…Where We Left Off

This was Jorge Vasquez going yard in back-to-back games in 2011, but today he gave the Yanks the lead with a sixth-inning single.

March 2, 2012, Westchester County, NY – It was terrific and cathartic, as it always is, when I watched the first game of the Yankees’ 2012 Spring Training season on MLB Saturday afternoon. Granted, I’ve become used to seeing these live, but I can adjust until we go down next week, and however you see it, the first game is the first game. I’ve been through this many, many times, and I know it’s not about winning these games; it’s about the sun, the grass, the field, the new players: Hope springs eternal.

Still, old habits die hard, and it was hard not to become excited when Yankee free agent outfielder signee Cole Garner stroked a one-out double in a 2-2 sixth-inning tie with the Phillies in Brighthouse Networks Field in Clearwater. One out later, first baseman Jorge Vasquez, picking up where he left off last March, stroking an rbi hit, and the Yanks were on their way. It was like the ensuing 12 months had not taken place.

Yes, today was like other first games, but it was different too, and watching Garner circle third base and score, I wondered what the difference was. The 2011 season ended two series too soon, as the Yanks fell in a Division Series loss to Detroit for the second time in the last six years. We waited four-plus months for a chance to rebound, as has happened all but once in the last 12 years. But somehow, it didn’t feel like the 2011 season ever really came to a close. This Yankee team wasn’t carrying around a failing 2011 grade, I felt, but rather a score that looked a lot more like an Incomplete.

Why? Well, consider the winter. It seems it never snowed over the last four months, and the temperature has hovered well north of freezing for weeks on end. And the ugly, frustrating dearth of scoring at bats in Game 5 back in October notwithstanding, Yankee fans had experienced a truly bizarre end in their last game of the regular season, as a total bullpen collapse in a seemingly secure about-to-be-win punctuated the most scintillatingly watchable half hour of baseball we’ve experienced in decades, if ever. The fairy tale close to the Rays’ 2011 season, in conjunction with the fantastic flop that rival Boston suffered in Baltimore, has been a YouTube delight on the rare winter days too cold to venture out.

Further, the 3-1 fast ball that Hunter Pence smacked off Ivan Nova today for a two-run first-inning home run was eerily evocative of the two first-inning blasts he allowed four-plus months ago, a 2-0 deficit in Game 5 with Detroit that couldn’t be too high a mountain to climb. Or could it? Vasquez’s two-out rbi single didn’t so much excite me for the nice start it represented to 2012, but as another chance at redemption from October 2011.

The Yanks would move on from their new-found 3-2 lead, opening the margin to six runs before settling for an 8-5 win. Curtis Granderson would double, homer, and cross home plate twice a few months after he led the whole game in runs scored. 2012 AAA starter David Phelps pitched well, as did prospect Nos. one and two, Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, even if the latter (my fave) continued to try to throw the ball through walls rather than over the plate, with two walks allowed in one frame. Surprise hero Garner put the game out of reach later with a two-run bomb to left that was wind-aided, though it had little need for it.

So the team is 1-0, and Vasquez got himself yet another March game-winning rbi. Garner (“Who?” the fanbase whispers) is off to a fine month of his own. The heroes (so far) of the 2011 and 2012 pinstriped grapefruit league seasons, ironically, shared some numbers last year too, as each hit exactly .330 for one team (Garner in yet another season with AAA Colorado Springs, Vasquez over 56 games in the Northern Pacific Mexican League).

Though windy, Clearwater was obviously T-shirt/shorts hot, and the two teams used almost 40 position players and 13 hurlers to get through the first game. Everything is as it should be on March 3, as the season finally reopens. Spring Training 2012. Life begins anew.

So why do I have this nagging feeling on this, the FIRST day of the 2012 preseason, that the Yankees, and I, haven’t sufficiently seen the LAST of Yankee baseball 2011?