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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Yankees ace Gerrit Cole amped for special Opening Day start

New York Yankees' Gerrit Cole during Yankees workout

New York Yankees' Gerrit Cole during Yankees workout at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx Wednesday March 31, 2021 Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Remember when you were a kid and you had trouble sleeping the night before Opening Day?

Who are we kidding . . . remember when you were in your 30s or 40s or 50s or beyond and had trouble sleeping the night before Opening Day?

Maybe you didn’t feel that way in July 2020, when the Yankees opened a pandemic-shortened 60-game season in a fanless Nationals Park. Maybe you slept like a baby the night before.

Maybe you had other things on your mind.

Well, Gerrit Cole is here to tell you it’s OK to miss a few ZZZs on Wednesday night. To count wins and losses instead of sheep. To daydream instead of actually dream.

Gerrit Cole is here to tell you he hopes the excitement of Opening Day will be back on Thursday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, when 10,850 fans will try to sound like the usual 50,000.

Cole said he’s so amped up he already had trouble sleeping on Tuesday night, the eve of the eve of the opener.

"Yeah, I had trouble sleeping," Cole admitted on Wednesday from Yankee Stadium. "So, it’s probably anticipated it’s going be the same thing tonight."

Cole, who will making his second Opening Day start as a Yankee and third overall, said this one will be special. Normal special (because Opening Day is always special) and abnormal special (because it’s his first at Yankee Stadium, because a limited number of fans will be in the stands, because his father will be there after threatening to stand outside the stadium with a radio if he wasn’t allowed in).

"He’s going to be pretty fired up," Cole said. "It’s always a special day . . . There's a lot of hope. There's a lot of excitement. There's a lot of projections. There's a lot of baseball out in front of you. You've prepared up to this point. You just want the gates to open and you want it to start."

When the gates open on Thursday morning at 11, what will fans see?

First of all, they will see each other. They will see other people. What a gorgeous sight. Never to be taken for granted again. Agreed?

Fans will get to see signs of hope and signs of baseball: the green grass, the outfield walls, the giant scoreboard, the players popping out of the dugouts to stretch, the players and coaches lining up along the baselines for pregame introductions, Bernie Williams throwing out the ceremonial first pitch (virtually).

Last year, Dr. Anthony Fauci threw out the ceremonial first pitch in person before the Yankees opener in D.C., which was appropriate for that time. It was a terrible throw, but a powerful symbol.

Not now. Now it’s about baseball. About getting back to normal -- whatever that will eventually look like -- one small step at a time.

Cole, after pitching in front of full houses and empty houses, is curious about what pitching in front of a 20% capacity house will feel like.

"I anticipate probably hearing some people cheering and having to be a little bit fluid with my focus," he said. "But, for the most part, you expect butterflies, you expect just that energy that you can feel throughout the stadium. I, at least, just let that bring my adrenaline, let that bring my emotions up. I'm always kind of anticipating having to push them down a little bit, which is part of what's fun -- we like to get revved up. That's the beauty of it."

After the introductions, after the fanfare, after Cole throws the first pitch, after the final out, you’ll have 161 more games to worry about how many innings the Yankees’ ace can pitch in 2021, which is a legitimate question after a shortened season.

But maybe now’s not the time to lose sleep over stuff like that.

As Cole put it when asked about his personal innings limit: "Just reach for the stars. Reach through the ceiling. Just do the best you can."

New York Sports