Results tagged ‘ Derek Jeter ’

True Colors: Athletes and Expression of Self

Famed martial artist and actor Bruce Lee once said, “Always be yourself, express yourself, and have faith in yourself. Do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”

One could say any professional athlete is successful at what they do. If they were not, they wouldn’t be where they are. Whether it is starting shortstop for the New York Yankees or starting quarterback for the New York Giants, pro athletes are where they are because of their capabilities.

But what about their personalities? Should they be allowed to express themselves on the field after they accomplish something or reach an achievement?

A lot of critics these days are saying no.

When Joba Chamberlain was first called up in the summer of 2007, he was a flame-throwing middle reliever who tossed fastballs clocked in the high-90s and he sometimes struck triple digits on the speed gun. Usually after he fanned a batter to end an inning Chamberlain would wildly pump his fists in pride as he gleefully marched off the mound.

     

Fist pumping is defined as, “A celebratory gesture in which a fist is raised before the torso and subsequently drawn down and nearer to the body in a vigorous, swift motion.

The fist pump is sometimes carried out in parts of the Western Hemisphere, Europe, and Japan (where it is known as guts pose) to denote enthusiasm, exuberance, or success and may be accompanied by a similarly energetic exclamation or vociferation. The gesture may be executed once or in a rapid series.”

Knowing that, a big strikeout can call for a little fist pumping.  So why exactly did critics jump all over Chamberlain and call him on his jubilation, turning his joy into a topic of debate?

Some analysts and sports pundits suggest that getting overly excited and expressing it is a way of “showing up the other team” or in other words rubbing it in their faces after they have failed to some capacity.

I don’t happen to see it that way. I see it as a player simply being honest and outwardly showing how they truly feel after they have done something noteworthy.

And it can work both ways. When a player is on the other end of it – losing – should they be allowed to express it?

I think so.

Think back for a moment to Oct. 16, 2003: Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, otherwise known as the famous “Aaron Boone game.”

When Boone crushed that home run in the 11th inning sending the Yankees to the World Series – and broke the hearts of every fan in New England – the Red Sox were, for the lack of a better term, crushed. I specifically remember the reaction of one Boston player, namely outfielder Trot Nixon.

On his way to the clubhouse, Nixon took his frustration out on a Gatorade cooler, picking it up and then slamming it to the dugout floor in what looked like unadulterated anger.

Nixon and every other Red Sox player were well within their rights to be frustrated in terms of the outcome of that game and the series overall – and they had the right to express that frustration after it was all over.

These days expression in sports has gone to a new level. Looking outside the world of baseball for a minute, ESPN and every other form of sports media seem to be on the case of a young quarterback by the name of Tim Tebow.

After the Denver Broncos’ stud scores a touchdown, or when his team wins, he takes a knee, bows his head and offers a prayer of thanksgiving to God. In fact, the pose has taken on a life of its own and people have turned it into a verb: “Tebowing.”

Everyone and their mother has put Tebow under the microscope and criticized him for this particular pose after a TD or a win. Tebow let it be known when he played football at the University of Florida that he lives his life a certain way (I.E. he has chosen to remain chaste until he gets married) and strongly holds onto what he believes in.

Is it wrong of him to show it when he does something good?

In my view, no. I think it is perfectly fine.

If Tebow feels taking a knee and praying is how he wants to express his happiness when his team wins, I see nothing wrong with it. In fact, I view it as a more civil way to show a good feeling when something positive happens.

A lot of people have made claims that, because it’s a sort of religious action, it’s wrong and should not be permitted. But it’s not as if Tebow is constantly projecting his beliefs onto other people; he isn’t standing on the sideline with a microphone in hand and trying to get every fan who attended the game to convert to Christianity.

If that were the case I’d be opposed to it – and probably feel Tebow is out of his mind.

What I find strange about the criticism of Tebow expressing his faith is that other athletes also express their faith – yet nothing is said about it, or even mentioned.

Before Derek Jeter steps into the batter’s box, he makes the sign of the cross. Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, a one-time Yankee and journeyman catcher always makes the sign of the cross; as a matter of fact, he crosses himself before every pitch during his at-bats.

Where is the barrage of criticism and religious outrage directed at Jeter and Pudge?

Nowhere to be found. It just doesn’t sound very fair to me.

All Tebow is doing is expressing his true personality and incorporating it into what he loves to do – just as I incorporate my personality sometimes when I write these blog entries, with funny inside jokes and obscure references.

As good as it for an athlete to show off their personality, it can get out of hand. It doesn’t happen so much in baseball, but in football and other sports it can certainly be brought to a whole new level. The NFL has banned touchdown celebrations, and if a player crosses the plane, scores, and expresses it, that player’s team will be penalized.

In my view, that’s fair. It’s fine for a player to be happy, and to express that positive energy when they score a touchdown; maybe leap up and bump their teammates’ chests. But spiking the ball and dancing around just makes the player look like a fool, and the NFL did the right thing by outlawing such unprofessionalism.

Perhaps in football things are a little different because there is more contact and physicality; maybe more “heat of the moment” moments. But that’s not to say it hasn’t happened in baseball.

In 2007 former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon began to exhibit a different side of himself when he Irish step danced at the conclusion of the American League Championship Series. After Boston defeated the Cleveland Indians in seven games, Papelbon danced around the Fenway Park infield like a loon celebrating the win.

There was no need for that. It’s fine to be happy and celebrate a pennant, but do it in the clubhouse with your teammates. There is no reason to run back out onto the field and commence dancing like a ballerina.  

The bottom line is, it’s fine to express yourself as an athlete. Be creative and be yourself; incorporate your personality into your playing style and do it in a respectful, professional manner.

If you’re excited, pump your fists.

If you’re mad, body slam a cooler or two.

If you have a certain belief system, feel free to show it, without projecting it onto to others.

If you want to dance though, become a Rockette not an athlete.

It’s OK to wear your heart on your sleeve.

All is Quiet on the Yankee Front

“What a mix we have goin’ on for the last two innings.

 

Sitting alone upstairs, owner Gary Wheeler…reportedly has already sold his ball club, the Tigers, to the corporate group in the box to his left.

 

Now an unconfirmed report beginning to ripple the water…that the corporate’s first business…would be to trade Billy Chapel when the season is over.

 

So as so often happens in a ball game, there are so many other undercurrents; so many more things that meet the eye.” – Vin Scully in “For Love of the Game” (1999)

The biggest move the Yankees made last off-season was the signing of Rafael Soriano – and some might argue that it wasn’t even a big signing at all. Aside from that and maybe the minor acquisition of Russell Martin, the Yankees who are normally alive during the winter meetings were basically dormant.

The same can be said about this off-season, thus far.

Baseball’s winter meetings kicked off this past Monday in Dallas and there has not been much to report on as far as the Bronx Bombers are concerned. The Yankee brass has not yet signed or agreed to terms with any of the top free agents.

It doesn’t mean they haven’t tried however, winning the bidding to first negotiate with Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima. The 29-year-old middle infielder possesses a lifetime batting average .302 with 149 career home runs, 664 RBIs, and has stolen 134 bases in his career in the Far East.

How that will translate in the United States remains to be seen – as does whether or not the Yankees will sign him. Sources at the meetings said the Yankees may not even land him, despite winning the right to talk with him before any other team.

I mean really, what’s the point of signing him anyway? Unless they believe Nakajima is Derek Jeter’s heir, then why negotiate with him and attempt to sign him in the first place, especially when starting pitching is more vital to the Yankees than another infielder.

If they do sign him, it could mean the end of Eduardo Nunez’s Yankee tenure, one way or another. They could potentially package Nunez in a trade for a starter, then utilize Nakajima as a backup infielder.

Speaking of starting pitching, Mark Buehrle and C.J. Wilson are both off the market, as they have signed lucrative deals with the Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Angels, respectively. Buehrle followed his former manager Ozzie Guillen to South Beach for a contract worth four years and $58 million.

Meanwhile Wilson left the Texas Rangers for the Angels, a division rival. I suppose five years and $77.5 million will make him a richer and happier man – along with having Albert Pujols as a new teammate.

Pujols is coming off statistically his worst season: 147 games played, 37 home runs, 99 RBIs, and a .299 batting average. He is probably the only player in baseball who could call that his worst season, because any average player would kill for that kind of “off year.”

Yet he recovered with a remarkable postseason; five homers, 16 RBIs, .356 BA, and his second World Series ring. And after all that, “Phat Albert” took his talents to the west coast.

It surprised me, considering Pujols is basically the face of the Cardinals’ organization. He will probably be considered a legend in St. Louis for years to come, despite his abrupt and rather unceremonious departure. He now has the opportunity to make himself a legendary name in Anaheim.

Remember: Reggie Jackson’s number is retired in both New York and Oakland.

