or free agency precisely because Anthony Volpe was waiting in the wings. They also refused to include him in trades that would’ve bolstered last season’s playoff run. If they really think that highly of him, and since he’s spent the past month living up to that hype, he should be the starting shortstop this Thursday afternoon.

But wouldn’t it be nice if that were the only story worth talking about? Sadly, the Yankees could probably pull 72-year-old Mario Mendoza out of retirement and give him the shortstop job, and the team’s biggest concern would still be the starting rotation. Once the clear strength of the team and one of the best rotations in baseball, the Yankees’ projected starting five of Gerrit Cole, Carlos Rodon, Luís Severino, Nestor Cortés, and Frankie Montas might never materialize. Rodon, Severino, and Montas will all begin the season on the IL, leaving Cole and Cortés to head a group that will also include Clarke Schmidt, Domingo Germán, and someone else. To quote a former manager, it’s not what you want.

But who knows? Maybe Aaron Judge will hit another 62 home runs, Giancarlo Stanton will play 145 games, Aaron Hicks will turn the clock back to 2018, D.J. LeMahieu will look like he did in 2020, and Josh Donaldson will prove that last season was an aberration. If all that happens, the rotation concerns won’t matter as much, will they? It’s spring, right? When else can we be so hopeful?

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