Monday, April 23, 2012

The Yankees Win; I Lose

The Associated Press
Good afternoon fanatics! I'm sure that you are all feeling pretty good today, going back to work and bragging to anyone who will listen about how the Yankees just completely embarrassed the Red Sox this weekend. I'm sure that you are all gloating over what must have been every Red Sox fan's worst nightmare. Well, good for you; I wish that I could join in on the bragging and gloating, but I'm still too upset about the fact that I missed Saturday's game.

Yes, I was not at home when Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira went on an absolute tear in late innings to bring the Yankees back from being down 7-0, to winning 15-9. On Saturday, I took a trip with family and friends to Atlantic City. So I, completely forgetting that the game would be broadcast on FOX, did not employ the use of my DVR; I thought I could watch the encore on the YES Network. Bummer.

And to be completely honest, I wasn't going to watch the encore, as I caught a short part of the early innings via a sports bar in the Bally's Wild, Wild West Casino. At that time, the Yankees were down 6-0, and I was convinced that they had given that one away. You can imagine my shock when, on the bus coming back home, my cousin Hector--an even bigger Yankee fan than I am--screamed from his seat behind me, "Oh s*** Rasheeda, the Yankees came back and won that game. They beat Boston 15-9!" He was catching updates from the game on his cell phone.

So, I'm not going to go over what happened, or give you guys stats. I could easily go to and get all that info, but I don't feel like doing that. Sorry, but I'm selfish that way. I'm mad as hell at myself for not paying better attention to the programming schedule. This could end up being the biggest game for the Yankees this year; a turning point that inspires a lot of winning, and the best I could get out of it were a couple of highlights on ESPN. I promise you fanatics, this will never happen again.

The Associated Press
But I would like to say a few words about Swish and Tex. Both of these guys are stepping up big time and, while it's exciting for us Yankee fans, it's also somewhat bittersweet. There is a huge possibility that this could be Swish's last hoorah with the Yankees. He's in a contract year, and the Yankees will make cuts in order to keep both Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson on the payroll, while keeping it to $189 million or less. ESPN's Buster Olney pointed out last night that the Yankees have some promising outfielders in their farm system and are a team that likes to bring up their young talent. So Swish could very well be on his way out at the end of the season. If the Yankees are considering letting him go, what could only help his case to stay would be to have a fantastic post-season, assuming the Yankees make it in. Swish is batting .283 with 4 home runs and is leading the team with a whopping 20 RBIs.

Getty Images
And it is refreshing to finally see Tex have a great April. It was slow goings for him during the first week of the season, but he's managed to turn that all around. I said in Yankees 2012 Season: Five Areas for Success that in order for this team to win the AL East, one thing that had to happen was getting more production from Tex. So far, he's batting .288 with three home runs, and is third on the team in RBIs with 11. Hopefully, he keeps this going and can find a way to extend his production into the postseason also.

Follow Rasheeda Cooper on twitter: @ra_cooper

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Grand Finale

I know it's still very early, but in my opinion, last night's game was a must win for the Yankees. I say that because the pitching and offense have been somewhat sluggish thus far this season, and to have the Minnesota Twins, a team that the Yankees knock around like cats do mice take a four-game series, could have induced some mental doubt; something that may have affected them going into tonight's series against the Red Sox.
Granderson inset - AP photo

So, the Yankees did what they needed to do. The "Big Bats" went to work and simply out-slugged the Twins for the win. Curtis Granderson put on his own version of the "Laser Show" with three home runs last night--two solos and a two-run shot for four RBIs. He would go 5-for-5, adding in two singles. None of Minnesota's pitches were safe from Grandy. His first two homers came off of 93 and 90 mph fastballs from Anthony Swarzak. The third home run pitch was an 88 mph changeup from Jeff Gray. The singles came on an 84 mph slider and 96 mph four-seamer from Alex Burnett and Glen Perkins, respectively. Grandy now leads the team with 6 homers and 14 runs. He's second behind Derek Jeter in RBIs with 10.

Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Raul Ibanez had a good night as well. Tex went 2-for-4 with a two-run shot in the first which put the Yankees one run behind the Twins, who had already scored four runs. A-Rod hit singles in the first and second innings and Ibanez added singles in the third and seventh. Speaking of Alex, he seems to be slowly making his way out of the slump he's been in; hopefully home runs will ensue. He seemed a little less antsy at the plate last night and more focused on putting balls in play instead of trying to drive them for home runs. And Ibanez has looked excellent of late, going 7-for-16 in his last 4 games.

