Yanks ready for special home opener
For David Phelps, it will be his first one; for Mariano Rivera, it could be his last
The central focus of the 110th home opener in New York Yankees history will be that familiar battery of Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada. Posada will start the day off by tossing out the first pitch, and, if all goes right for the Yanks, Rivera will fire the last one.
In between, Rivera will be celebrated in what is expected to be his final home opener. Posada will be thanked for his 16 years of service. Their Core Four buddy, captain Derek Jeter, will have butterflies, and he wouldn't have it any other way. Meanwhile, early-season sensation David Phelps, a rookie, will walk around with the wonderment of a child opening a birthday gift he has waited his whole life to unwrap.[+] EnlargeKim Klement/US PresswireRookie David Phelps earned a spot on the Yanks' Opening Day roster and has been impressive so far.
The Yankees are already three up and three down on this season, but the campaign won't really begin in Jeter's eyes until Hiroki Kuroda throws Friday's first official pitch a little after 1 p.m.
"It doesn't seem like the season gets under way until you have your home opener," Jeter said. For Jeter, the first time was the best -- the snowy day back in April 1996 when he went 1-for-4 and scored a run in a 7-1 win over the Royals. Now 37, Jeter won't feel a bit different from when he was a 21-year-old rookie. "You have butterflies every time," Jeter said. "I think it is good to have butterflies. It means you still care."
Still, Jeter sometimes tries to calm the butterflies, even if it's in his subtle way. When Phelps made his major league debut in Tampa last weekend, Jeter strolled to the mound before Phelps' first pitch to offer a few words.
"He said, 'It is the same as it's been, just a few more people,'" Phelps recalled.
Phelps has struck out five of the first nine batters he has faced in the major leagues, so he seems far from overwhelmed. Either way, Jeter is not going to whisper in his ear about what it's like in the Bronx on the first day. "No, you want everyone to enjoy it for themselves," Jeter said. "I don't think you go into it with any preconceived notions of what could happen. You have to have your own experience and have fun. You want it to be that way."
Phelps has dreamed of hearing his name announced with his fellow Yankees. In Tampa against the Rays on Opening Day, he quickly realized his name would be called after Rivera's. "Mo is introduced and gets a standing ovation, and I'm sitting there laughing, thinking I'm going to hear crickets," Phelps said. "I had a lot of family with me there. I heard them from deep center field all screaming for me. It was really exciting for me."
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On Friday, Phelps, 25, won't be able to hear his father, his brother (a former minor leaguer in the Cubs organization) and his cousin, who are flying in from St. Louis for the game. As the new Yankees phenom after nine outs, Phelps already has earned some love from the former strangers in the Bronx.
By Friday night, Phelps can start a new dream, imagining what it would be like to be admired like Rivera someday. Of course, there is only one Rivera. Besides his superior skills, Rivera's legend is enhanced by his grace. By next year at this time, Rivera may be throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.
Nothing is official, but it sure seems like at 42, Rivera is saying goodbye. It is the unconfirmed truth about this season.
"I think he will appreciate the moment with the humble attitude that he has," manager Joe Girardi said. "We probably won't notice it. It is very similar to if he gets a save or blows a save, it is the same guy every time. If it does turn out to be his last Opening Day at home, I'm sure he'll take a minute to soak it in."
Rivera laughed when reporters brought up the possibility that this could be, just maybe, his final home opener.
"You guys are amazing," Rivera said. "I knew it was coming. I always look at the home opener like it was my first one. I enjoy it. I love the game. This time will be just like the others. Just go in there and have a good time."
"They are all special," Rivera said.
From Posada to Rivera to the captain and the rookie, this one should be no different.
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