But I digress; back to the subject at hand: the Yankees and starting pitching. They may have lost out on Buehrle and Wilson but the Bombers may have one last chance to make a splash and sign a big ticket free agent starter:

Yu Darvish.

The 25-year-old phenom holds a professional record of 93-38 with an ERA of 1.99, and has collected several accolades in Japan including the Pacific League MVP twice (’07, ’09).

Last year I interviewed Brian Sweeney, a former Seattle Mariners reliever who played with Darvish in Japan on the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. Sweeney called Darvish “a classy individual” and “an excellent player.”

Any team could always use a classy and excellent player. He’ll most likely fit in wherever he lands.

ESPN insider Buster Olney reported earlier today that the Yankees feel “lukewarm” about bidding on Darvish. Rightfully so, considering the Yankees have had bad luck with highly-regarded Japanese starting pitchers in the past.

Hideki Irabu was thought to be a one of the best hurlers in the Far East, having led the Pacific League in wins (15) in 1994 and ERA in 1995 (2.53) and 1996 (2.40). He also led the PL in strikeouts in 1995 and 1996 (239 in ‘95 and 167 in ‘96).

Those league-leading numbers didn’t help him when he went 34-35 with a 5.15 ERA in the U.S. – and those nice stats were far from everyone’s mind when then-Yankee owner George Steinbrenner called Irabu a “Fat, p***y toad.”

Ouch.

Kei Igawa was another pitcher the Yanks had on their radar and eventually signed for five years and $20 million. They had such high aspirations for him, taking his numbers in Japan into account: 86-60, a 3.14 ERA, and 1,174 Ks.

His overall numbers at the MLB level in the U.S., dating back to when the Yanks signed him prior to 2007: 2-4, 6.66 ERA and just 53 strikeouts.

Igawa obviously did not turn out to be what the Yankees had hoped for. In the eyes of most Yankee fans, the team spent $20 million for two wins and a minor league starter.

That being said, anyone can understand the Yanks’ reluctance to go after another Japanese starter in Darvish. If the Bombers do go after him and he happens to land in the Bronx he will be expected to accomplish a lot. Maybe not 20 wins in his first season, but a convincing winning record and a low ERA are not out of the question.

And that can be said of whatever team he goes to, not just if he goes to the Yanks.

We probably won’t know for a long time where Darvish will go – and we’ll have to wait even longer to find out if he lives up to the hype.

I don’t usually agree with people associated with the Red Sox – very rarely does that ever happen. But Boston manager-turned-baseball analyst Terry Francona said probably the smartest thing an analyst can say about the winners and losers of the winter meetings:

“Winning the winter meetings doesn’t mean winning the pennant.”

Francona should know that better than anyone. Looking at last year, the Red Sox won big at the winter meetings and didn’t even make the postseason, suffering a gigantic September collapse.

The Red Sox spent a fortune and signed big ticket free agent after big ticket free agent, only to choke worse than Mama Cass did on that…ham sandwich.

Bottom line: on paper does not win ballgames. I hope the Angels and Marlins both understand that.

As for the Yankees: they have a chance to make a splash – and even a chance to make a blockbuster trade – before they head to Spring Training.

But at least for now, like last year, all is quiet on the Yankee front.

Nova Not AL ROY, Finishes Fourth

Today Major League Baseball announced the American and National League Rookie of the Year Award winners. Atlanta Braves’ closer Craig Kimbrel captured the N.L. award, winning unanimously with all 32 first-place votes.

The A.L. ROY went to starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson of the Tampa Bay Rays, as he received 17 first-place votes. Mark Trumbo of the Los Angeles Angels came in second place and Eric Hosmer of the Kansas City Royals finished third.

Ivan Nova, who most Yankee fans expected to be the first Rookie of the Year since Derek Jeter in 1996, finished in fourth place with just one first-place vote.

Cue the anger and confusion among the pinstripe faithful.

Truthfully, any one of the top four A.L. ROY finishers could have taken home the accolade. Hellickson, Trumbo, Hosmer and Nova each had seasons worthy of the award.

Since the last two A.L. Rookie of the Year awards have gone to pitchers (Andrew Bailey of the Oakland Athletics in 2009 and Neftali Feliz of the Texas Rangers in 2010) I had the feeling either Hellickson or Nova would win this year – keeping the trend of pitchers winning the A.L. ROY.

Naturally I felt Trumbo (left field, first base) and Hosmer (first base) weren’t going to win – although each of them put up outstanding offensive numbers for rookies. Trumbo clubbed 29 homers and knocked in 87 runs, despite sporting a .254 batting average. Meanwhile Hosmer smacked 19 home runs and drove in 78 runs, nearly hitting .300 with a BA of .293.

But as expected, the pitching trend kept up.

Hellickson made 29 starts for the Rays and went 13-10 with a 2.95 ERA and 117 strikeouts in 189 innings pitched. His won-loss record may not have been indicative of an overpowering season. Yet serving as a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher, Hellickson helped the Rays in a major way – especially considering they had traded away Matt Garza, a hurler the Rays thought to be a front-line starter, at the beginning of the year.

Nova struggled a little bit at the beginning of the season. He got shelled and lost some tough games in the early-going, but found a way to persevere and endure, grinding his way to a 16-4 record in 28 starts. He finished with an ERA of 3.70 and notched 98 strikeouts in 165.1 innings pitched.

Looking at overall individual stats – minus the record – Hellickson did have a numerically stronger year. Plus, that brief period when Nova was sent down to the minors in July probably hurt his chances at the ROY.

Yet, look at Nova and how he evolved throughout the course of the season; how he was slated to be a number four starter and was basically forced to become a number two when Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett faltered.

Nova was forced to “carry the ball” so-to-speak, and he carried it very well.

Last week About.com published an article revealing who should win each end-of-the-year award, who the dark horses were, and who they thought would win. Not only did this article say Nova should win – but it said he would win.

“Who should win Rookie of the Year: Ivan Nova of the New York Yankees.  

The 24-year-old Dominican righty finished 16-4, and did it while filling a gaping hole in the rotation of one of the best teams in the league. His ERA is just a so-so 3.70, but has a 2.7 WAR, which is solid in a relatively weak crop of rookies, at least statistically this season.

Who will win Rookie of the Year: Nova. Being in the big market will put him over the top.”

The author of that article seemed to have a lot of faith in the Yankee rookie – and not that I pay that much attention to WAR, or wins above replacement, but it was a good point – one I didn’t even take into consideration.

Those who vote for the end-of-the-year awards, AKA the baseball writers, clearly recognized Nova for his effort and what he brought to the Yankees – but in a lot of the fans’ minds, they did not recognize it enough because he didn’t finish first.

Lately the Yankee fans seemingly have a lot to be upset about when it comes to these awards after every season. Last year many felt CC Sabathia – who won 21 games – was robbed of the A.L. Cy Young when Felix Hernandez, who only won 13 games, captured the award over the Yankee ace.

What’s more, Robinson Cano was a front-runner to take home the A.L. Most Valuable Player Award in 2010, but he came in third to Josh Hamilton (the winner) and Miguel Cabrera (first runner-up). I know of more than one Yankee fan who truly felt Cano was, in a word, “shafted.”

The last Yankee to collect a meaningful end-of -the-year accolade: Alex Rodriguez, when he won the A.L. Most Valuable Player Award in 2007. To get there, A-Rod had to crush 54 homers, bat .314, and drive in 156 runs.

It’s a little obvious by now the writers who vote for the awards aren’t exactly Yankee lovers, and the media has apparently become somewhat “anti-pinstripe.” Cano and Curtis Granderson are two Yankees that can easily be considered for this year’s A.L. MVP, which will be announced a week from today on Nov. 21.

Now that Nova did not win Rookie of the Year, I don’t expect either Yankee to win the award.

Sabathia is up again for the Cy Young with his 19 wins this season and 3.00 ERA – but forget it. Everyone already knows Justin Verlander (24-5, 2.40 ERA) of the Detroit Tigers is taking home that piece of hardware.

The Yankees may have run out of luck this year when it came to the awards. Like it or not, the media is not on the Yanks’ side and ultimately they choose who goes home with the trophies.

If I ever make the Baseball Writer’s Association I promise to be fair and unbiased, as all writers should be. If I were voting this year, I probably would have given Nova a first-place vote, simply because he was valuable to the Yankees – and you can’t argue that. Just look at the points made in the About.com article.

Just know that if I ever get to the BBWA, there will be at least one writer who doesn’t hate the Yankees on the voting panel – although I would maintain my professional integrity as a reporter and consider every candidate respectfully.

As a Yankee fan though, I can only hope next year Jesus Montero breaks out and has the year of his life. If he can get his game up and have a “coming out party” of sorts in 2012, he can avenge this rather unfair treatment of Nova in this year’s A.L. Rookie of the Year voting – at least unfair in the minds of the majority of the Yankee fans.

