New Players & Fans Set To Experience Yankees in ALCS For First Time

By Jason Klein  

I walked my daughter to the bus stop this morning.

It’s a short stroll, really.  Around the corner and down a hill – just enough steps to pad my Fitbit stats and see some familiar October sights.  There were pumpkins on porches, leaves on the ground, and an interlocking “NY” on my shirt.

Of course there was.

ALCS Logo

Yankee Stadium Prepares For The ALCS’s Bronx Return.

The Yankees will play Game 1 of the American League Championship Series tonight in Houston.  Watching the Yanks play baseball deep into October is typical of my childhood.  Not so for kids my daughter’s age.

The Yankees reached the ALCS or World Series 7 times from 1996-2004.  Then, 3 more times between 2009-2012.  Since then, their lone Postseason appearance came in 2015 when they lost to the Astros in the AL Wild Card Game.

So, tonight is special for kids like my daughter, born within the last 10 years.

A boy waiting for the bus noticed my shirt and asked if I was excited for the upcoming series.

“Of course,” I said.  “How about you?”

His face lit up.  His smile was huge, like an Aaron Judge homerun swing.

“Yeah!” He said.  “I’ve never seen them play in the ALCS before.”

He then gave me a “thumbs down.”

“When were you born?” I asked.

“2008.  But I was too young to watch the 2009 World Series,” he said.

His excitement reminded me a lot of myself back in 1996 – the first time I’d seen the Yankees win a playoff series.  He had a look of wonderment – like he was about to witness something he’d never seen before.

He is.

My Yankees – you know, Jeter, Bernie, Pettitte, Posada and Mo – are nice historical footnotes for today’s kids.  Now, Judge, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and the rest of this young core of players are ushering in a new generation of Yankees success.  They’re bringing the new generation of fans along with them. Judge-Sanchez

The boy’s reaction did make me further appreciate the late-90s dynastic run.  It’s so difficult to sustain success from one year to the next.  Every opportunity to win a championship should be treasured.  You never know when it will happen again.

Many say these Yankees arrived ahead of schedule.  They weren’t expected to compete this soon.  They are “playing with the house’s money.”

I disagree.

It’s never the wrong time to win a Title.  Teams that get this close must capitalize.  “Wait ‘till next year” isn’t guaranteed.

Just ask the 2015 Mets.

It’s possible, this could be the only shot this young group of Yankees have to win a World Series.

Or, it could be just the beginning of another sustained run of success.

The latter would give kids my daughter’s age a childhood experience similar to mine.  Yankees baseball, deep into the Fall, would once again be a familiar October sight.

Like pumpkins on porches, leaves on the ground, and an interlocking “NY” on my shirt.

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One More Time, Jeter Brings Out The Kid In Me

By Jason Klein

It was supposed to mark the end of my childhood.

Instead, I got thrown right back in the middle of it.

I was a kid again – despite having kids of my own now – all because the kid from Kalamazoo did what he always does…one last time.

Jeter Leaps Following His Walk-Off Hit.

Jeter Leaps Following His Walk-Off Hit.

Thursday night against the Orioles, in his final Yankee Stadium at bat, Derek Jeter poked a bottom of the ninth, game winning RBI single to right field. In the last huge moment of his twenty-year career, Jeter came through again.

Of course he did.

His storied career is loaded with sweet ice cream sundae moments, and this last one will sit near the top like a cherry. Captain Clutch’s latest greatest moment didn’t surprise anyone who’s been paying attention for the past two decades. It certainly didn’t shock me. Instead, it brought me right back to the late-90s, when these types of things happened with regularity.

After securing victory, Jeter leapt high into the Bronx night, the way he used to back when I was in high school. In that moment, his recent injury woes and diminished abilities didn’t matter. The forty candles on his last birthday cake didn’t matter either. In that moment, the only thing that mattered was that Derek Jeter – at least for one night – was a kid again, flying high through the sky, arms raised, like the super hero he’s been for more than half my life.

Teammates Celebrate With Jeter.

Teammates Celebrate With Jeter.

He always seems to save the day for the Yankees.

As teammates flooded the field, so did memories of previous triumphs, so magical and so perfect, you’d think the whole thing was a Hollywood script. Instead, it’s reality, and Jeter’s been the one writing history, one remarkable moment at a time, for the past twenty seasons.

When the spotlight – and camera phone flashes – were brightest, that’s when Jeter would always shine brighter. Thursday night was no exception. His walk-off hit was so reminiscent of past Jeter conquests, you’d swear you saw the Posadas, Pettittes, Bernies, Tinos, Torres and Mos out there celebrating victory with him.