The Associated Press
A somewhat disappointing start for Phil Hughes, however, although the offense allowed him to get his first win of the season. He went 5.1 innings, giving up six hits and allowing 2 earned runs. As I mentioned, the Twins knocked in four runs off of him in the first inning, two of which came on an error by Eduardo Nunez. Regardless, Hughes still has not figured out how to put batters away when he's ahead in the count, as he continues to rack up his pitch count in early innings. What has looked great in all of his starts, has been the movement and placement of his changeup.

And just a little note on The Captain, Jeter went 1-for-5 last night, and has hit safely in 10 straight games. He's batting .373. Nice.

In a few, our boys head up to Fenway Park to meet the Red Sox on what is the park's 100th birthday. I could care less about all the ceremonies taking place; I just want the Yankees to put Boston into further misery, as they are 4-8 to start the season. There are reports of dissention in the ranks; Bobby Valentine is not playing nice with some of his superstars. Let's see how long this lasts. Ivan Nova gets the start against Clay Buccholz.

Follow Rasheeda Cooper on twitter: @ra_cooper

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Yankees Back On Track; Beat Twins 8-3

Associated Press
Good morning fanatics! I've been asleep at the wheel, having not posted anything on our beloved boys in blue since last Friday. It's been a busy few days for me, and while I love bringing you guys all the news you can use, I know that my fellow Yankee bloggers have given you all plenty to digest until my return. I have a feeling that there will be a post coming soon inviting all you great writers out there to apply to write here at Bomber Boulevard; I simply can't keep daily entries coming by myself. So all you aspiring Yankee bloggers, look out for it.

In just a small recap, the Yankees won their series against the Angels, taking Games 1 and 2 on Friday and Sunday. They started their series against our favorite team to beat--the Minnesota Twins--on Monday, continuing with Game 3 tonight at the stadium. Game 1 was a wash for our boys, as Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau went a combined 5-of-9 to lead the Twins to a 7-3 vistory.

Getty Images
But of course, the Yankees did what they always do to Minnesota: lull them into a false sense of security and give them hope that maybe they've gotten over the Yankee hump. But that's never quite the case, and it wasn't last night in Game 2 as the Yankees had a big comeback, beating Minnesota 8-3. CC Sabathia got the start and struggled in the third inning, but managed to regain his ace-like form for his first win. CC went 7.1 innings with seven strikeouts, four hits, a walk and only three runs. He mixed his fastball and slider for strikes; the FB reaching a speed of 93 mph.

Chris Stewart, who gave Russell Martin a needed day off behind the plate, also came up big for the Yankees, and backed up CC in that shaky third inning. The Twins had just taken a 3-1 lead; the team seeming to respond to the ejections of manager Ron Gardenhire and right-fielder Denard Span, both of whom argued balls and strikes with the umpire. Thankfully the offense was able to stop the Twins' momentum. Following an RBI single from Eduardo Nunez that scored Andruw Jones, Stewart hit a line-drive double to score Nunez and Curtis Granderson. Granderson had been on with a single to right.

The Yankee offense had a great night. The bottom of the lineup--Nunez, Stewart and Brett Gardner--combined for a 6-for-10 night with 5 RBIs; hitters 1thru 6--Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Jones and Granderson--went 7-for-26 with 3 RBIs. The hits total might have fared better had A-Rod not come up empty in last night's game. His stats don't say so, but he is actually hitting very well, connecting on line-drives, but he's hitting directly at the outfielders. Hopefully, he'll start hitting balls in the gap and revert those line-drives to home runs.

Associated Press
And can I just say that The Captain is once again defying the laws of age, and seems on his way to another monster offensive season. Jeter is hitting everything that is coming his way and is tied with Grandy for the club lead in homers at three. He's also leading the team in slugging with a .633 percentage, and hits with 18. As great a hitter as Jeter is, a batting title has eluded him his entire career. Could this be the year? Only time can tell, fanatics. I personally will be adding a request that it does to my prayers.

Tonight, Hiroki Kuroda gets the start against righty jason Marquis.

Follow Rasheeda Cooper on twitter: @ra_cooper

Saturday, April 14, 2012

What A Home Opener Should Be

Getty Images
A Friday afternoon in the city. Sixty-five degrees under bright, sunny skies. A capacity crowd at the stadium. A beloved member of The Core Four throwing out the first pitch. And the afternoon capped off by a 5-0 shutout of the Angels. The Yankees made my day yesterday. *Curses* to not being at the stadium!

