Tampa, FL., March 1 — I felt something was missing as I took my seat in steamy Legends Field today for the opener of the 2007 Spring season. Slathered in sunscreen and clad in shorts for the first time in months, I scanned the rosters of the Yankees and the visiting Minnesota Twins, eagerly awaiting the scheduled 1:15 first pitch with pencil and scoreboard poised for action. But I was minus the reams of minor league stats and big-leagues documentation I had pored over and printed out in anticipation of the big day, because that research was in the one of my two checked bags on the flight from New York, the bag that failed to appear once we landed in Tampa.
I needn’t have worried, at least for this game. Chien-Ming Wang picked up where he left off in 2006, coaxing five straight ground ball outs on 19 pitches through two frames, passing the baton to young Philip Hughes with the Yanks up 5-0 on patient at bats and long bombs to right. Center fielder Johnny Damon lashed the first pitch he saw in Pinstripes for a double a year ago. This time he took a pitch from Minnesota righty Carlos Silva before lifting the next offering over the wall in right for a quick 1-0 Yankee lead.
The first of two Jason Giambi walks with one down continued the inning, and when Hideki Matsui received a free pass after a hit by pitch, the bases were loaded. Jorge Posada and Robbie Cano delivered runs on a single and a fielder’s choice, and the Yanks were up 3-0. Captain Derek Jeter joined the mayhem with a two-out infield single in the second, and Giambi powered a drive deep to right that had me wondering what the outfielders were thinking when they turned and gave pursuit.
“The franchise” in the person of Philip Hughes took the mound for the Yanks with a big lead in the third. Last year, Hughes debuted on the road in Dunedin. In Tampa today he showed a lively fastball, but a curve and a change with no bite, and he had virtually no command of any of them. He survived back-to-back walks sandwiched between groundouts in the third when left fielder Matsui, who spent the better part of 2006 on the Disabled List, made a sprawling diving catch on a Nick Punto fly toward the left field line, a fabulous but dangerous play. Hughes’s second frame was better, even if he did allow a leadoff double to Michael Cuddyer, who hit a good pitch. Philip dropped in a slow bender, then blistered a fastball by the Minnesota right fielder. After the double, 2006 AL MVP Justin Moneau was frozen by well-paced low outside heat, and Joe Torre took the ball after the big strike out. T.J. Beam had some moments out of the Yankee pen in 2006, but he followed by issuing a walk and then a single for the visitors’ first (and only) tally. It was outfield defense to the rescue yet again. In for the injured Bobby Abreu, Melky Cabrera will be making a case that he is the best fourth outfielder in the American League this year. He went 0-for-3 this day, but playing a right field he just occasionally has patrolled in his career, Cabrera made a fine running stab on Mark Redmond’s drive to the wall, and then wheeled and doubled the totally fooled Matt LeCroy off second base.
Righty Russ Ohlendorf, acquired in the Randy Johnson trade, threw a much more effective two innings, allowing harmless singles in each while retiring the Twins on four grounders, a popup, and a line out. He had much better control of his off-speed pitches, and kept the Minnesota batters off stride; the 22 pitches was one less than Hughes threw in just one inning. Veteran Luis Vizcaino (also acquired for Johnson), Mike Myers, and Jose Veras finished up, and the home team forged the 6-1 final when they added an eighth-inning tally on a double play after Alberto Gonzalez, Jose Tabata, and Marco Vechionacchi loaded the bases on singles. Playing third base, the latter seems to have made great strides. The 68 on his back was a full 24 numbers lower than the 92 that was there last year. Promising outfielder Tabata wears 92 now.
The Yankees wear their Pinstripes for this first Tampa game, something they have been doing since the facility opened on this day exactly 11 years ago. In the pregame ceremonies, which featured the usual flyover by four F15′s but not the requisite paratroopers or skydivers, it was revealed that the team would be honoring two fallen Yankees: Yankee for just a few months Cory Lidle, who died in a fiery crash last October, and the recently deceased Hank Bauer, who passed away just weeks ago. Each Yankee wore a black armband in their honor.
Aside from being the anniversary of the day Legends Field opened, March 1, 2007 would also have been the 87th birthday of famed broadcaster Harry Caray. Without knowing it, in another pregame ceremony that was held this day, the King High School Marching Band both honored Caray and set the tone for the day with their first tune:
Take Me Out to the Ballgame