And then they actually were.

Torre, Posada, Rivera & Martinez Wait To Walk Jeter into Retirement.

Torre, Posada, Rivera & Martinez Wait To Walk Jeter into Retirement.

Jeter’s baseball brothers stood behind home plate in the Bronx, quietly watching their former teammate do what he always seems to do…one last time. Then, they too congratulated him and symbolically asked him to join them in retirement.

It was a poignant moment that, no doubt, had Jeter fighting back some tears.

“I think I’ve done a pretty good job of controlling my emotions throughout my career,” he would later say, “but today, I wasn’t able to.”

Neither were those of us watching the drama unfold.

Eliminated from playoff contention the night before, it was the first game of Derek Jeter’s Yankee Stadium career without any meaning.

Jeter Acknowledges The Yankee Stadium Crowd.

Jeter Acknowledges The Yankee Stadium Crowd.

Except, in the end, it really meant so much.

For Jeter, it was the final big moment of a career he would later deem to be “above and beyond anything I’d ever dreamt of.”

For me, it was a chance to be a kid again, one more time, when these types of Jeter moments happened with regularity.

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Here’s The Catch: Posada Should Receive #602 From Mo

By Jason Klein

Originally Written For Ed Randall’s Talking Baseball – 9/13/11

Mariano Rivera is about to catch Trevor Hoffman. When he does, Jorge Posada is the right man to catch Rivera.

The immortal Rivera is just one save shy of 600, two away from joining Hoffman atop the all-time career saves list with 601, and three away from passing him with 602.  After that, there will no doubt be more saves added to Rivera’s first-ballot Hall of Fame resume – the ageless closer currently has a 2.09 ERA, and at age 41, looks as good as he ever has.

Posada Should Hand Ball To Rivera for #602/Getty Images

Perhaps prospects like Jesus Montero or Austin Romine will backstop Rivera’s final career save, sometime in 2012 or beyond.  That’s for another day.  When Rivera collects his 602nd career save, probably sometime in the next week or so, it should be Posada receiving the record-breaking, and no doubt devastating, cutter.

There is no one more fitting to do the honors.

For 13 seasons, from 1998-2010, Posada was a mainstay behind the plate for the Yankees.  Although the switch-hitting catcher was always revered more for his abilities at the plate, rather than behind it, he certainly held his own defensively over the years.  With the acquisition of Russell Martin, and up-and-comers Montero and Romine on the way, Posada was relegated to DH in 2011, getting the occasional start at first base.

He was also embarrassed twice, on national TV.  First he was dropped to 9th in the line up on May 14th, and then he lost his DH job on August 7th – both prior to games with the Red Sox.

Iroinically, when injuries claimed Martin and back up Francisco Cervelli, Posada was thrown behind the plate for the first time all season on September 10th.   However, the Yankees were so disenchanted with the 40-year-old catching, they called up the 22-year-old Romine the next day to take over.

Posada has lost a step, and this will most likely be his final season in pinstripes, but he deserves the opportunity to be a part of history with his battery mate, Rivera.

On July 9th, Posada was the first one to congratulate his long-time teammate Derek Jeter at home plate following his 3,000th career hit.  For 13 seasons, Posada was the first to toast his closer, dropping the ball in his mitt, save after legendary save.  He’s certainly capable of catching one more inning – the ninth of course – during the record-breaking affair.

It’s the right thing to do for a franchise obsessed with history and magical storylines.  There’s no question, the moment will belong to Rivera, but Posada should get to play a small part in the festivities.

“Enter Sandman” will fill the air as Rivera makes his iconic trot to the hill, in hot pursuit of history.  The flashbulbs will be popping that night.  It’s only fair that Posada’s glove is popping too.

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Believe it. Pettitte One Of Most Reliable Yankees Pitchers Ever.

By Jason Klein

Originally Written For The Official Steiner Sports Blog – 2/3/11

Trust Andy Pettitte.

For sixteen seasons, he dramatically stared down opposing batters and came up big in the biggest of spots.  More times than not, Pettitte delivered, earning the trust of his teammates and his fans alike.  Tomorrow afternoon, Pettitte will stare down a throng of media at Yankee Stadium to announce his retirement.  When he does, trust him when he says, he’s thrown his final pitch in baseball.

