TAMPA — The new normal featured dual-site workouts, rah-rah speeches from Aaron Boone and apologies from Domingo German on Tuesday. It divided the Yankees into such minute groups, capitalizing on all of their real estate, that each unit barely could field a basketball team, let alone a baseball nine.
If every team must continue adjusting to pandemic life, though, the Yankees’ new normal carries a unique burden thanks to a far less consequential global event of the past year:
Now that the Dodgers reign as the defending champions, don’t the Yankees face the most heat in Major League Baseball to win it all?
The Yankees themselves naturally don’t view their mission through such a macrocosmic prism, yet this feels like a case when the cliché “Nobody puts more pressure on me than I put on myself” rings true. These guys, most of them around for a few years now, know it has been too long for their franchise’s high standards. That it’s time to finish the job.
“Every year, I put my heart and soul into this game, into my teammates, into [New York] city, into this organization. That’s why every year it hurts when we lose,” Aaron Judge said at George M. Steinbrenner Field after the Yankees completed their first full-squad workout — the infielders and outfielders here, and the pitchers and catchers at the nearby player-development complex. “Those cuts are deep, but those are just scars. … It’s all going to make it sweeter in the end.”
“Hopefully there’s some consistency to my messaging and who I am and where I’m coming from, but hopefully the message continues to evolve as we gain experience as a team,” Boone said. “[I want to] really tap into our mindset and our focus, really encourage the kind of purposeful, attentive conversations that we’re having with one another. … The bottom line is we can have those conversations, and guys should be communicating at a high level with one another with being a championship club in mind.”
Who Boone is, is the fourth-year manager of the franchise that has posted a winning record every season since 1993 but hasn’t advanced to a World Series since 2009, when they defeated the Phillies for their 27th crown. The Dodgers, the other baseball titan of our times, ended a 32-year title drought last October when they bested the Rays, removing the albatross from their necks and sending it nearly 3,000 miles east.
No other club arguably can match the Yankees’ 2021 onus. The Red Sox, Astros and Cubs all have won it all in the past decade. The Indians, their 72-year slog through the ring-less desert the longest of any North American sports franchise, are retooling after trading Francisco Lindor. The Padres’ window feels wide open, as does that of the White Sox. The Rays and A’s constantly wear the “Little Engines That Could” label, their modest payrolls tempering expectations, and as for the Twins, well, maybe not winning so much as a playoff game in nearly 20 years curbs folks’ enthusiasm.
The Yankees, though, have teased without delivering, Boone advancing one round in each of his three seasons on the job, the Yankees falling short as they did in Joe Girardi’s final five trips and Joe Torre’s last seven to October.
Maybe Judge, sporting a shiny set of gap-free teeth and a slightly thinner frame, had it right when he said, “We need to set ourselves up by winning the regular season and putting ourselves in a position to win the postseason.” The Yankees haven’t finished with the American League’s best record since 2012. Such a home-field advantage couldn’t hurt.
The first song to grace Tuesday’s workout at The George was “Lies,” by MK, which features these lyrics: “Lying is just easier than hurting you.” The Yankees, to their credit, don’t appear to be lying to themselves. With Judge two years from free agency, ace Gerrit Cole still in his prime and Corey Kluber aboard on a one-year deal, time feels like more of an enemy than an ally.
“This is where the work starts,” Judge said.
Can they end their shift last? The baseball world watches more closely than ever.