On second thought, if I did have a vote this year, I would have voted for this guy

Just kidding, just kidding.

Playing Dress-Up: The Yankees’ Halloween Costumes

“Witch and ghost make merry on this last of dear October days. “ – Author Unknown  

In one week’s time, people will be dressing up in costumes for Halloween, the one day on the calendar you can be whoever or whatever you want to be. Whether it’s a super hero, a movie character, or a spooky creature, Halloween is one of the more celebrated holidays in this country.

To me, Halloween has sort of lost its luster. When I was a youngster I absolutely loved Halloween. It was always a tossup trying to figure out what I should dress up as, and the thought of getting free candy just by uttering the phrase “Trick-or-Treat” put a smile on my face and got me excited.

In first grade I dressed up as Superman, one of my favorite costumes:

It was always a night of fun for me. Yet these past few years I’ve found myself basically doing nothing on Oct. 31, merely sitting around alone watching old horror movies like “The Exorcist” and “Scream.”

This year I might change that, perhaps; maybe try to rally some friends together and relive the days of Halloween past by donning costumes. But onto the point of this entry:

If the Yankee players were to dress up for Halloween, what could they be?

Here are some suggestions…

CC Sabathia: Cleveland Brown

I could have just taken the high road and suggested CC Sabathia dress up as Fat Albert, but I figured I would change it up this time.

Put a yellow shirt and blue pants on the Yankee ace and he just might be able to pull it off. However, he might need to grow his mustache in a little more.

Hmm. Maybe Derek Jeter’s father, Dr. Charles Jeter, would be better off going as Cleveland…?

Derek could even go as Quagmire!

Nevermind.

Mark Teixeira: Jared from Subway

I don’t know about anyone else but if you take the glasses off Jared, I think he sort of resembles Mark Teixeira.

Sort of.

The Yanks’ first baseman, who batted just .248 this year, might be able to get one of those “Free Subway for Life” cards (Happy Gilmore reference) if he goes as Jared this year. Maybe some meaty, cold cut sandwiches can help him swing the bat a little better and get that BA back up to a respectable .300 next year.

Scott Proctor: John Cena

 I know I’ve made mention of this in the past but Scott Proctor, who went 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA for the Yankees this year, looks an awful lot like 12-time WWE Heavyweight Champion John Cena.

Proctor was basically a real-life loser this season. Therefore, if he wants to dress up like a real-life winner, he can be Cena for Halloween.

All he would need for the costume is one of Cena’s colorful shirts, a hat that reads “You Can’t See Me,” some wrist bands, and a pair of denim shorts.

Oh, and maybe some talent. That wouldn’t hurt.

A.J. Burnett: Beavis

A.J. Burnett pitched a decent Game Four in the American League Division Series vs. the Tigers, but only had a handful of acceptable starts during the regular season. With a record of 11-11 and an ERA of 5.15, he hasn’t exactly been what the Yankees were anticipating when they signed him to a lucrative contract worth $82.5 million prior to the 2009 season.

But we already knew that.

Perhaps he can help get the Yankee fans back on his side if he loosened up a little bit and dressed as Beavis from MTV’s…umm…hit show, “Beavis & Butthead.”

Not only do they bare a striking resemble to one another, their personalities are eerily identical. And if he doesn’t like the Beavis idea, he can always go as Dennis the Menace.

Andruw Jones: Dr. Dre

I’m not sure why, but Andruw Jones has always reminded me of rap star and hip-hop mogul Dr. Dre. When both of them were young, they were well-liked and everyone knew their name.

Dr. Dre was one of the more revered rappers in the world and most people knew Jones because of the power show he put on in the 1996 World Series as a member of the Atlanta Braves.

But that was in the 1990s. If you were to ask anyone back then who Dr. Dre was, undoubtedly they’d say, “Of course!” Nowadays if you ask about him, the answer would probably be more along the lines of, “Oh yeah. Whatever happened to him?”

Same applies to Jones.

And while we all know what Jones was doing this year – batting .247 for the Yankees and hitting 13 homers with 33 RBIs as a fourth outfielder – we may never know where Dr. Dre is.

I guess we all “forgot about Dre.” I believe that was one of his last hit singles; I can remember him releasing it before he vanished off my radar somewhere around 1998.

Alex Rodriguez: Anakin Skywalker

The Yankees’ superstar third baseman had a sad 2011 season, spending most of it on the disabled list. Hurt, he only managed to club 16 homers, bat .276, and drive in just 62 runs.

It was one of the worst years Alex Rodriguez has had since he started; in fact, it was the first time in his career he failed to hit 30 home runs since 1997.

To get rid of some of the bad feelings from this past season, I could picture A-Rod dressing as Anakin Skywalker from the Star Wars franchise. Not only are they practically each other’s doppelganger, but it fits so well.

For those who do not know, Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, one of the sworn leaders of the “Dark Side.” The Yankees have always been compared to the Star Wars “Evil Empire” so who better than Rodriguez – probably the most hated Yankee – to play the Jedi who turns his back on the force for the sake of evil?

It’s a perfect match and it makes sense.

Bartolo Colon: Hamburglar

I have an unsettling admission to make right now. One of the last years that I went out trick-or-treating on Halloween (probably in sixth or seventh grade) I was indeed the Hamburglar, one of the McDonald’s “McDonald-Land” characters.

Yep. Insert obligatory/witty Chicken McNugget joke here.

Bartolo Colon, just judging by his face, would be perfect for this costume. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if during the off-season he makes appearances at local McDonald’s in the Dominican Republic as the Hamburglar for extra money.

Also, judging by his weight, it looks as though he might be the real-life Hamburglar. He is very porky.

Robinson Cano: Steve Urkel

Back in the early 1990s ABC launched its Friday night lineup known as TGIF. Shows such as “Step by Step,” “Boy Meets World” and “Full House” all kept us laughing – albeit with cheesy, light-spirited, and family-oriented jokes.

One of my favorite programs to watch every Friday night was “Family Matters,” a show centered around the lives of the Winslow family and their pesky, annoying, nerdy neighbor, Steve Urkel.

Robinson Cano is no nerd: 28 home runs, 118 RBIs, and a .302 batting average is nothing to shake your head at. It certainly does not put him in the same category as Urkel.

However, if you take Cano’s face, put some coke bottle glasses on him, some suspenders, a nerdy shirt, and if he speaks with a high-pitched squeaky voice, you have the spitting image of the legendary doofus known as the Urk-Man.

Well, that about wraps it up folks. Hope you enjoyed my suggestions for the Yankees’ Halloween outfits.

If you happen to go out next week, be safe, and Happy Halloween.

What I’ll Remember About the 2011 Season

Casey Stengel once said, “Most games are lost, not won.” And let’s be honest the Detroit Tigers did not win Game Five of the American League Division Series – the Yankees lost it. The Bronx Bombers dropped the decisive game of the ALDS 3-2, forcing them to an early postseason exit.

It marked the first time the Yanks have been knocked out in the first round since 2007, when they were bumped at the hands of the Cleveland Indians.

And with their loss, they collectively became the second person (if you will) to break my heart this year. That’s no lie. More on that later in this entry.

In the bottom of the fourth the Yanks had the bases loaded with one out and failed to score a run. Russell Martin popped out to first base for the second out, and Brett Gardner – who had been raking this entire series – popped the ball up in foul territory behind third, and it landed in the waiting glove of Don Kelly.

Then in the seventh with one out, the Yanks put the ducks on the pond again. Alex Rodriguez struck out swinging, but Mark Teixeira drew a walk forcing home a run to make the game 3-2. But Nick Swisher came up to the plate and murdered the rally with a K.

The Yankees received their first run on a solo home run off the bat of Robinson Cano in the fifth, his second of the ALDS  – his first being a Game One  grand slam. Derek Jeter nearly clubbed what would have been a go-ahead, two-run home run in the eighth.

With Gardner on first, the Captain launched a ball deep to the right field warning track, but it slowly lost wind and fell short of a potential game-winning round-tripper.

What can you say? It just wasn’t meant to be this year.

The Tigers – not the Yankees – will now advance to the American League Championship Series to face the Texas Rangers. A rematch of last year’s ALCS was just not in the cards.

The postseason magic was not there; the aura was absent. But there are a lot of memories and thoughts I am going to take away from this year. Here are a few things I’ll never forget about the 2011 baseball season:

Opening Day

There is nothing like the thrill of Opening Day. Spring is in the air, you get the sense of new life, and warm, happy feelings envelope you. Baseball is back and the Yankees did what they couldn’t do in the ALDS: they beat the Tigers.

Curtis Granderson punished his former team with a tie-breaking home run in the seventh inning, and threw in some defensive, game-saving web gems, leading the way to a 6-3 Yankee win over Detroit.

The Bronx Broskis started their year with a clean win over the Tigers. I think I speak for most Yankee fans when I say I wish they could have finished off Detroit in the ALDS the way they did on Opening Day.