Jorge Posada, returning to the stadium to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, was a great moment. It was odd seeing him run out their in "civilian" clothes, though; just made it even more apparent that he would no longer be out their playing in pinstripes. I loved that he was able to throw the ball to his dad, the man whom he credits for making him such a great baseball player. And it was nice how the team stood behind him while he was on the mound. They'll never forget everything Jorge did for the team, and I'm sure yesterday will rank high on his list of great Yankee memories.

Getty Images
So I guess all Alex Rodriguez needed was to get a whiff of the air in the Bronx. After a five-game slump, he came out blazing in yesterday's game, going 3-for-4 with two singles and his 630th home run. He also threw in a stolen base for good measure. Alex is now tied with Ken Griffey, Jr. for 5th place on the all-time home run list, and needs 30 more to tie Willie Mays for 4th place. I think he can get that done this year; last season was the first in 14 that he didn't reach the 30 homer mark, and regardless of how bad the season played out for him, I'm not ready to give up hope that A-Rod can still put up big power numbers.

And how about Nick Swisher? He's been coming up with big hits for the Yankees, and today, his three-run, base-clearing double in the first inning proved to be the game winner. Swish has been seeing the ball really well, and is looking good at the plate; he's not swinging at too many pitches out of the zone and is fouling off balls pitched inside. I'm expecting him to have a season comparable to 2010; this is a contract year for Swish and with his name having been bounced around in trade talk for the prior two seasons, it's a no-brainer that he'll have to show the organization why he's more valuable to them than not.

Getty Images
But today's game was really about Hiroki Kuroda. He pitched 8+ innings of shutout ball, allowing just five hits and  two walks while striking out six. He showed all four of his pitches--fastball, slider, sinker and curveball--mixing speeds anywhere from 78 to 93 mph. He had great command throughout the game, and showed a steady demeanor for a pitcher making his debut at the stadium. It was nice to see him bounce back from his shaky start in Tampa Bay.

And Curtis Granderson hit his second homer of the season; a line drive over the porch in right field that barely looked like a double at the point of contact. Grandy started Opening Week slow, but has picked up the pace rather nicely in the last few games.

Today, Phil Hughes gets his second start and will face CJ Wilson. There are two things I'm hoping will happen: Wilson doesn't make the Yankees regret not signing him in the offseason, and A-Rod and Albert Pujols go toe-to-toe in a match-up of the active home run leader versus his heir apparent. Today's game starts at 1pm on FOX.

Follow Rasheeda Cooper on twitter: @ra_cooper

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Swish Secures Yankees Sweep of Orioles

Getty Images
Nick Swisher saved what would have been a terrible loss for the Yankees, smashing a two-run home run in the top of the tenth inning of a 4-4 tie against Baltimore. The Yankees would go on to win 6-4, completing a sweep of the O's and bringing their record to 3-3. Last night's game was another nail-biter, as both teams went extra innings for the second night in a row. Swisher's home run followed a double by Mark Teixeira with two men out.

The Yankees were off to a great start in the first inning with Derek Jeter hitting a double and Curtis Granderson following with a monster two-run homer that made its way on to Baltimore's Eutaw Street. CC Sabathia pitched a stellar first, going 1-2-3 on just 12 pitches mixing his slider and sinker for strikes, and was able to get his four-seamer up to 92 mph.

But CC struggled afterward and alllowed Baltimore to come back and tie the game in the second inning at 2-2. It would take him 38 pitches just to get out of that inning. The Yankees needed CC to give them innings since most of their bullpen was unavailable, and he managed to stretch his outing to six. With 112 pitches, he gave up eight hits, two walks and struck out eight batters. Not a great night for the ace, but he was able to keep the Orioles at bay just enough for the bullpen to take over. Boone Logan, Rafael Soriano and Mariano Rivera all got the job done, giving up only two hits between them for the last three innings. Mo is now 2-for-3 in save opportunities.

Getty Images
And although he wasn't the only batter to struggle in tonight's game, Alex Rodriguez had another poor night offensively, going 1-for-4 and striking out twice. A-Rod's batting average now sits below .150 on 4-for-23 hitting; not a huge deal at this point in the season, but not something that should be overlooked, either. Alex is not seeing the ball well as he's taken too many fastballs in the zone. He's also swinging "late" against pitches that he would normally tag. But what's most alarming is that he seems unable to make a full swing "through" balls pitched inside. This was a problem he had caused by his hip surgery, and it looked as if he had made progress with it during Spring Training. Hopefully with the off-day today, he'll be well rested and we'll see more production from him tomorrow.

