By Jason Klein
Originally Written For IN New York Magazine – 3/31/11
Time for a fresh start.
A pen rests peacefully on the desk, nestled next to a clean, white, crisp piece of paper. Together, they will transcribe history.
There are no guidelines or limitations for what’s about to be written. No guarantees either. Only hope.
Time to pick up the pen and script a new beginning.
It’s Opening Day.
Regarded as a pseudo National holiday, the celebration grants all 30 Major League Baseball Clubs a clean slate, and takes place today, and tomorrow, within stadiums across the country. It’s one of the most anticipated events on the sports calendar. After a miserably long, cold winter here in the New York area, baseball fans are eager to trade in their snow shovels for Louisville Sluggers and get cracking!
Legendary Yankees Centerfielder, Joe DiMaggio, once said, “You look forward to it like a birthday party when you’re a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen.”
“Joltin’ Joe” couldn’t have spoken truer words.
Everyone’s a kid on Opening Day. Children of all ages play hooky from school, and work, properly commemorating the day and basking in its excitement. It’s an opportunity, as a fan, to believe in the impossible. Today, everyone’s in first place, and everyone has a chance to achieve greatness.
Even the Mets.
In Queens, Opening Day 2011 is truly the dawn of a new era. New Manager, Terry Collins and General Manager, Sandy Alderson, replace Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya, respectively. New leadership and focus at the top will help a team that looked lost much of 2010.
The 2011 Mets are looking to improve on a paltry 79-83 record, good for 4th place in the National League East last year. They will have their hands full in a very difficult division. For the Mets to capture the flag, they will have to go through their long-time rivals, the Atlanta Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies – a team stacked with the most dominant pitching staff in the sport. If the Phillies were playing poker, they’d confidently go “all in” with their four aces, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, and the newly re-acquired, Cliff Lee.
A successful 2011 season for the Mets will depend on their ability to stay healthy. Johan Santana, the jewel of the pitching staff, is already in danger of missing the entire season as he recovers from elbow surgery. Question marks in the outfield could cause problems as well. Carlos Beltran continues to battle the same knee problems that plagued his 2010 and Jason Bay pulled a rib cage muscle this week, an injury that could send him to the Disabled List to start the season.
If key members of their offense can spend more time in the lineup than the infirmary, this club could contend. They will have no trouble scoring runs with stars like Jose Reyes and David Wright at the top of their order again this year. Add a healthy Beltran and Bay to the mix, and the Mets could potentially compete.
Across the river, in the Bronx, a new season brings the same expectations: an October date with the jeweler. That’s when the Yankees hope to be fitted for World Series rings commemorating another championship, the 28th in franchise history.
Like the Mets, the Bronx Bombers will have no trouble scoring runs in 2011. Superstars like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano round out the heart of a devastating lineup and will do most of the damage for the Yankees. Expect a big offensive year from Curtis Granderson as well, as he looks to rebound from a subpar inaugural season in pinstripes.
The face of the franchise, Derek Jeter, will also try to improve upon a statistically poor offensive 2010 season. Now 36 years-old, The Captain will look to silence critics by still producing at a superstar level. Jeter will make history this summer, becoming the first Yankee to collect 3,000 hits in pinstripes. He enters the season only 74 hits shy of the mark –he should get there by mid-June.
The key to the entire Yankees season is an unlikely one: A.J. Burnett. With Andy Pettitte’s retirement, and Cliff Lee’s decision to take his talents to Philly instead of the Bronx, Burnett’s shoulders might get sore carrying the added expectations. CC Sabathia will be solid at the top of the rotation, as usual, but he’ll need help. Burnett must carry his weight and turn the page on a disastrous 2010 season, recapturing the magic on the mound that helped bring the Yankees a Title in 2009.
Should the train go off the track early on, look for General Manager, Brian Cashman, to make some moves and shore up the rotation before the trading deadline. With two stud catching prospects in Jesus Montero and Austin Romine, the Yanks might have the chips to land a top starter via trade. Promoting the young, and highly regarded pitching prospect, Manuel Banuelos, is another option.
The acquisition of Rafael Soriano should compliment the legendary, Mariano Rivera, joining forces to form a dominant backend of the bullpen. With those two, the Yankees will certainly have no problem finishing games.
Before they can finish though, everyone has to start. It begins this afternoon, in the Bronx, with the Yankees and Tigers. It continues tomorrow night with the Mets and Marlins in Miami. Time to pick up the pen and begin documenting history.
It’s a fresh start. It’s Opening Day.
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