May 12 vs. the Kansas City Royals

The Yanks hosted the Royals on May 12, and it was my first trip to the big ballpark in the Bronx this year. Just as Opening Day has a certain, special appeal to it, going out to your first game of the season is always fun.

The game turned into a stinker in a hurry, as the Royals put up six runs in the second inning. The Yanks wound up losing 11-5, really only receiving offense from Cano and Rodriguez, who both went yard.

What I remember isn’t so much the game action, but the people (and more particularly a person) I was with at that game. I am not the type of writer who would bury anyone I personally know in this or any other blog or column, but let’s just say (using no names) I was with the other person who broke my heart this year.

If she is reading this, I don’t know about you, but I had a blast at that game; the time of my life, and I was very happy and blessed to have spent that time with you. Thanks again for the chili dog you bought me, too.  I still think it was the best chili dog I ever had. :)

This game was the only time I can ever recall seeing the Yankees lose, but still being happy at the end of the night. In fact, I was probably the happiest person at the Stadium that night, and I can only hope she shared my happiness at the game.

I wouldn’t have traded the feeling I had for anything, not even a Yankee win.

June 15 vs. the Texas Rangers

On my birthday the Yankees met up with the Rangers – the same team that eliminated them from the ALCS in 2010. I once again went out to the Stadium, and wanted so badly for the Yanks to exact a little bit of revenge on Texas – and boy did they ever.

The Bombers squadoosh’d the Rangers 12-4, playing long ball to an eight-run victory.

Teixeira crushed two homers in the game, and Cano and Ramiro Pena also went deep. But the most special home run the Yankees hit probably came off the bat of Eduardo Nunez – it was his 24th birthday too!

A group of people, who I believe was Nunez’s family, were sitting in front of me, going absolutely crazy after his home run.

They held up signs that read, “Happy Birthday Eduardo!” and they were all wearing “Nunez 12” tee-shirts. Plus, they all bore a striking resemblance to him – so I’m convinced to this day it was the Nunez family in the row of seats in front of me that night.

A home run must have been a nice birthday present for Nunez. And a convincing, vengeful Yankee win was a nice gift for me.

Derek Jeter Leaves the Yard for 3,000th Hit

In what was probably the biggest story of the summer, the Yankee Captain, sitting on 2,999 career hits, smacked a home run on July 9, becoming the first player to ever record his 3,000th hit wearing pinstripes.

It was a moment for the ages.

All the Yankees came out of the dugout and congratulated Jeter, hugging him and giving him his legendary credit. The only picture I take away from that moment was Jorge Posada, his teammate since 1995, embracing him in celebration right after he crossed home plate.

If you were to ask Jeter, I’m sure he would say he was happy to have reached his milestone – but even happier the Yankees won the game. The Captain has always put the good of the team above himself and the Bombers topped the Tampa Bay Rays on July 9, 5-4.

Robinson Cano Wins the Home Run Derby

The prelude to the All-Star Game is the Home Run Derby. Certain clubs show off their most powerful sluggers, and Cano participated in this year’s home run contest in Arizona. To everyone’s surprise, the studly second baseman won it.

Now, I have to ask, what’s better than having a Yankee win the Home Run Derby?

How about a Yankee beating a Red Sox player to win the Home Run Derby!

Because that is exactly what happened.

Cano outdueled Boston first baseman Adrian Gonzalez 12-11 in the final round, becoming only the third Yankee (Tino Martinez, 1997, and Jason Giambi, 2002) to take home the Home Run Derby crown.

August 23 vs. the Oakland Athletics

 

This would mark my third and final trip to the Bronx this summer, a game against the A’s. My good friend and fellow die-hard Yankee fan Micheal Robinson was in New York, visiting from Atlanta.   

He got incredible seats right behind the wall in left field, and although the Yankees once again lost, they nearly capped an unreal comeback late in the game.

Down 6-0 entering the bottom of the eighth, the Yanks plated three runs on a three-run Swisher home run to cut the lead in half. In the bottom of the ninth Posada clobbered a solo home run, and the Yanks later loaded the bases.

We thought we were in for an improbable comeback.

With the bases chucked and two outs, Cano drew a walk, cutting the lead down to 6-5. Then Swisher came up again and clubbed a towering drive to deep left-center field. On the edge of our seats, Micheal and I slowly stood up watching the ball fly, ready for a whipped cream pie celebration…

Only for the ball to slowly die on the warning track for the final out. Yanks lose, 6-5.  

Nonetheless, we enjoyed the game. It was a great night with a great friend. My record in attendance at 2011 Yankee games ended at 1-2.

 

Mariano Rivera Becomes Baseball’s All-Time Saves Leader

On Sept. 19 at Yankee Stadium Mariano Rivera recorded his 602nd career save, passing Trevor Hoffman on the all-time saves list. Rivera, who has been lights-out at the end of each Yankee game for the better part of the past 15 years, only solidified what we have known all along:

That he is the greatest closer in the history of baseball.

In typical Rivera fashion, he mowed down the Minnesota Twins 1-2-3 in the ninth inning, wrapping up a 6-4 Yankee win. When he was finished closing the game, he humbly put his head down, and shook his catcher’s hand.

But after that show of sportsmanship Rivera (of course) realized what he had done and acknowledged the love and support he received from his home crowd. Posada even pushed him back out to the mound where he was cheered overwhelmingly.

Again, in typical Rivera fashion he thanked God, his family, the Yankees, and the fans.

It was just another wonderful moment in 2011 – and in Yankee history.

Boston Losing Out of the Postseason

I know I’ve told this story more than once, but for one last time, I’ll tell it again.

All the way back in January I was with a few friends down at a New York City bar watching the Jets’ AFC Title game vs. the Steelers. Although it was a football game, me and each of my friends were wearing Yankee apparel.

In walks a drunken Red Sox fan, wearing a 2004 Championship shirt. And he began to taunt us.

“Are you guys ready for Michael Kay this year? Swisher on the track, at the wall, looking up, SEE YA! Another home run for Carl Crawford and the Red Sox lead, 7-3!”

We just laughed it off and walked away. On the way home from the bar we made fun of him for not even teasing us the right way.

“Hey, at least he gave the Yankees three runs in his little fantasy game,” we snickered. “If he were smart, or maybe sober, he would have made it 15-0 in favor of the Red Sox.”

Boston failing to make the postseason – when practically everyone on this planet had them picked to win the World Series – in my eyes, was just epic; one of the worst, if not the worst collapses I have ever seen.

I would have loved to see that guy’s face when Tampa Bay battled back from nine games behind the Wild Card standings – and when Baltimore crushed Boston’s hopes at a postseason run on the last day of the regular season.

Unbelievable.  

I will never forget how that Red Sox fan basically had his team in the World Series before the season even began and they didn’t even make the playoffs, going 6-20 in the month of September.

The Boston collapse proved two things to me:

1)      You can never speak too soon, and

2)      You can’t win games on paper. The Red Sox may have had the best-looking team on a lineup card, but if the best-looking team folds like an accordion when it matters, it doesn’t guarantee you anything.

Well, Yankee fans. It was one helluva season; one I’ll probably never forget. It is unfortunate the Yanks could not create the magic for us and bring home Championship No. 28.

I’d like to thank everyone for sticking it out this season and reading Yankee Yapping. I promise to write as much as I can during the off-season while the MLB hot stove cooks, boils, bakes, burns, or does whatever it does.

Hopefully I’ll be blogging about Ivan Nova winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award, and either Granderson or Cano winning the AL MVP.

Until then, I’ll say the same thing I did when the Yanks got booted in last year’s ALCS:

Keep your heads up, Yankee fans.

And just remember: we still own 27 World Titles, and we’re still the best team in the world.

Back to the Bronx!

Let me tell you a little about my day, and in what direction I thought it was going in.

This afternoon I was in my car, driving of course. I was stopped at a traffic light, minding my own business. Then…BOOM! I got rear-ended by some lady who was not paying attention to the road. Thankfully my bumper was only scratched: not really any major damage to my (new) car. Oh, and if you’re wondering, no. I wasn’t hurt; just a little rattled at the time, although I did have a mild headache when I got home from work.

People, driving requires 100% of your attention. Remember that.

I only thought my headache was going to get more severe, considering A.J. Burnett was starting for the Yankees in Game Four of the American League Division Series, down two games to one, at the mercy of the Detroit Tigers. I’ll be the first to admit, I felt very uneasy with Burnett on the mound, an 11-11 record this season with a 5.15 ERA.

His numbers alone are enough to give anyone a headache, even without getting rear-ended by a car.

Some Yankee fans, most notably Yankee roll caller and lead Bleacher Creature Bald Vinny, started a Facebook campaign: “I Believe in A.J.” Despite the doubt a lot of people had concerning Burnett’s ability to pitch in an elimination game, it is evident the fans got behind him.