Follow Rasheeda Cooper on twitter: @ra_cooper

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Jeter and Nova Shine; Yankees Get First Win of '12

Getty Images
Derek Jeter was on fire last night, leading the Yankees to a 6-2 win over the Orioles; their first win of the season. Jeter went 4-for-4 with three singles, a double, an RBI on a sacrifice fly and he scored a run. Ivan Nova also pitched a gem in his first start of the season, going seven innings and striking out seven without allowing a walk. Nova also prevented the Orioles from getting a hit with runners in scoring position. He had excellent command of his fastball, and was able to mix his four-seamer with curveballs for strikes. He was also able to get his fastball up as high as 96 mph.

The Yankees knocked out Orioles pitcher Brian Matusz early, limiting him to just four innings. In the fourth, he gave up walks to Curtis Granderson and Andruw Jones, followed by an RBI single to Russell Martin and sac-fly to Eduardo Nunez. Jeter would tag him for his second hit, an RBI double, and the Yankees were ahead 4-1. Nunez would later make an incredible defensive play, catching a line drive mid-air off of Wilson Betemit. The play prevented Matt Wieters from scoring from second base, and ended the fourth inning.

The Associated Press
Jones also did his part, hitting a line-drive solo shot to left field, putting the Yankees up 5-1 in the sixth. The Yankees final run would come on an RBI bunt from Brett Gardner who took over for Jones in left field in the bottom of the sixth.

Tonight, Freddy Garcia will get the start against Taiwanese import Wei-Yin Chen, who will make his major league debut after signing with the O's this past offseason.

Follow Rasheeda Cooper on twitter: @ra_cooper

Monday, April 9, 2012

Not Time to Panic

Kim Klement - US Presswire
While I remain trying my best to get over the abomination of what was the Yankees' first series this past weekend, I would like to call on all of my fellow fanatics out there to calm down and release the panic button. An 0-3 start is not "sexy," but in Yankeeland, it's not even close to being the end of the world. The cries for Joe Girardi's job really need to stop; he made some very poor decisions this weekend I agree, but he's still a damn good manager, and deserves to at least make it through the first month of the season before fans start with the "Girardi has to go" nonsense. I just wanted to put that out there.

Wikimedia Commons
I won't rehash yesterday's game. It's too painful. I'd just like to look ahead to tonight's game against the Orioles, and pray that Ivan Nova has gotten over whatever his problem was in Spring Training. He's been solid against the O's in his short career, going 2-0 with 21 strikeouts in 25.1 innings; his best mark against any club. I'm also hoping that Camden Yards, known as a hitter's ballpark, will ignite a home run assault from our lineup.

And Andy Pettitte will make his first minor-league start tonight with the Tampa Yankees team against the Clearwater Threshers in Clearwater, Fl. I'm hoping that tomorrow's reports will say that he had excellent control of his cutter and slider, and that he mixed in a nasty changeup to strikeout several batters. Fingers crossed.

Here is tonight's lineup:

Derek Jeter - SS
Nick Swisher - RF
Robinson Cano - 2B
Alex Rodriguez - DH
Mark Teixeira - 1B
Curtis Granderson - CF
Andrew Jones - LF
Russell Martin - C
Eduardo Nunez - 3B

Follow Rasheeda Cooper on twitter: @ra_cooper

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Bleeding Yankee Blue Needs Our Support

One of my favorite Yankee blogs on the web is Bleeding Yankee Blue. Like Bomber Boulevard, BYB gives its readers a look at all things happening in Yankeeland from their perspective. Owner and Founder, The Mighty Casey, has brought together a group of insightful writers that are true Yankee fans, and it shows in every post on BYB. Not only are these guys big on Yankees baseball, they are also big on supporting worthy charities.

In their latest effort, BYB is teaming up with High Socks for Hope: The David and Erin Robertson Foundation, to continue their support of victims of the the tornadoes which hit D-Rob's home of Tuscaloosa, AL last April. Casey & Co. are selling Bleeding Yankee Blue t-shirts, and will donate $1 from each sale to HSH. Also, BYB will donate $1 of its own money to the foundation for every strikeout D-Rob collects during the 2012 season.