Pettitte will not pull a “Brett Favre” and un-retire.  He gave the game of baseball, and the New York Yankees specifically, everything he had.  Joe Namath once said, “If you aren’t going all the way, why go at all?”  Pettitte, a workhorse, and a perfectionist on the mound, must have asked himself this very question.  Most likely, the answer wasn’t up to his standard of excellence and he decided to move on rather than perform at a level below what he expects.

Pettitte’s Reliability Will Be Tough To Replace.

So Andy Pettitte will call it a career.  One of the most beloved and reliable players in Yankees history, he will retire a 3-Time All-Star and a 5-Time World Series Champion.  He is the all-time leader in Postseason victories (19), finishes with a 240-138 career regular season mark, and a 3.88 ERA.

Along with teammates Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera, Pettitte helped make up the “Core 4” of longest-tenured Yankees, despite playing three seasons in the middle of his career for the Houston Astros.

Perhaps his most memorable moment in pinstripes came during his second season in baseball.  It was Game 5 of the 1996 World Series, and the Yankees and Braves were tied at 2 games each.  The Yankees called on their young lefty to win a pivotal game in Atlanta, squaring off with John Smoltz.  Pettitte threw 8.1 innings allowing 0 runs on just 5 hits.  That night, his reputation as a big-game pitcher would be born.

Over the next 14 years, Pettitte would appear in 7 more World Series (once with Houston in 2005) and would consistently answer the bell when called upon.  Whenever the Yankees were in need of a big win after a Game 1 series loss, Pettitte could be trusted with the ball.

In 2007, Andy Pettitte confronted the allegations of his HGH use with the same class he displayed throughout his tenure in the big leagues.  His admission to wrongdoing restored faith among fans and his sincerity allowed him to turn a dark page that other offenders never could.

With his retirement, Pettitte will most likely settle back down in Texas, with his family, and leave behind a legion of adoring fans and a suspect pitching rotation in the Bronx.  The 38-year-old Yankees legend will depart as an iconic figure in franchise history and a fan-favorite.

Tomorrow, when Andy Pettitte tells the world he’s retiring, trust him.  He will not be making any comebacks, not if he doesn’t believe he can pitch at the level he expects.  While his final statistics place him in the Hall of Fame discussion, there is no guarantee he will ever find himself enshrined in Cooperstown.

Monument Park is a different story.  Andy Pettitte Day at Yankee Stadium will happen one day soon and his #46 will be removed from pinstriped circulation.  He’ll be honored for his remarkable body of work, his class, and for the way he represented the Yankees.

The game of baseball says goodbye to one of its greats.  Yankees fans will miss him and his reliability on the mound will be nearly impossible to replace.

That you can trust.

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Cashman, Yankees Look Forward to Spring Training…Already.

By Jason Klein

Originally Written For The Official Steiner Sports Blog – 10/23/10

The words on his hat were sobering.

Just a half hour after the New York Yankees stunningly lost to theTexas Rangers in Game 6 of the 2010 ALCS, General Manager, Brian Cashman was seen sporting a cap that read, “Spring Training,” and featured a Yankees logo.

Yankees Look on As Rangers Celebrate Capturing the AL Pennant

Symbolically, the hat represented a positive look forward to the 2011 season and the franchise’s next opportunity to capture their 28th World SeriesChampionship.  But where did the hat come from so quickly?  It was a curious, pre-meditated decision to have that hat on-hand, to wear at that particular moment – a choice that had some Yankees fans wondering if their team was mentally into last night’s elimination game, or had already waived the white flag and were ready for a vacation.

It’s a moot point now.  The 2010 Yankees season came to an end last night, deep in the heart of Texas.  There will be no parade down the Canyon of Heroes this year.  To ensure the Yankees are back in the hunt in 2011, Cashman will have to remove his controversial Spring Training headgear and put on his General Manager’s hat for the next 3 months in order to re-stock his pinstriped roster with younger, and hungrier talent.

For sure, the Yankees will look to sign Cliff Lee away from the Rangers, and possibly woo the speedy Carl Crawford away from the Tampa Bay Rays, but interesting decisions will have to be made internally as well.

It will start with the future of Manager, Joe Girardi.  Cashman acknowledged he wants the skipper back in 2011, but admitted he had not confirmed the sentiment with ownership yet.

The future of the “Core 4” is in question too.  Captain, Derek Jeter is at the end of his 10-year deal, and will no doubt command a big contract to end his career with the Bombers.  Likewise, Closer, Mariano Rivera is a free agent, and at the age of 40, is still pitching as well as he ever has.  Standing at his locker last night, Andy Pettitte was indecisive about his plans for next season, admitting his desire to spend more time with his family.  Finally, Catcher, Jorge Posada is likely to be pushed for playing time by top catching prospect, Jesus Montero.