All the faith was rewarded.

Aside from one inning, he didn’t disappoint. Burnett helped lead the way to a 10-1 Yankee win in Game Four, forcing a Game Five on Thursday night at Yankee Stadium.

The key play in the game came in the bottom of the first inning. The Tigers loaded the bases with two outs, and Don Kelly smacked a liner into centerfield. Curtis Granderson dove, laid out and made a game-saving grab to end the inning.

Burnett owes his centerfielder dinner after a catch like that.

Had the ball gone over Granderson’s head, anything could – and would – have happened. Kelly would have definitely cleared the bases and he would have undoubtedly made it to third – or even home. In perspective, it could have been an inside-the-park grand slam, and Burnett’s confidence may have disappeared, allowing Detroit to run up the score.  

But it didn’t happen.

Burnett had walked three batters in the first (Miguel Cabrera was walked intentionally) and looked a bit jittery, but seemed to settle down nicely after the shaky frame. He ended the night with 5 2/3 innings pitched, and he gave up just one earned run on four hits. Burnett walked four batters and struck out three.

The only blip on Burnett’s radar was a home run to Victor Martinez in the bottom of the fourth, and yet it didn’t really matter because the Yankees had already put two runs on the board.  

When Burnett left the mound, he got a lot of love from his teammates. I’d say if you took one still frame from the game tonight, the picture of the infield players collectively patting Burnett on the back speaks volumes about the amount faith they had in him.

After Burnett left, yesterday’s goat Rafael Soriano came in – and Granderson once again flashed the leather, making another beautiful catch in centerfield to end the inning. Not only did Granderson save Burnett, but he aided Soriano with a spectacular web gem.

The pitching and defense was there, but you need offense to win a game. And the Bomber bats came alive in this one.

The Yankees were retired 1-2-3 in the first and second innings – and it looked as though it was going to be another stagnant and dead night at the plate. But right before Derek Jeter stepped into the batter’s box, I put on my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles slippers.

Right after I put them on the Captain crushed a two-run double to plate Jorge Posada and Russell Martin. The Yankees took the lead and never relinquished it.

“I think my slippers may have been the Yanks’ good luck charm,” I thought to myself. “I’ll keep them on.”

If they were a good luck charm, they were working in the top half of the fifth. The Yanks added two more runs on a double by Granderson which knocked in Brett Gardner. Alex Rodriguez later hit a sac fly to drive in Jeter.

Hanging onto a 4-1 lead, the Bronx Broskis exploded for six runs in the eighth – and batted around. A balk by Al Albuquerque sent Rodriguez to the plate, a single by pinch-hitter Jesus Montero drove in Mark Teixeira, and then Gardner plated Chris Dickerson (who pinch-ran for Nick Swisher).

And they still weren’t done.

A Daniel Schlereth wild pitch allowed Montero to score, then Robinson Cano knocked Martin and Gardner in with an two-run single.

10 runs in the game. And now we’re heading back to the Bronx, the ALDS tied 2-2.

The last time the Yankees played a Game Five in the ALDS was 2005, and it didn’t go well for them. The Bombers played in Anaheim and were outdone 5-3 at the hands of the Angels.

This time around, however, the Yankees will not be on the road. They will be in the comfort of Yankee Stadium and essentially they have home field advantage and momentum again.

In more good news for the Yanks, the last time they played a Game Five in the ALDS at home, they beat Oakland all the way back in 2001. Strangely enough they won the ’01 ALDS Game Five by the same score they lost the ’05 ALDS by: 5-3.

The Yankees broke the trend tonight. They seemed to be following the 2006 ALDS script a little too closely, but now they have the chance to make a little comeback and beat the Tigers; an opportunity to punch the proverbial ticket back to the American League Championship Series.

Ivan Nova, who dazzled in Game One, will take the mound in the deciding game, hoping to keep the postseason dream alive. He will be opposed by Doug Fister, who the Yankees got to on Saturday.

If the Yanks win Thursday, the Texas Rangers await them in the ALCS – a potential rematch of last year’s Championship Series.

Speaking of breaking playoff trends, the Yankees lost to the Rangers last year.

They will have to break that trend, too. But they have to get there, first. I’ll be working a high school football game Thursday night at 6:00, so I’ll probably only miss the first and maybe the second innings of the game.

When I get home, one thing is for sure: I am putting on my ninja turtles slippers.

ALDS Game 1

It may have taken about 24 hours to complete – but Game One of the American League Division Series is in the books. The Yankees had to wait, but for them, a win like tonight was probably worth waiting for. The Bronx Bombers took Game One from the Tigers in convincing fashion, 9-3.

Obviously the two standouts from this game: Ivan Nova and Robinson Cano.

Nova finished what Sabathia started yesterday night, pitching 6 1/3 innings – and he nearly finished the game, although if he had, it would not have gone is the record books as a complete game because the game was suspended. Nova stood tall and refused to be rattled, only allowing two earned runs on four hits.

The walks may be a concern, as he issued four free passes, but he did strike out five.

Moving forward, the Yankees have to be feeling a lot more confident about him. Remember: Nova is a rookie, and for a rookie to basically start an important playoff game – and pitch the way he did – is impressive and reassuring.

If the Yankees are lucky, Nova will not have to pitch again until the American League Championship Series. Undoubtedly he will continue to be tested throughout this postseason. And if he duplicates what he did tonight, he will pass the playoff test with flying colors.

And then there’s the studly second baseman.

Cano came up in the bottom of the fifth with the score knotted 1-1 and went oppo, crushing a double off the left field wall that plated Curtis Granderson. The play went under review, as it looked to go over the wall and come back, but in fact bounced off the top of the wall. It stood as a two-base hit.

He may not have cleared the wall in left field in the fifth, but he sure as heck cleared the right field wall in the sixth.

Brett Gardner singled to drive in Mark Teixeira and Jorge Posada, but Cano then stepped up with the bases chucked and creamed a grand slam into the second deck in right field, completing a six-run sixth inning for New York.

That granny was the first slam in a Yankee postseason game since Ricky Ledee crushed one in Game Four of the 1999 ALCS – off Rod Beck (†) at Fenway Park.

You’d think a grand slam and a go-ahead RBI double would be enough for anyone in one game.

But Cano still wasn’t done.

In the eighth he doubled again, this time driving home Derek Jeter, registering six of the Yankees’ nine runs in the game. With his hitting show, he became the eighth Major League player to drive in six runs or more in an LDS game.  

If Cano stays as red hot as he was tonight, the Yankee offense can breath easily.

Tomorrow afternoon Freddy Garcia will take the ball and hope to keep the Yanks winning. He will face off with Max Scherzer in Game Two.

I think the most important thing for the Yankees to keep in mind is that the series isn’t over. Indeed it was a motivating and encouraging win, but anything can happen.

Remember: in the 2006 ALDS vs. Detroit the Bronx Bombers started with a Game One win – and then dropped three in a row to lose it all.

Complacency is not an option. They still have two games to win in this series.

And I’m sure they know that. Now it’s just a matter of putting it together.

See you after Game Two.

Rain, Rain Go Away

Quite an inauspicious start to the American League Division Series. Come to think of it, “inauspicious” might not be the word for it. “Wet” and “Soggy” are probably the operative words.

Yankee skipper Joe Girardi had one thing to say about the weather once again ruining a night of baseball at the new Yankee Stadium:

“It’s too late to build a roof.”

The Yankees and Tigers looked primed to be in a battle tonight, tied 1-1 heading into the bottom of the second inning. Delmon Young went the other way in the first inning for a solo home run, depositing the ball on the short porch and putting the Tigers on the board.

But the Yanks answered with a groundout by Alex Rodriguez which plated Derek Jeter in the bottom half of the first to knot it up.

Then, like many times this season, the skies opened up, rain poured down over Yankee Stadium, and we entered a rain delay. About two hours after the game officially started, it was officially called, much to the chagrin of all Yankee fans.

My Facebook and Twitter feeds blew up.

“I hate rain!”

“Screw you, Mother Nature.”

“Game One postponed?!”

“This ruined my Friday night.”

What This Means For the ALDS

Game One will resume tomorrow night at 8:37, picking up right where we left off: in the bottom of the second inning, the score knotted 1-1.

CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander started tonight – and they will not pitch tomorrow.

Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland already knows how he is going to configure his pitching staff for the remainder of the series. Doug Fister will pitch the resumed Game One tomorrow night, Max Scherzer will start Game Two (to be played on Sunday afternoon at 3:07), Game Three he will re-send Verlander to the mound – and Game Three is Monday night.

If it goes to a fourth game, it will be played on Tuesday night and Rick Porcello gets the ball. If the series goes the distance and reaches a decisive fifth game on Thursday, it’s Fister again.

This rain-out could mean good news for the Yanks: they’ll only see Verlander once.