For the Yankee faithful out there, who may have been wondering how they could involve themselves with a worthy cause in support of the team's players, this is the way to go. David and Erin's charity will help victims get their lives back on track from what is a very lengthy process of healing and regaining self-sufficiency. The Mighty Casey & Co. have made this easy: buy a t-shirt and join the Robinson's in the fight to help these families. And by the way, the t-shirts are pretty damn cool!

For more information on BYB's efforts and to order your t-shirts, click here.

David and Erin Robertson Courtesy of Bleeding Yankee Blue
Follow Rasheeda Cooper on twitter: @ra_cooper

Wild First Loss for Yankees

Brian Blanco/EPA
In what was one of the oddest Opening Day games that I believe I've ever seen, the Yankees had their first loss of the season, falling to the Tampa Bay Rays 7-6. Questionable managing, bad pitching , and a shocking ending all conspired to give fans of both teams an opener they probably won't forget for some time.

What went wrong:

The Micro-Manager Is Girardi - If what we saw yesterday was any indication of what we can expect to see this season from Joe Girardi, well, we won't be witnessing anything new. In classic overthinking Girardi-style, the manager had CC Sabathia walk infielder Sean Rodriguez, loading the bases for Carlos Pena in the first inning. The first inning. Girardi, acting on Pena's 4-for-35 numbers against CC, gambled that he would not be able to turn on CC's fastball, but he did, hitting a grand slam and putting the Rays up 4-0. We know that Girardi is a smart baseball guy, and his numbers as a manager with the Yankees are the best of any manager in the past four years. But moments like that are what make fans cringe, and cry for the burning of "Girardi's Binder." The move made no sense, particularly since CC had not been in the game long enough at that point to correct the poor movement on his fastball, which was obvious from early on.

Associated Press
Sabathia Not Ace-Like - Again, Sabathia struggled with the command of his fastball yesterday, and the Rays took full advanatage early on. He walked his first batter--Desmond Jennings--on a full count. Two batters later, he gave up a single to Evan Longoria. Next came the walk to S. Rodriguez, followed by the grand slam from Pena. In the third inning, he would give up another home run to Longoria. CC settled down somewhat after that, not allowing any more runs for the next four innings, but he gave up four more hits and another walk to Jose Molina. CC's best pitch seemed to be his breaking ball, which he used to get outs yesterday. He was able to use his slider in some spots, most notably in the fifth inning when he struck out Pena with men on second and third. But CC's ace pitch is his fastball. He struggled with it during Spring Training, and needs to get it going now.

Mad Maddon - Joe Maddon can thank a shaky Mariano for saving his hide yesterday. The Rays manager made two horrible moves late in the game with his team down 6-5, first sending newbie Jack Vogt up to pinch-hit against David Robertson in his first major league at-bat. Strikeout. Maddon followed this by having catcher Jose Molina "squeeze" with two strikes. Molina bunted foul, and the Yankees headed into the ninth inning still up by a run.

Associated Press
Really, Mo? - In a career first, Mariano Rivera not only blew the save in his first opportunity on Opening Day, but he blew the game. He gave up a single to Jennings, followed by a triple to Ben Zobrist, which tied the game at 6-6. Girardi then had Mo walk Longoria and Luke Scott to load the bases with no outs. Mo managed to strikeout S. Rodriguez, but would give up the winning single to Pena. He had no command of his cutter, pitching high in the zone and missing the corners. We know that this won't be a regular problem for our closer, but it was still a bit scary to see Mo fold the way he did.

What went right

A-Rod Being A-Rod - Alex Rodriguez went 2-for-3 yesterday, hitting a double to center in his first at-bat, and singling to center in the third inning against James Shields. A-Rod scored two runs and played excellent defense at third, saving a run in the fifth by catching a hard line drive from Elliott Johnson which stranded Longoria at third.

Brian Blanco/EPA
Ibanez Making History - Raul Ibanez got his first RBI of the season by grounding out to second base and scoring A-Rod in the second inning. He followed that with a monster 3-run home run in the third, again scoring A-Rod and Ribinson Cano. The four RBIs made Ibanez only the second Yankee to achieve that in his first game wth the team. Roger Maris was the first to do it.

The Great Houdini - In typical fashion, David Robinson managed to get himself into trouble, only to strike his way out of it. In the eighth inning, he walked S. Rodriguez and gave up a single to Pena which put both players on the corners. Robertson then dug in, striking out all of the next three batters. Classic.