The 2011 Yankees will no doubt look different from the team that came just 6 victories away from a World Series title in 2010.  One thing is certain, whatever combination of superstars take the field in the Bronx next year, Cashman will make sure they contend for a title.

World Series hats tend to be more fashionable than Spring Training caps anyway.

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“The Boss” Takes Final Bow His Way, In The Spotlight

By Jason Klein

Originally Written For The Official Steiner Sports Blog – 7/13/10

“The Boss” did it again, one last time.

As the baseball world prepares for tonight’s 81st All-Star Game in Anaheim, George M. Steinbrenner III grabbed the headlines for the final time.  He passed away, early this morning, at his Tampa home.  He had just turned 80 years-old on the fourth of July.

George Steinbrenner

Bob Sheppard, the legendary Yankees Public Address Announcer, died this past Sunday.  “The Voice of God” never wanted to be the story, he just wanted to introduce it before it happened.

By contrast, Steinbrenner relished the spotlight.  He was bombastic, relentless, and focused.  He took great pleasure in owning the back pages.  After all, he often had the best product, in the biggest city, and wanted everyone to know it.

Reporters would wait for him and hang on his every word.  A colorful quote from George Steinbrenner was priceless, and he knew just what people wanted to hear.

His 37-year reign atop the Yankees organization saw his club win 11 American League Championships and 7 World Series, including the final one played during his remarkable life, this past season.  In 1973, he headed a group of investors who purchased the franchise for just $10 million.  He proceeded to build the team into a billion dollar operation over the next four decades.

It wasn’t always champagne and championship rings along the way for Steinbrenner.  His fickle personality created tremendous tension around his employees, including his managers who always seemed to be on notice.  He changed managers 20 times in his first 23 years as owner, including five separate stints for Billy Martin.  He also fired Yogi Berra just three weeks into the 1985 season, creating animosity that kept Berra away from the Bronx for 14 years.

He was suspended from baseball twice, once in 1974 for his involvement in a President Nixon campaign finance scandal, and again in 1990 when he paid a man named Howard Spira for “dirt” on his own player, Dave Winfield.

Upon his return to baseball in the mid-nineties, a calmer Steinbrenner helped stabilize the franchise.  He hired Joe Torre as manager, developed young, home-grown stars in Derek JeterMariano RiveraJorge Posada and Andy Pettitte, and won 4 World Series titles in 5 years from 1996-2000.

At all times, Steinbrenner’s passion for winning superseded everything.  He was once, famously quoted as saying, “Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing.  Breathing first, winning next.”

“The Boss” had tremendous financial resources that teams in other markets didn’t enjoy, but he routinely pumped that money back into his team.  Many chastised Steinbrenner for his free spending, but ultimately, he operated within the rules of the sport and raised the competitive bar throughout baseball.

As his health declined in recent years, and the power shifted to his sons, Hal and Hank, the winning mantra remained strong.  Steinbrenner demanded perfection from his players, and considered anything short of a championship to be failure.  In 2009, for the final time on Steinbrenner’s watch, the Yankees captured the 27th World Series in franchise history.

It was one last Title for a man who devoted all his energy to winning.

He went out a winner.

“The Boss” did it again, one last time.

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Field Trip Is Perfect Formula for Yankees Success…Again.

By Jason Klein

Originally Written For The Official Steiner Sports Blog – 3/4/10

This past Tuesday, Yankees Manager, Joe Girardi, once again played the role of Pinstriped Scientist, looking to concoct team chemistry, like he successfully did last season.  In 2009, Girardi mixed all the right elements from baseball’s periodic table.  The result: an on-field explosion that carried the Yankees all the way to a World Series Title.

Rivera & Rodriguez at Arcade/Photo Credit: New York Yankees

Last season, Girardi conducted a bit of an experiment with his players during Spring Training.  The club traded their bats and pine tar for pool sticks and chalk, and spent the day at a local billiards joint.  The bonding session helped solidify the foundation of the team’s close-knit group, forming relationships that, many claim, set the tone for their Championship run.

If Girardi wants to end this upcoming season the same way he did last season, he figures, he should probably start it the same way too.  It’s a new tradition for the most traditional franchise in professional sports.  This year’s class trip found the Yankees at a Tampa-based arcade for a day filled with video gamesskee ball, and pop-a-shot – something that resonated very positively with the players.

