As much as every team wants to get off to a fast start in a given Major League Baseball season, it’s not an absolute necessity.
Not with the wiggle room the 162-game schedule can provide.
This year, however, there will be little wiggle room, if any.
“The talk is going to be on overdrive from Day 1,” Aaron Boone said Thursday night during an appearance on TickPick’s “In the Spotlight” series. “Whether you win Opening Day or lose Opening Day, [people will say] ‘You can’t afford to lose too many.’ My message to our players is, you can’t live in that world; we’ve got to focus on today.''
A second spring training for the sport, which was shut down March 13 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, is slated to begin next week. Clubs will be conducting camps at their home ballparks. The Yankees are scheduled to report Wednesday, with the first workout day at Yankee Stadium next Friday.
Yankee Stadium, while spacious enough to easily allow for the required social distancing for up to 60 players who could be in camp, nonetheless is not an ideal location. Certainly not compared to Tampa, the Yankees’ longtime home for spring training, which not only has Steinbrenner Field and its four fields but also the minor-league complex, which is located less than a mile from Steinbrenner and has an additional four fields.
But the still skyrocketing number of positive COVID-19 cases in Florida and Arizona forced MLB teams to abandon those states for Spring Training II and head to their home-city ballparks instead.
“We have a plan in place of how we want to attack our summer training,” Boone said during the “In the Spotlight” interview. “It’s a shortened version. It’s very important that we use it wisely to get guys built up safely, to get guys in the best position to come out of the gates and get off to that good start. But our first focus is July 3 and kind of winning that day and making sure we start laying another solid foundation to put ourselves in a good spot when the season starts. I feel confident that our plan is coming together.”
The Yankees were considered a heavy World Series favorite for the full season, and that hasn't changed for the significantly shorter version.
“You put the ‘NY’ on, that comes with the territory,” said Boone, who in the offseason saw ace Gerrit Cole added to a team that went 103-59 last season in coasting to the AL East crown. “We embrace that. One of the things we talk often about is, we understand that when we play teams, we’re usually going to get their best. We look forward to that. We will never run from expectations, especially when we know we have a team that’s capable of doing a lot. They understand that, they embrace that. And in this shortened season, we’ll continue to embrace it.”
The Yankees, like all teams, will start the season playing in front of no fans. That could change as the season moves along but, certainly at the moment, that change is hard to imagine.
“I certainly feel like our guys thrive on our fan base and in a filled-up Yankee Stadium,” Boone said. “We’re going to have to get used to that [no fans], we’re going to have to get over that. It’s going to be an area that we’ll focus on. I talk a lot with our guys about that we want to live on the margins. Where can we gain advantages in little areas all the time? I think that’s more so this year, especially starting out with no fans.”
Yanks' top pick signs. Catcher Austin Wells has agreed to a minor-league contract with a $2.5 million signing bonus after the Yankees selected him 28th overall in the amateur draft. Wells, who will turn 21 on July 12, hit .375 with six doubles, two homers and 14 RBIs for the University of Arizona in a season cut to 15 games because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We will never run from expectations, especially when we know we have a team that’s capable of doing a lot.”
— Aaron Boone