Next Up - The Yankees and Rays have a 7:05pm start for tonight's game. It will be a matchup of   Hiroki Kuroda vs. David Price.

Follow Rasheeda Cooper on twitter: @ra_cooper

Friday, April 6, 2012

Yankees 2012 Season: Five Areas for Success

Associated Press
The 2012 baseball season officially begins for the Yankees in just a few, as they visit the Tampa Bay Rays for their home opener. There is much anticipation for what should be an "improved" Yankees team, as both the lineup and rotation have seemingly resolved their issues. Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher have gotten over the injury hump, and Raul Ibanez has found his stroke in the past two weeks. The rotation is set; Freddy Garcia will take over the fifth spot fior the time being. What will happen when Andy Pettitte returns and when Michael Pineda is released from the disabled list remains to be seen.

Even with all their "ducks in a row" for the moment, there are still questions surrounding the team. Many things will have to go right in order for the Yankees to have a succesful season. Post season play is no longer as sure a bet for this team as it has been in the past; with the new wildcard rule in place, the Yankees, like any other team, can easily find themselves being eliminated after only one game in the playoffs. So securing the AL East is essential. In order for that to happen, here are five things that the Yankees should look for this year:

A Healthy A-Rod - It was said many times this offseason, but is still worth mentioning: A-Rod must have a stellar 2012 season. Meaning, he has to be available for at least 130 games (by my estimate), and he needs to be hitting in the ballpark of .285 or better. His SLG numbers have continuously dropped since the .645 in 2007; he's normally teetered between .550 and .600 for his career, and if he truly is healthy, I'd expect him to slug around that mark again. What I noticed during Spring Training was A-Rod's ability to make full turns with his swing, which he had not been able to do very well since the hip surgery in '09. With that improved, he should be able to increase the number of hits on balls pitched inside.

Associated Press
 A More Productive Tex - That may sound somewhat unfair, considering Mark Teixeira blasted 39 home runs and drove in 111 RBIs last season. But ending the year with a paltry BA of .246 is nothing to be proud of and Teixeira knows it. Just think of where his HR and RBI numbers could have been sans all the pop-ups, hits into the shift and double-play grounders. Mark also needs to work on reducing the number of fastballs in the "zone" that he allows per plate appearance. It's something that is never really talked about, but he allows too many hitable fastballs to cross the plate without taking a swing. It would definitely explain his strikeout numbers; he's averaged 113 SOs per season since 2009. Hitting behind A-Rod in the lineup this season, Tex will see better pitches; hopefully the result will be an improvement in his offense.

Increased Numbers for Gardy - With the stellar numbers Brett Gardner put up in 2010 (.277/.345/.369), it is now expected of him to take those numbers to the next level. Adding the bunt to compliment his speed should allow Gardy hit above his watermark of .277, and increase his on-base numbers as well. If he can get on base more and raise his stolen base numbers, runs scored for the team overall could improve by a number serviceable enough to put the Yankees in a position to win more games.

A Full Season in the Rotation for Hughes - Phil Hughes needs to pitch well enough to remain in the rotation for a full season. It's that simple. He looked great this Spring and has improved not only the speed on his fastball, but the movement on his changeup. Health has been the biggest issue for Hughes thus far, so like A-Rod, he must do whatever he has to to keep himself from any stints on the disabled list. If he can do that, he can give the Yankees at least 18 wins again this year.

Associated Press
Continuation of 2011 for Nova - I've learned not to put much stock in Spring Training numbers, so I'm going to overlook Ivan Nova's not-so-impressive totals. His first start of the Spring was his only decent one, and he seemed to come undone in each start thereafter. But we've seen many players have horrible Springs and turn things around once the season begins (think Robinson Cano), so Nova should be afforded the same benefit. Barring any injuries and getting back to throwing the changeup that gave him so much success last year, I see no reason why Nova can't reach his watermark again, or give the Yankees at least 12-15 wins. For him, it will come down to learning how to make adjustments mid-game. If he can do that, everything will fall into place.

Follow Rasheeda Cooper on twitter: @ra_cooper

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Inside Yankee Experience

Steinbrenner Field
So I normally head down to Tampa each year to catch at least one game during Spring Training. I check in at the Comfort Inn at Raymond James Stadium (which is only about a 10 minute walk to Steinbrenner Field), have a nice dinner at Lander's Steakhouse (located on the hotel's property), catch the game, sleep, and then make my way back to NYC the next morning. In the past, this was all I needed to get me geared up for the oncoming season, but this year I took my visit a step further.

