TORONTO — Thursday afternoon, it gets real for the Yankees.
And front and center, in a way spring training doesn’t make possible, will be Aaron Boone.
At this time last year Boone was preparing for another year as an analyst on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball.” Thursday the 45-year-old Boone will make his managerial debut when the Yankees kick off a season of huge expectations against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
“I feel pretty relaxed,” Boone said before his club worked out here Wednesday afternoon. “I’m sure I’ll toss and turn a little bit tonight. And tomorrow I’ll be a little bit anxious in just making sure all the T’s are crossed and I’s are dotted. But I feel like we’re prepared. That’s a good feeling to have and now we get to roll it out there and see how good we are.”
By all accounts the Yankees, with a stacked lineup featuring three of the top righthanded hitters in the game — Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez — and a loaded bullpen, should be pretty good. If they’re not, it won’t take long for much of the blame to be directed toward Boone, who before Thursday never coached before let alone managed.
So how much did spring training prepare Boone, whose father played and managed in the big leagues and whose grandfather also played in the majors, for what’s ahead?
“I hope a lot,” Boone said with a smile. “I think for me, it was just kind of deepening my understanding of not only the organization but the guys in the room and really getting to know them and really getting to see what makes each one of them tick.”
That Boone mentioned establishing relationships so prominently is not a surprise. Among the reasons Joe Girardi’s contract wasn’t renewed after 10 seasons was club hierarchy determining he didn’t have as strong a bond with players as they believed was necessary.
It is too early to draw any conclusions on the bond between Boone and this group, but he did get players’ attention in a positive and well-received way during his first talk to the full squad with this message: expect to be great.
“It’s a great mindset to have,” Judge said Wednesday. “It’s something he’s been drilling into us: expect to be great. But the biggest thing is we just have to go out there and take care of our job. Do your job. That’s the biggest thing. If we’ve got all 25 guys just doing their job, we’ll be in a good position and be where we want to be.”
That, of course, is the World Series, where the Yankees were just short of in 2017. Yankees fans expect more this season, but Boone isn’t consumed with that. He knows there’s a long way between March and October.
“I talk to my players about how are we going to respond when things are going great, how are we going to respond in a storm?” Boone said. “Trust in our abilities and I feel like in the end we’ll be where we want to be.”
But the focus at the moment is Game 1.
“Hopefully it has prepared me,” Boone said of spring training. “My staff’s been unbelievable. I think we had a really good, well-run spring training thanks to those guys. One of the things I struggle with is how to build guys up, how to keep guys rested in spring training. And I feel like for the most part the guys are in a really good place and ready to go as we tee it up tomorrow.”
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
Brett Gardnere LF
Aaron Judge RF
Giancarlo Stanton DH
Gary Sanchez C
Aaron Hicks CF
Didi Gregorius SS
Brandon Drury 3B
Neil Walker 2B
Tyler Austin 1B
Luis Severino P
Devon Travis 2B
Curtis Granderson LF
Josh Donaldson 3B
Justin Smoak 1B
Kendrys Morales DH
Russell Martin C
Randal Grichuk RF
Aledmys Diaz SS
Kevin Pillar CF
J.A. Happ P