Girardi indicated that rookie Ivan Nova will start the resumed Game One tomorrow night. Freddy Garcia will start Sunday, but from there, he doesn’t yet know what direction he will go in.

In his owns words, “Nova will pitch for us tomorrow, Freddy will go Sunday, and after that I can’t tell you how we’ll do it.”

More likely than not, Sabathia will take the ball in Game Three, although from what I read he may lobby to pitch Sunday.

But the way things look right now, just as Verlander is only pitching once in this series, Sabathia might have to suffer the same fate. There is a chance the Yankees might need a fourth starter in this series, and the skipper hinted at who he will probably turn to.

“It’s obviously something we’re going to have to talk about,” Girardi said of a fourth starter.

“A.J. is obviously the most stretched out for us, in that situation.”

Cue the barf bags.

This certainly isn’t what either team wanted or expected, but as the old saying goes, you cannot predict or fight the weather. I’ve recently learned there are things in life you can and cannot control, and rain falls into that category.

Yesterday I wrote about the similarities and differences between this ALDS and the ALDS the Yankees played against the Tigers in 2006. This rain-out is another parallel that can be drawn between ’11 and ’06. There was a rain-out in that series as well which affected the Yankees.

No matter what happens now, at the end of this series, whoever loses is probably going to point to tonight and say the rain-out did not help. I don’t anticipate either team or manager to make excuses, but if there isn’t a sweep, they have to play four days in a row – and that is not favorable to any team in a playoff series.

Unfortunately for the Yankees and Tigers, just like tonight, heavy rain is in the forecast for tomorrow night. If the game gets rained out tomorrow night, I’ll be officially convinced that God is laughing so hard at the Red Sox collapse that He’s crying – which in turn is creating rain over Yankee Stadium.

If that is the case: God, I love you, but please stop. And let the Yankees play ball.

End of the Year Awards

No one gave the Yankees a fighting chance when 2011 started. The lineup and defense was declared “old.” The pitching rotation was called “comically thin,” and the fact that the Yankees did not pick up a huge free agent in the off-season led every skeptic to believe they were going to fail this year.

Now look where they are – and who is struggling for their playoff lives.

The Boston Red Sox were the favorites. They acquired Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, bolstering their already-potent, veteran-laden lineup. All the folks who talked up the Red Sox to win it all this season are probably kicking themselves now, as the Red Sox are just 2 ½ games in front of the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Angels in the AL Wild Card race.

Yesterday the Yankees beat the Rays twice, sweeping a day-night double header. The Bronx Bombers won both games by the same count, 4-2, and captured their 17th American League Eastern Division title.

Meanwhile Boston dropped their second straight game – and they are 3-7 over their last 10 games. The Red Sox have gone ice cold at the wrong time and the Yankees have become red hot at the right time.

With the Yanks no longer having to worry about winning the division and the end of the regular season right around the corner, it’s that time of the year again: the time to reward the Yankee players for what they have achieved this season.

It’s the third annual Yankee Yapping End of the Year Awards!

Let us all find out who this year’s winners are.

 

Yankee Yapping Milestone Man Award

Winners: Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera

In 2009 both Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera accomplished something special. Jeter became the all-time Yankee hits leader and Rivera captured his 500th career save.

Fast forward two years later and both of these perennial Yankees are still making history.

On July 9, Jeter stepped up to the plate at home and clubbed a home run to deep left-center field, his 3,000th career hit. He became the first Yankee to ever record 3,000 hits and the second person since Wade Boggs to leave the yard for 3K.

Rivera became the all-time saves leader on Monday, nailing down his 602nd career save, securing a 6-4 Yankee win over the Minnesota Twins.

   

With 602 saves under his belt he passed Trevor Hoffman for most career saves all-time. Including the postseason, Rivera has 644, as he also has saved 42 playoff games.

Jeter and Rivera have only solidified what we as Yankee fans have known all along: that they are legends. No one may ever duplicate what both of these men have accomplished. In the foreseeable future, there won’t be another Yankee to get 3,000 hits.

There’s also a good chance no one will ever do what Rivera has done in terms of closing ballgames.

I don’t have to sell the Captain and Mo at all; there is nothing to say that hasn’t been said a million times. Jeter and Rivera have earned the love and adoration of every Yankee fan in the world. Both are five-time World Series champs, and have an opportunity to become six-time champs this year.

Time will tell if they get there, but until then, there are Yankee Yapping Milestone Man winners. Congrats guys!

Yankee Yapping Most Valuable Player Award

Winner: Curtis Granderson

These past few years the Yankees have had a number of players in the running for the American League Most Valuable Player Award. Last year it was Robinson Cano, this year it is Curtis Granderson. The centerfielder’s .270 batting average may be the only statistic that is holding him down, but he has done very well for himself in every other offensive category.

At press time Granderson leads the majors in runs scored (134) and RBIs (119), and is second in home runs (41) to Toronto’s Jose Bautista (42).

Yet, remember the old saying, which originated in 2005 when David Ortiz was in the running for MVP: it should go to “full-time players” only. Defense is part of being a baseball player too, and Granderson has exhibited excellent D.

In the field he is showing off his capability with 11 assists and a .992 fielding percentage.

Throughout the year Granderson has come up in some huge spots on both sides of the field, and has turned into the elite player the Yankees traded for before 2010. He has made a lot of progress and stepped up, especially against left-handed pitching – which was something scrutinized when the Yanks acquired him.

The big fuss about Granderson was his strife against lefties. But that has not affected him this year.

In fact, Granderson is actually hitting .277 off southpaws, as opposed to his .266 BA vs. righties. 16 of his 41 homers have come off lefties and his slugging percentage vs. left-handers is .614. Against righties, Granderson is slugging .549.

He has a chance to win the AL MVP this year. But if he doesn’t, he can always take solace knowing he has won the Yankee Yapping MVP Award. Congrats Curtis!

Yankee Yapping Ace of the Year Award

Winner: CC Sabathia

I started this blog in 2009 and this will be the third Ace of the Year Award I will be handing out. All three years it has gone to the same man and rightfully so.

It was announced tonight that CC Sabathia will not make another start before the American League Division Series begins, which means he went 19-8 with a 3.00 ERA this year. He racked up 230 strikeouts, logged 237 1/3 innings, and registered three complete games (one of which was a shutout).

Sabathia has been the horse since day one; the leader. He takes the ball every fifth day and the Yankees seem to have a certain confidence and swagger whenever he’s on the mound. I think they take the field knowing they have a great chance to win with Sabathia pitching.

When the postseason begins, Sabathia has to be his usual self. Not that he pitched all that poorly last year, but he did end the American League Championship Series with a 6.30 ERA while surrendering seven earned runs in just 10 innings. If he can be that dominant pitcher we have seen, the Yanks can certainly win a lot of games. If not, they are in big trouble.

But we know what to expect from him – and he usually delivers. Sabathia won’t win the Cy Young Award because Justin Verlander of Detroit basically has that locked up. But he did win Yankee Yapping Ace of the Year for the third consecutive time.

Congrats, CC!

Yankee Yapping Silver Slugger Award

Winner: Robinson Cano

The Yankees have a lot of players to thank for where they are. But the biggest thanks probably deserves to go to the studly second baseman Robinson Cano.  

After he showed off his might winning the Home Run Derby, Cano continued to portray exemplary power – which is something that sometimes doesn’t happen. There has been a theory going around these past few years that the derby messes up a hitter’s swing.

Take David Wright on the other side of town, for example. He came close to winning the Home Run Derby in 2006, but according to some experts, never put up the same power numbers after that year. Same thing goes for Bobby Abreu, who won the derby in 2005, but never hit more than 20 dingers in a season following it.

Cano on the other hand has 27 homers, 116 RBIs, and is batting .305. He has been a consistent force in the Yankee lineup, taking on the cleanup hitter role in the absence of Alex Rodriguez. He has thrived in everything that has been thrown at him and continues to impress with his sweet swing and smooth stride.

Like Granderson he may be considered for AL MVP Award – last year he finished third in the voting. Whatever happens, he has been a major reason for the Yanks’ success. Congrats Robinson!

Yankee Yapping WTF?! Award

Winner: A.J. Burnett

When Spring Training started, Yankee analysts (namely Ken Singleton) raved about the difference in A.J. Burnett. Singleton called his pitching delivery “completely revisited” and after watching a bullpen session, said Burnett’s fastball and curve ball were “crackling through the strike zone.”

Under the tutelage of first-year pitching coach Larry Rothschild, I thought he could finally go back to that dominant form he once displayed when he pitched for the Florida Marlins and the Toronto Blue Jays. A lot of other fans also felt Burnett was primed for a big year.

But those thoughts were not well-founded.

The man who was signed to a lucrative five-year, $82.5 million contract has not lived up to it, as he is 10-11 with a 5.28 ERA – after going 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA in 2010. He has given up 107 earned runs in 182 1/3 innings pitched, and has allowed more than a hit per inning. He also leads the league in wild pitches with 25 – and this is the third time in his career he has led the league in that category.