From the goodie bag
The Yankees have started what they call "The Inside Yankee Experience." For those fanatics, like myself, willing to pay a "little extra" to be in on what every true Yankee fan would dream of, you get an opportunity to meet a Yankee player(s) from the current roster, a member of the team's personnel, field seats and entry to early batting practice where, if you're lucky, you might be able to talk to the players while they warm-up. You also walk away with some cool items including a Yankees cap, replica WS Championship ring and an official Rawlings baseball.

So my day at Steinbrenner Field began at 7 am. Those of us who signed up for thr "Experience" were registered, given our goodie bag, and taken in to one of the stadium's meeting rooms for a complimentary breakfast buffet. It was a nice spread--scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, french toast, bagels, omelets made-to-order and a selection of fruits. While the food was the first thing we noticed as we stepped in to the room, it was the memorabilia on the walls that made everyone say, "Wow!"

Yogi's jersey and gear
There were glass cases with signed jerseys of CC Sabathia and Tino Martinez. Mariano Rivera's jersey case included a pair of his Nike sneakers. And then there was Yogi Berra's jersey case, which included his old baseball glove and face mask; to see Yogi's gear gave me goosebumps. There were also cases with more signed balls and bats from other notables like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte. One signed ball that I really got a kick out of seeing was that of "Goose" Gossage. When I was a kid, "Goose" was one of my favorite pitchers because I went to a game (don't remember which) where he almost hit the batter in the head and knocked him to the ground. "Goose" was ferocious and I loved that about him.

Raul Ibanez
So after taking pictures and filling up on breakfast, we were greeted by three Yankee players: Ivan Nova, Raul Ibanez and Rafael Soriano. Sure, it would have made my entire year if A-Rod, Mariano or Jeter had walked in, but that would have been too good to be true. But to see Nova, Ibanez and Soriano was actually a nice surprise. The group sitting at my table all believed that we'd probably get minor league players, so to have those guys come in--particularly Nova who is becoming big with the Yankee faithful--amazed all of us. They signed our baseballs and took photos with us. We didn't get much time to hold a conversation with them, since it was close to the time of their practice, but I did manage to sneak in a question to Ibanez. I asked him if he was ready for the fans in New York. He looked at me smiling and laughed, "I hope so!" That drew laughter from many in the room.

Suzyn Waldman
After the players returned to practice, Suzyn Waldman, who covers Yankee games with John Sterling on WCBS Radio came in and spoke to us. It's been said by many that Waldman is not a great radio personality because of her perceived lack of baseball knowledge. Well, that is far from being true. Waldman knows baseball! She spoke about the team and some of her thoughts on different players; about up and coming minor league players that she believes will be called up at some point this season; about the situation with Joba Chamberlain, and what improvements she's seen with A-Rod regarding his motion at the plate. Waldman also pointed out that her style of reporting is to focus on the personality of the players and talk about moments, while Sterling calls the game and talks stats. She took questions from us and afterward, I found myself having a whole new respect for her.

Next stop was to head out to the field for early batting practice. We were told that someone from Yankees personnel would be waiting to greet us. I immediately thought that perhaps one of the trainers would be talking to us about what the players' workout regimens were and so on, or maybe one of the coaches like Tony Pena or Larry Rothschild would talk to us. We were already told that the "legends"--Yogi, Ron Guidry, Reggie Jacson, etc.--had already left training camp, so we knew that opportunity had already passed. I really didn't want to get my hopes up for this, but found myself having an "Oh my God!" moment when I saw who was waiting for us. It was Tino Martinez!

Me and Tino
Trying not to get too giddy and prevent an embarrassing moment from happening, I pulled myself together while waiting on line for Tino to sign my ball, and tried to think of a good question to ask him. Besides his greatness as a player, one of the things that I enjoy about Tino is when he's in the booth as a commentator. So when it was my turn to have my ball signed and take a photo with him, I asked him if he would be in the booth for any games this year.

"No, not this year," Tino said. "[YES Network has] so many guys covering so, they don't need me {laughing}." I went on to tell him that I enjoy him as a commentator, and he thanked me graciously, seemingly surprised that he was impressive enough to deserve the compliment.