The stress-free environment allowed the players to forget the daily rigors of training, trying to earn a roster spot, or just fitting in.  While at the arcade, every player was on even ground.  Royce Ring could hang out with Mariano Rivera.  Ramiro Pena could socialize with Alex Rodriguez.  There were no superstars or bench players inside the arcade, a sense of equality off-the-field that should translate well into on-field team chemistry.

Wednesday afternoon, they started putting the theory to test.  It was back to business as usual at George M. Steinbrenner Field and the Yankees picked up right where they left off last November, defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-3 in their first Spring Training game of the new season.  They even did it in walk-off fashion, as Colin Curtis hit a three-run home run in the 9th inning to secure the win…what, no pie?  It was a first small step towards defending their title, the 27th in franchise history.

Unlike previous camps, 2010 has been relatively smooth.  The drama and non-baseball related storylines have been non-existent.  The only real source of controversy has been over the 5th spot in the pitching rotation, a post to be filled by either Joba ChamberlainPhil Hughes, or a combination of Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre, and Alfredo Aceves.

In addition, the Yankees enter the 2010 season with some familiar faces like Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui gone, and some new additions like Curtis Granderson and Javier Vazquez onboard.  The “Core 4” of Derek JeterJorge PosadaAndy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera will again be at the heart of the Yankee Universe, as they pursue yet another Title.  It would be the sixth career ring for each franchise icon, and the 28th Championship in club history.

First thing’s first, the Yankees have to get through eight long months of baseball before they start planning another trip down the Canyon of Heroes.  Number twenty-eight is the goal this year – the target is once again, literally, on Girardi’s back – he changed uniform numbers.  It’s a responsibility he’s thoroughly prepared for.  He methodically laid the foundation this Tuesday at the arcade, shaking things up and formulating stronger team chemistry.

After last season, he’s got this down to a science.

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Yankees Formula for Success is Easy as Pie

By Jason Klein

Originally Written For The Official Steiner Sports Blog – 10/14/09

The swagger is back in the Bronx.

As the New York Yankees prepare for their American League Championship Series with the Los Angeles Angels, it’s clear, there’s something different about this team.  In the eight seasons immediately following their Subway Series victory in 2000, the New York Yankees morphed into a collection of highly-paid, corporate superstars.  Team chemistry was weak.  Anxiety levels were high.  These days, the Yankees are wearing their ties a little looser and having a little more fun at the ball park.

So what changed?  That’s easy…easy as pie.

Nick Swisher Enjoys a Little Pie

In 2009, the most traditional team in all of sports established a new ritual – a good, old fashioned, pie to the face – courtesy of AJ’s Bakery, Co. All pies were hand delivered by Pitcher, AJ Burnett, on cue, to any player to notch a walk-off hit in the Bronx.

Early on, critics scoffed at the amateurish celebration tactic adopted by the business-like Yankees.  Many argued that such a childish act seemed out of place among these men in pinstriped suits, claiming it was not “Yankee-like.”  As irony would have it, a little silliness was exactly what this team needed.

Unlike so many other Yankees teams that have come before them, the 2009 club seems more relaxed, and free from all the stress that comes along with the yearly “World Series victory or bust” mentality.  The additions of free-spirits like Burnett and Nick Swisher have served as the perfect compliment to the older, more business-like core of Derek JeterMariano RiveraAndy Pettitte and Jorge Posada.

Initially, there was some question as to how a member of that “old guard” would react when greeted with a face full of whipped cream.  That was answered on July 4, 2009 when Posada stole the game from the Blue Jays with a walk off single in the 12th inning.  Like clockwork, the catcher’s postgame interview turned into a pie eating contest, much to the delight of on looking fans.

Each walk-off pie – there have been 16 of them so far, including Mark Teixeira’s ALDS Game 2 pastry punch – has served as much more than a show of celebration.  It has developed camaraderie, calmed nerves, and tasted much sweeter than the humble pie they’ve been forced to eat in recent years.

Timely hitting, lights out pitching, and the addition of team-first players like Teixeira and CC Sabathia have all been major reasons this club has succeeded.  Most importantly, this team has been reminded that winning can be fun.  A little whipped cream is all it took to ease the tension of the daily New York baseball rigors.

The 2009 Yankees are all having a blast.  It seems as though this baseball machine is destined to return to glory.  The roster is a perfect blend of experienceyouth, and journeymen – all hungry for the same thing: a World Series title, and perhaps some pie for dessert.

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