For the past few years I have attempted to defend Burnett for the sake of our initials. I can’t take away from the fact that he pitched the game of his life in Game Two of the ’09 World Series. If he had not won that game and pitched as effectively as he did, I’m not convinced the Yankees would have beaten the Phillies.

Yet New York sports supporters have one question, Burnett: what have you done for me lately?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. And there is no way I can defend an ERA of 5.28 in a pitcher who cost $82.5 million. Burnett was supposed to be a solid number two starter and he hasn’t even proved to be a good number four starter; maybe an acceptable number five man, but he is nowhere near what the Yankees expected him to be.

I lost a little bit of respect for him when he made a start in Minnesota vs. the Twins on Aug. 20. Burnett tossed just 1 2/3 innings before Joe Girardi came to the mound to take the ball from him. He allowed seven earned runs on five hits, walking three batters and striking out only one.

As he left the mound, Burnett lipped off at his manager and stormed into the clubhouse.

In my mind it was a complete and utter display of unprofessionalism.  

After this year he is still owed $33 million – which is a lot of money. Unless the Yanks can get rid of him somehow, they might be stuck with him for at least another year and a half. I just don’t know what to make of him anymore.

Burnett I have one question for you: WTF?!

Yankee Yapping “He Proved Me Wrong Award”

Winner: Ivan Nova

I had serious doubts about Ivan Nova when the year began. In a big game, I did not want to trust him with the ball, being that he was 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA in 10 games (seven starts) last year. In my mind I drew a comparison between him and Ian Kennedy (when he was a Yankee), thinking he would flop.

But soon after I found myself comparing him to Kennedy, I found myself comparing him to Chien-Ming Wang, being that his sinker ball has worked so effectively and he has induced a good amount of ground ball outs. Using that pitch, he has cruised to a 16-4 record this year with a 3.62 ERA.

Nova is in the running for the American League Rookie of the Year and is probably going to be the number two starter in the postseason – quite a responsibility for a 24-year old.   

Although he has certainly proved me wrong as far as the regular season goes, he still has to show he can get it done when it matters. It remains to be seen whether Nova can help carry the Yanks in the postseason. But for now, he has shown an outstanding capability on the mound.

For the past two years pitchers have won Rookie of the Year; Andrew Bailey of Oakland in 2009 and Neftali Feliz of Texas in ’10. I wish Nova the best of luck to keep the line of pitchers winning ROTY moving.

And if he doesn’t win it, at least he won a Yankee Yapping Award. Congrats Ivan!

Yankee Yapping Best Season From a Newcomer

Winner: Russell Martin

He may be Canadian but after this year, I think he is officially a New Yorker.

Russell Martin was a wonderful pickup by the Yanks before 2011 commenced. He has displayed sheer durability, playing in 121 games this year. His batting average is hovering around.236, but he has smacked 17 home runs and knocked in 62 runs while scoring 55.

There’s an old saying about catchers: having one that can hit is a bonus – and we have that bonus.

Martin has also done very well working with a pitching staff he has never worked with before. He has done very well with every hurler on the staff and in the bullpen, and can easily call a good game behind the plate.

I’m looking forward to another year with Martin in pinstripes and he deserves the honor of being called the best newcomer to the team. Congrats Russell!

Yankee Yapping Reliever of the Year

Winner: David Robertson

This will be David Robertson’s second consecutive Yankee Yapping Reliever of the Year win. Last year he grinded through a slow start, only to become a lights-out relief man.

This year Robertson was an All-Star and in relief he is 4-0 with a tiny 1.11 ERA. The young man out of Alabama has struck out 96 batters in 64 2/3 innings pitched, has notched 39 holds, and has carved his niche as the primary setup man for Rivera.  

He’s also earned the nickname “Houdini” for being able to get out of tight jams and sticky situations.

Robertson has been an asset ever since he joined the Yanks in 2008, and they have been lucky to have such a consistent bullpen pitcher on their roster. He scuffled a bit in last year’s postseason, but if he maintains that consistency he displayed all season, he will do just fine.

Congrats David!

Yankee Yapping Future Star Award

Winner: Jesus Montero

On Sept. 1 Jesus Montero made his much-anticipated debut in a game against the hated Boston Red Sox. He went 0-for-4 while getting hit by a pitch, and didn’t impress many fans in his first game.

But he collected his first hit in the next game against Toronto, and a few days later on Sept. 5 crushed his first two homers against the Baltimore Orioles at home. He became the first Yankee since Shane Spencer (1998) to hit his first two Major League homers in the same game.

Montero has only played in 14 games and still has a long way to go in terms of showing off what he can do. There are certainly high hopes and expectations, but from what he has given us so far, I believe he is capable; he can live up to the hype.

With Jorge Posada likely on his way out and Francisco Cervelli constantly getting knocked in the head, Montero is likely the catcher of the future.

With Martin around for at least another year, he can learn the ropes a little bit and still act as a designated hitter. That way when his time comes and he is the every day catcher, he will be more than ready.

In the meantime, it was smart of the Yankees to call him up and at least give him a taste of the majors. If he gets his little bit of experience now, I have no doubt he will be very dangerous in the future. And for that, he wins the Yankee Yapping Future Star Award.

Congrats Jesus!

Well, that about does it for this year’s awards blog. Congrats to all the winners (save for A.J. Burnett; I’m just sorry for him at this point) and congrats to the Yankees on the AL East crown. Within the next few days we will have our ALDS opponent, so look out for previews and playoff analysis.

October, here we come.

September 11, 2001 From My Eyes

It was only my fourth day as a freshman at Our Lady of Lourdes High School in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. – and I was hating it with a true passion. I was struggling to fit in and although I hadn’t been there very long, I somehow got the feeling I was an outcast; barely anyone knew who I was and if I wasn’t there, 90% of the people in the school would not have known the difference. I only had a handful of friends from middle school and I wasn’t in a lot of the classes they were in.

I was a minnow in the Atlantic Ocean – and I could not stand it.  

Some of the teachers weren’t making it any easier for me. Every freshman was placed in a biology class entitled, “The Living Environment,” as their first science credit. In eighth grade I had heard horror stories about an unbelievably stringent biology teacher by the name of Mrs. Cuesta. From the day I heard about her, I prayed every night that I would not get her as my biology teacher.

What do you think happened? Yes. Of course I got her (this is, after all, my life we’re talking about here). I was not very good in science as it was, so she and I were a very, very bad combination. I was terrified just to step foot in her classroom every single morning.

She would not allow her students to utter the words, “Yeah,” “What,” or “Huh” in class. If you were answering a question affirmatively, you were to use the word “Yes,” because “the word ‘Yeah’ is not in the dictionary.” If you could not hear a word someone said, you were not permitted to say, “What?” or “Huh?” You were to say, “Pardon me?” or “Excuse me?”

If you did use any of those words in her presence, you were required to give $1 to her – which she would then donate to some type of fund or mission charity. Luckily for me, I avoided ever giving her any money for saying “Yeah” “What” or “Huh.”

I made sure to choose my words carefully in her class – and most of the time I just tried not to talk at all, unless I was called upon to answer a question. Not for nothing it was for a good cause, but if you ask me, it is overkill.

I sat there in Mrs. Cuesta’s biology class on that fateful Tuesday morning, in the worst mood a 14-year old ninth grader could possibly be in. I would have wanted to be anywhere in the world but there in that classroom with a teacher who was more strict than most of the professors I had at Mercy College.

Looking back, however, I am grateful I was safe in school and not in New York City, like many other unfortunate people.

Around 10:15 the principal came over the PA system and addressed the student body. He only claimed there “was a fire at the World Trade Center” and he asked us to pray for those involved: the rescue workers and those inside the twin towers.

It’s funny how I can remember the exact thought that first ran through my mind the second after he made that announcement.

“The New York City Fire Department is the best of the best,” I thought.

“I’m sure they are going to do all they can to make sure everyone is safe and it probably won’t be a big deal; it’ll probably just be something I see when I pass by Dad watching the news on the couch later tonight and mom might briefly mention it over dinner, or something.”

It may have been ignorance or maybe me just being aloof. Then again it may have been the fact that I was a freshman and I was young, but I didn’t notice anyone’s franticness that day. There must have been kids in the school who were scared because their parents worked in New York City, but I never picked up on it.

Although the thought never even occurred to me, I didn’t have to worry about my parents. They weren’t divorced yet (as they are now) and neither one of them was in New York City at the time of the terrorist attacks. My dad was working for a software company in Connecticut and my mom worked at a radio station in nearby Fishkill, N.Y.

When I got on the bus to go home that day – that was when I was told real story; that it wasn’t just a fire at the World Trade Center. The principal only told us there was a fire so panic would not ensue within the walls of his school. The principal’s version of the story wasn’t altogether false – but it wasn’t altogether true, either.

