The overwhelming emotion I feel right now as a diehard, long-time fan of the New York Yankees is sadness. Watching the great Mariano Rivera get hit last night in a fashion that had never happened in his unparalleled 15-year career only solidified that feeling.
I have been espousing the 'it's early in the season, things will getter, stay optimistic' line of thinking thus far. The Yanks are 13-15 in fourth place in the AL East. I look at the calendar and it says May 8. Only 28 games have been played. There are 134 left.
Much can change, and I want desperately for that to happen. For this to finish as a glorious season for my beloved Bronx Bombers.
Yet, I look at the calendar and it tells me something else. It says 2009. This isn't 1998. Or even 2003, when the Yanks may not have been kings of baseball, but they were still kings of the American League.
Yes, it is 2009. These aren't the dynasty Yankees of the late '90s. They aren't the Yankees we remember. They aren't the Yankees we yearn for. Right now, they aren't the Yankees passionate fans so desperately WANT them to be.
They still may be. There are those 134 games left. Alex Rodriguez may return and lift a moribund offense. Rivera may revert to being Rivera. Derek Jeter might have a .315 season left in him. CC Sabathia might start dominating the way the Yankees hoped he would. It is early, and great things could still happen this season.
The more I watch, though, the more I get the feeling those last 134 games could also be torture. I hope like hell that I'm wrong, but I get the feeling that I am watching the last vestiges of a great era of Yankee baseball crumble right before my eyes.
- I am watching things happen to Rivera that have never happened before. Whether he is 100% or not, he is 39, obviously not the intimidating, dominant force he once was and is nearing the end of the road.
- I am watching Jorge Posada deteriorate. Posada has 21/2 years left on his contract, and it's pretty obvious he can't spend all of that as a full-time catcher. He's destined to be a DH and part-time catcher.
- I am watching Derek Jeter, as much as I love him, begin a slow decline. He doesn't drive the ball like he once did, I know his range is limited and his throwing arm isn't always trustworthy anymore.
- I am not watching games in the 'real' Yankee Stadium. Sure, this new building is called Yankee Stadium. It's pretty obvious, though, that the mystique, aura -- and the ghosts -- have vanished across the street in the sad, old, empty building that is the true Yankee Stadium. Hal Steinbrenner may have thought it was just a building. It wasn't. It was a monument to the greatness of the best franchise in the history of sports. The new place is beautiful, but it's a monument to nothing but greed. The empty premium seats, and the fact that most of the fans have been pushed farther away from the action contribute to a morgue-like atmosphere in the place. Right now, this is just a building.
- I am watching lots of bad baseball. Night after night I see games those great Yankee teams -- and even the teams from 2004-2007 -- would find ways to win. Yet, night after night we see this team implode. No clutch hits, horrid bullpen work, whatever. It's tough to watch.
Truth is, the Yankees began a slow, painful decline on that October night in 2004 when Rivera walked Kevin Millar. I hoped with my heart that decline had bottomed out when the Yanks missed the playoffs in 2008. The off-season signings of Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira brought lots of optimism, and expectations.
Now, though, I have just two questions.
- Have the Yankees truly hit bottom yet?
- Will those last 134 games be torture, or will they be tremendous?
Right now, I really don't know.