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The 2017 Yankees go beyond stats

The Yankees are having fun and winning in style. Those immeasurables separate them from the pack.

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MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Chase Headley is a man of few emotions. That is, of course, just the Headley we see. Most have never been invited to his house for a lively night of ginger ale and Saltines, but from what we can ascertain of his ballplayer persona, he doesn’t get worked up easily. That narrative has changed a bit in 2017.

April 19th is when it began to take a turn. The Yankees were off to a hot start against the White Sox. Headley was already feeling it, putting a 2-run shot deep into the bullpen in the first. When the Yanks entered the fifth up 4-0, things started to escalate. Starlin Castro added his own 3-run souvenir into the bullpen, followed directly by Aaron Judge launching a 448-foot blast into the bleachers in left. Everyone leapt from their seats, including Headley. He stood on the bench, arms raised, looking more like a Viking King leading a mob of Norse warriors into battle than the Yankees’ third baseman, and challenged the baseball world to face the new-look Yankees.

Since that moment, every homer is met with an animated fist pump. Every diving stop is punctuated by a yell. Headley now wears his emotions on his sleeve. He is a microcosm of the 2017 Yankees.

It’s been a few years since we’ve seen a Yankee team having this much fun—8 years, to be exact. In 2009, the Yankees were walking into a new stadium, coming off of a season that saw the team miss the playoffs for the first time since 1993. Joe Girardi, in his second year as the Yankee skipper, decided to cancel an early-season team workout in favor of a billiards tournament that was run by Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Alex Rodriguez. After that day, the 2009 Yankees just felt different.

2009 was a 103-win season that ended with a World Series championship, and the road to get there was a lot of fun. A.J. Burnett was smashing pies in people’s faces. Mariano Rivera held regular kangaroo court, fining players for giving up homers, doing shirtless post-game interviews, and even for getting a haircut while on the disabled list. The team had goofballs and lightning rods alike in the form of Johnny Damon, Nick Swisher, and Joba Chamberlain. Jay-Z even wrote them a song. It was a fun season in the Bronx and you kind of had the feeling all year that it was going to end with a parade. The 2017 Yankees have that same energy.

The new crop of Yankees are full of personality. Whether it’s class-clown Didi Gregorius cracking up the dugout and supplying the world with his emoji-filled victory tweets, the budding Gary Sanchez and Masahiro Tanaka language-barrier-breaking friendship, or the mismatched adventures of Aaron Judge and Ronald Torreyes, the Yankees are entertaining. When you sprinkle in massive home runs, strong pitching, diving plays, and the team’s ability to overcome any deficit, it’s a recipe for a championship-caliber team.

This is not a way-too-early “Yankees are winning it all” prediction. However, they sure are playing like it. The Yankees are winning a lot of games and they’re doing it in style. More importantly, they’re having fun. As past teams like the 2009 Yankees or the 2016 Cubs with their Grandpa Rossy shenanigans and Joe Maddon’s “If you think you look hot, wear it” dress code have shown, the ability to enjoy both the game and your teammates can help you relax, build confidence, and sustain momentum through a long season. There are a litany of stats that can explain why the Bombers are in first place, but, the eye-test is how you separate the good teams from the great.

The psychology of sport is powerful. Fun is contagious. When everyone is happy and everything is clicking, nothing stands in your way. Not language, not size, and not even a 9-1 deficit in the 6th, which the Orioles found out the hard way. When your team is having so much fun that you turn Chase Headley into the life of the party, a lot of other teams are going to find that out the hard way too.

Intangibles aren’t easy to measure. Arguing the correlation between winning and fun can become a chicken and egg situation. Are you winning because you’re having fun or are you having fun because you’re winning? The truth is, it’s probably somewhere in between. All that matters right now is that the Yankees are doing both.

It’s a good time to be in pinstripes.