I suppose I understand why he offered that explanation, though. He didn’t want his students to freak out. In hindsight, it was probably wise to go with that explanation rather than cause chaos among the students.

The bus driver, on the other hand, explained that not only did planes fly into the twins towers, but one smashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. What’s more, a plane supposedly headed for the White House came down in a Pennsylvania field.   

It was a little overwhelming. I just wanted to get home, turn on the TV and see this for myself – and getting home took forever; it was just another reason I disliked school. I was living in Beacon, N.Y., some 16 miles away from my school in Poughkeepsie. I got out of school at 2:30, but it practically took all afternoon to get home because there were a number of stops on the way back.

When I finally made it home a little before 4:00, I turned on the TV and bore witness to the carnage; thousands of people dead. Innocent people lost their lives at the hands of a sadistic and soulless man named Osama bin Laden and his band of terrorists.

The image of those two buildings imploding has not left my brain since that day.  

My mom came home from work a few hours later in tears; her car had an American flag waving proudly from the antenna. She was devastated, and the gravity of the situation didn’t strike me until I saw her face. I had never seen my mother in such disarray; she’s always been the strongest woman I have ever known, and to see her that heart-broken was scary.

I obviously knew what was troubling her, but I couldn’t understand why she was crying. So I asked her.

“Do you realize how many people, just like you, won’t ever see their moms or dads again?” she said to me.

“A.J., I’m sad more than anything else; sad for everyone who lost their lives today and their families and friends. And I’m a little scared. What happened today – you can see that on the news any day of the week. But it happens in places that are on the other side of the world. This happened an hour and a half away from my house.”

After she said that, I understood her tears.

Even my dad, a strong-willed man himself, was visibly shaken.

“This may be worse than Pearl Harbor,” he pointed out. “This is tragic; so sad.”

My neighborhood friends couldn’t believe it, either. A lot of them were just as young as I was, some of them even younger. We tried to wrap our heads around the whole thing and played a game of kickball that evening to take our minds off what had happened. We had some fun in the wake of such tragedy; we kicked the ball, caught the ball, ran the bases, and played until dusk fell and the porch lights came on.

I think it may have been our way of showing that the American spirit, although dented on 9/11, was not dead. We may have even dedicated our kickball game to those who lost their lives that day – it’s something we would have done. It’s just the type of kids we were – always thinking of other people before ourselves.

Just as we turned to kickball to take our minds off the terrorist attacks, a lot of people in New York turned to baseball – and New York’s favorite team – the Yankees. The Bombers were looking like another championship-caliber squad. It seemed as though nothing was going to stop them on their quest for their 27th title, and their fifth in six years.

MLB halted play for a week following September 11 and when the Yankees (and to be fair, the Mets too) returned to the diamond, they were cheered by every baseball fan. I remember one sign a fan held up that read, “We are all New Yorkers today.”

Longtime Yankee favorite Bernie Williams once said that whoever he could get his hands on during that time, whether it was a police officer or a firefighter, he would hug them. The players were just as shaken as the citizens and it was clear they did all they could do help those affected on 9/11.

The Yankees had some incredible moments the following October. One of the more famous plays happened in the American League Championship Series vs. Oakland, when Derek Jeter made the famous flip play.

Jeter raced out of position and flipped the ball to Jorge Posada, nailing Jeremy Giambi at home plate to preserve a 1-0 Yankee lead in the bottom of the seventh. The play might have saved the Yankees’ chances at going to the World Series.

One word: spectacular.

When the Yankees reached the fall classic, the four -year old Arizona Diamondbacks awaited them. New York dropped the first two games, but the Yanks took Game Three, winning a tight one, 2-1.

Before Game Three, then-President George W. Bush was on hand to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. He wore an FDNY fleece, complete with a bulletproof vest underneath. In the clubhouse before he took the field, the President ran into Jeter, and asked him if he should throw off the mound or the grass in front of the mound.

Jeter advised Bush to throw from the mound – but not to bounce the ball, because if he had, the fans would boo him.

The President walked out to the mound and gave a thumbs-up, symbolizing that America was going to be OK. He then tossed a perfect strike, a perfect way to begin the night. Nobody booed; everyone in attendance at Yankee Stadium chanted “U-S-A!” in unison. It also marked the first time a President threw out an honorary World Series first pitch since Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956.

Game Three was historic. But Game Four, however, was the game to be at.

Jeter came up in the bottom of the 10th, the game tied 3-3. The clock had just struck midnight and for the first time ever, there was baseball being played in the month of November.

With Arizona closer Byung-Hyun Kim (who had been lights-out automatic throughout the ’01 season) in to pitch, the Yankee shortstop pounded a pitch that landed in the short porch of the old stadium. As Jeter rounded the bases, he held his arm in the air; his fist clenched. World Series knotted, 2-2.

The next day at school my Global History teacher Mr. Umlauft lectured us about many things; the Byzantine Empire, the Code of Hammurabi, and the four noble truths. But at the end of class he had one last thing to teach us.

“There is some footage I want to show you that is very significant to the world,” he explained. “Let me show you.”

He rolled out his TV and proceeded to show us the clip of Jeter’s walk-off home run the night before, and the shot of the person in the crowd who held up a sign that read, “Mr. November.” According to Mr. Umlauft, he knew the person holding the sign quite well.

“You see that guy?” he asked us, pointing to the sign. “That’s my nephew. He was the one who held up the sign.”

Fascinating. Of all the people in New York who could have held up the famous “Mr. November” sign, it was my Global History teacher’s nephew.

The Yanks did it again in Game Five, coming back from a 2-0 deficit in the ninth inning (on the strength of a two-run homer hit by Scott Brosius). The Yanks went on to win the game in the 12th on an RBI single off the bat of Alfonso Soriano.

Magic and aura were appearing nightly at the big ballpark in the Bronx. But their momentum disappeared in the desert, as the Yankees dropped Game Six in the worst way, losing 15-2.

Game Seven was the last night of the Yankee Dynasty. The Yankees held a 2-1 lead going into the ninth with the greatest of all-time, Mariano Rivera, on the mound. He allowed two runs in the inning and the D’Backs won the Series. Sitting in my room stunned watching that game, I could only let out four words:

“The other team won?”

I had been so used to the Yankees winning the World Series year in and year out that it left me all but speechless. It would have only made sense for the Yanks to win the 2001 World Series, and give the people of New York a ticker tape parade – it would have helped even more in terms of coping with September 11.

Truthfully baseball wasn’t the main issue that year. America regaining its composure and getting back to its feet was more important. Yet, baseball did exactly what it is there to do during that tragic time: make people happy. In that regard, it was important and helped people deal with the tragedy.

Over the years I have become a little bit more understanding about things that happened on 9/11; I have heard people’s stories and have seen how crushed and heart-broken they were (and still are). Each of them lost loved ones to a senseless and callous act of terrorism. I have watched documentaries and it pains me to see some of these people who no longer have friends and family members.

I have also come across still frames of the twin towers while they were under attack. A pair of them piqued my interest…

It looks as though a demon’s head appeared in the fire when the second plane hit the south tower.

As the tower collapsed, it almost resembled another demon.

Who is to say if these really mean anything at all, but the fact is there is evil in the world; 9/11 proved that. These pictures look as though they are demons, but then again I understand that demons were the ones who orchestrated these horrific attacks.                                  

Although there is evil that manifests itself in our lives, it’s important to know that divinity and goodness are also present. New York, Washington, Pennsylvania, and America in general banded together during 9/11. Citizens helped each other and showed that even in the wake of such disaster, good things can come of it, like people doing everything and anything they can to aid a stranger.

There were so many Good Samaritans as a result of 9/11.

A lot of things have happened in my life since September 11, 2001. But I don’t believe a day has gone by when I don’t at least once think about sitting in Mrs. Cuesta’s biology class and the principal telling us of a fire at the World Trade Center – and the footage of the planes slamming the twin towers when I got home that day.

My mom crying, my dad upset: it’s still very fresh in my mind. I remember it all.  

But when I think of that time, I also think about good things, like the kickball game my friends and I played that very night, and the ’01 World Series.

No, the Yankees did not win which isn’t good, but if you were to ask me one thing I remember about that fall classic, it’s Jeter’s arm outstretched triumphantly in the air, rounding the bases after crushing that walk-off home run. It’s the one picture in my head I took away from the entire World Series.

That home run lifted everyone in New York, including me.

The point is to never forget where you were, how it affected you, and consider everyone who was affected. September 11 has been dubbed “Patriot Day” and the best way to honor it is to always think about those people on the airplanes and in the buildings; how many kids went home from school that day to no one, and were left wondering if their mom or dad was going to come home at all.

Remember those people; never forget 9/11/01.

I promise, for as long as I live, I will never forget.

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