Being able to see, touch and talk with Tino was the biggest thrill for me at that point. I'm like most fanatics that revere great players from the past, and Tino was one of my faves from those teams in the late '90s. I was good for the day by then and wasn't expecting much more after that. That was until the players took the field  and our group got up close and person with The Captain.

Left to right: A-Rod, Jeter and Russell Martin
It's sometimes the little things about Jeter that make him so loved by Yankee faithful. As the guys were doing their stretch exercizes, directly in front of us, of course some people from our group called out to them to get their attention. "Hey, Alex, how ya feeling?" "Good morning, Jeter!" "Hey there, Robbie!" These were just some of the cries from impatient fans that wanted "their" team's attention. I chose not to say anything, realizing that these guys were focused on their workout, and weren't interested in having conversation. Some of them waved at us acknowledging our presence, but a wave is never enough for Yankee fans. The shouts persisted, but to no avail, as the players ignored the cries and continued to stretch. As the cries not only became even more persistant but louder, Jeter decided to do what any Captain should do: represent his team by saying some kind words on their behalf. Jeter walked up to us--as we were standing in the front row--and greeted us.

"Hello everyone," he said, his greeting reciprocated. "On behalf of the team, I'd just like to thank you all for coming out today and I hope you enjoy the final game. We really appreciate you guys for always supporting us. Thank you."

The greeting came with many thanks from us, and it "calmed down" the shouts. Great move by Jeter, who always remembers how important Yankee fans are to the team and organization. I was just thrilled to actually hear him say anything in person. It was a cool moment, and I can forever tell everyone that Derek Jeter spoke to me up close, and expressed his appreciation for me.

Andy on the mound.
Afterward, Joe Girardi came over to us and thanked us all for coming out while signing some of the kids' baseballs. He ran off after a few minutes of shaking our hands and taking some quick questions, and by then, it was time for us to settle in and get ready for the game. Turned out to be a good one, as our boys beat the Mets with a score of 8-3. And of course, the biggest thrill being the return of Pettitte, who pitched a scoreless sixth inning.

It was a great "Experience" fanatics, and I'm looking forward to signing up for another one next year. The Yankees organization has always come up with ways to provide their fans with events to remember, and this was no exception. The Yankee's staff in Tampa took great care of all our needs, and treated us like friends. I'll remember this forever, and who knows, I may sign up for the "Experience" here in New York. Stay tuned...

Follow Rasheeda Cooper on twitter: @ra_cooper

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Greetings from Tampa

Good evening fanatics! Tonight's post comes to you live from the Sunshine State and city of Tampa, where I'm gearing up to catch the Yankees last Spring Training game; their second consecutive match-up against the Mets. Tomorrow's game will be the first time the Mets have visited Steinbrenner Field since 1996. I was lucky enough to get myself down here before the season ended, and continue my tradition of catching at least one ST game a year. Word is that Andy Pettitte may pitch tomorrow, and if he does, I will be one happy girl.

Hopefully, the Yankees will have more luck tomorrow than they did this afternoon. They lost 7-6 on a ninth inning home run by Ike Davis, that would put the Mets up for good. Ivan Nova struggled again in his outing, giving up five runs and eight hits in just 2.2 innings.

The good news from today's game was the performance by Nick Swisher. He went 2-for-3 today homering off of Mike Pelfrey in the fourth, and then doubled to start a Yankee rally in the sixth. Today's homer was his second in three days and he's driven in a run in each game since his return from a groin injury on Sunday.

Tomorrow, Freddy Garcia will get his final start of ST. I know that I'm coming obscenely late with this news, but I just wanted to make sure that Bomber Boulevard noted that Garcia has indeed won the fifth spot in the rotation. Some would say that he got in on a technicality, as Michael Pineda has been placed on the disabled list, but I would disagree. Garcia truly earned his spot, having a good ST overall, and it would have been interesting to see what Joe Girardi would have done, had Pineda not been diagnosed with shoulder soreness. Convenient for Girardi wasn't it, but nonetheless, it all worked out and I'm sure he's relieved to not have had to relegate Nova or Pineda to the pen. Both pitchers suffered mightily during this ST.

I will be posting pics from tomorrow's game on Facebook and Twitter, and will probably present you all with a late-night post, depending on how tired I may be once I get back home tomorrow night. And please, keep your fingers crossed on Andy pitching in tomorrow's game.

Follow Rasheeda Cooper on twitter: @ra_cooper