Juan Soto #22 of the Yankees celebrates his fifth inning home...

Juan Soto #22 of the Yankees celebrates his fifth inning home run against the Chicago White Sox at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, May 18, 2024. Credit: Jim McIsaac

There’s something special brewing in the Bronx these days — a sense of giddy anticipation of what could be ahead, coupled with the satisfaction of being able to enjoy the right here, right now.

On Saturday afternoon, it manifested in all sorts of ways. You saw it in the perfect spring weather and the promise of sun-speckled summer days at the ballpark these next few months. You felt it when Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, 58, threw out the first pitch and did a (slightly modified) version of his signature leg kick, much to the delight of the crowd. And it got hammered home after starter Luis Gil delivered an El Duque-esque performance, striking out 14 White Sox in six innings in the Yankees' 6-1 win, surpassing Hernandez’s rookie record of 13.

And then, of course, there was the Juan, the only, Juan Soto. He came into the day riding the tiniest of slumps — a (gasp) 4-for-31 — and promptly hit 854 feet of home runs. He was 4-for-4 with the two homers, three RBIs and a walk two days after Hal Steinbrenner said he is open to having in-season negotiations about a contract extension that could make him “a Yankee for life.”

Whether that happens is yet to be determined, but what we do know is that he’s a Yankee for right now, and it’s not only his bat that’s helping the Yankees. It appears to be his mental approach, too.

The 162 games, “it's a grind,” Aaron Boone said earlier in the week. “You’ve got to enjoy what you're doing. And he does that really well . . . He’s having a lot of fun.”

The sentiment is contagious. The Yankees have the best record in the American League, and they’ve won six straight — with their starters pitching to a 0.46 ERA in that span — and 12 of 14. Their 32-15 record is their second-best start in franchise history through 47 games. In short, it feels good to wear the pinstripes, and fans are absolutely justified in hoping for sustained dominance, October baseball and Soto in a Yankees uniform for a long, long time.

Of course, lifers know better than to tempt fate with hubris. But when I asked Boone if he recalled a time when every facet of a team he managed was performing to this level, he demurred, but he also didn’t deny.

“There’s probably been some times” he’s witnessed something like this, he said. “It’s a confident group right now and it’s really good to see them doing it in all ways — getting the starting pitching we need, getting big performances out of the bullpen . . . and the offense really here the last couple weeks getting it rolling. It’s fun to watch them right now.”

That’s a word you don’t hear too often in hypercompetitive spheres: fun. But these Yankees are undeniably that, and it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to attribute a lot of that to Soto.

For what it’s worth, his “slump”  definitely was overblown. He looked far from lost on Friday despite getting just one hit, and metrics newly released by Baseball Savant earlier in the week told us something we  already could see: He's a complete hitter. This season, no player has had the same elite combination of bat speed and “squared-up percentage” (the percentage of times a batter hits the ball in such a way to produce maximum exit velocity) than Soto. That is to say: He hits the ball hard, and he hits it just right, and the result has been 11 homers, 37 RBIs and a slash line of .317/.414/.561.

Now, take that into account and consider what he was doing before Friday night's game: He was out in the field, working with coaches.

“I can’t say what I was working on,'' he said, "but I was definitely working on my swing — trying to find that feeling again [of how] I was hitting the ball in the first month.”

Did it work? You know, with the two homers and all.

“I think so,” he said, laughing.

He added: “It was a fun day.”

There’s that word again. Right or not, the Yankees have historically been known as a stuffy organization: No facial hair, no antics and sometimes not a whole lot of fun.

But there’s a different vibe to this particular team.

The additions of Soto, Alex Verdugo and Marcus Stroman have added a cheeky swagger to the Bronx. Thanks to Verdugo, the Yankees bark like dogs whenever someone hits a home run. Thanks to Stroman (and his prolific Instagram usage), fans can get an inside look at the team's lighter-hearted moments.

Even Clay Holmes, who can come off as mild-mannered in interviews, has been imbued with a little pizzazz. Aaron Judge said the team lobbied for Holmes' entrances to have one of those fancy scoreboard light shows that are all the rage around MLB. (Never mind that he comes into “White Horse” by country artist Chris Stapleton, which . . . well . . . it isn’t “Enter Sandman.”)

None of this stuff shows up in the  boxscore, but it does help craft a team’s identity. It helps build chemistry. And maybe just as importantly, it helps show Soto why he should stick around instead of hitting free agency.

"It’s been unbelievable," he said. "I give a lot of credit to my teammates. They’ve been right there having fun with me and they’ve been really mature — even when they have tough days, we’re still having fun and trying to win a game out there. I’m more than excited to keep doing that.”

For this season, yes. But the Yankees hope he can keep doing that for them for years to come, too. In the meantime, feel free to enjoy the here and now. And maybe, just maybe, start thinking about what this could look like in the future.


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