TAMPA — They really had us going for a while, these Yankees. Last season, they were young, they were darlings, they were building, they were patient.
Deep down, they were still the Yankees.
An empire in hibernation, the dark side in hiding.
This is more like it. The teaming of NL MVP slugger Giancarlo Stanton (59 home runs) with AL Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge (52 homers) will fill seats and have baseballs seeking witness protection.
Are the Yankees the Death Star again?
"Yes, they are," Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said at his team's Fan Fest last weekend.
I'm not sure it's a bad thing.
Truth be told, the Yankees biggest question mark heading into this season might be rookie skipper Aaron Boone taking over after the Yankees parted ways with Joe Girardi after 10 seasons.
Boone, 44, part of a third generation of big leaguers, played 12 seasons in the majors, including one with the Yankees. But he has never managed.
He'll fill out his first lineup card Feb. 23 against the Tigers at Steinbrenner Field, New York's first spring training game.
Boone's last name speaks to baseball history. His grandfather (Ray) played in the majors, as did his father (Bob) and his brother Bret. Aaron Boone is also directly descended from Daniel Boone, one of the all-time greats, who reportedly also was a fan of analytics, as well as the throwin' knife.
Aaron Boone knows Yankees history, too. He's even part of it. In Boone's only season in pinstripes, he had a walk-off home run against Boston in Game 7 of the ALCS that put the Yankees in the 2003 World Series.
But this is something new, and it hit Boone as he reported to Steinbrenner Field on Tuesday and met with media. Only last year he was a part of the media himself, with ESPN.
"It was a bit surreal, but I've had a lot of those moments in the last couple of months as we started to prepare for this season," Boone said. "It was special, walking down the hall, walking into the clubhouse, walking into my office, walking down to the dugout for the first time, getting the lay of the land, understanding that now is the time."
Now is the time.
Those are the Yankees we used to know and love and hate.
Now is the time.
New York's American League baseball franchise has been a surprising model of stability over the past two decades, with just two managers. Girardi and Joe Torre, and one general manager, Brian Cashman.
Then again, Torre won a World Series in 1996 in his first shot out of the box. Girardi won it in 2009, just his second season as Yankees boss. Now comes Boone.
Now is the time.
The Yankees won 91 games last season. They came from behind the beat the Indians before falling to the eventual world champion Astros in seven games in the ALCS.
Not enough. Girardi is gone.
"This is probably the first year that I've come into spring training where for us, if we don't win, it's not good," Yankees reliever Dellin Betances said. "We kind of have that sour taste in our life."
"One of the things that's exciting for me is to hear some of those comments," Boone said. "Last year was great. A lot of these guys came of age. A lot of guys viewed it as a very successful season. But what stands out in that room right now is each guy I've spoken to, the hunger is there, there's no satisfaction in what they were able to accomplish."
No one has any idea of exactly what Boone will do as a manager. He said he will lean on his staff, which includes former Rays manager Larry Rothschild, who was retained as Yankees pitching coach.
Boone's idea of a manager?
"One of the things I remember when I first got traded to the Yankees was walking into Joe Torre's office and just his presence, his soothing nature." He said. "So, hopefully I take a little piece of what I thought he was great at into this job."
Boone will have as much to prove as anyone in Yankees camp.
"Yeah, I understand where we are. It's the New York Yankees. I understand, having never done this before, a lot of the questions. People can't wait to see my style or how I'm going to go about things or how I'm going to command the team and what not."
The Yankees are the show again. They're the heavies. The idea of the gargantuan Stanton and Judge back-to-back in the lineup is selling tickets in New York. In Tampa, gates at home spring training games will open an hour earlier so fans can see every Stanton and Judge swing in batting practice and even chase their long-distance home runs. Please use public transportation.
All eyes are on the Yankees and their rookie manager.
"It beats the alternative, right?" Boone said. "It really does. That's something in one of my messages to our team will be to embrace that, embrace the expectation and again expect to go out there and be great."
The Death Star is back.
The new manager's simple goal?
"Winning the last game," Boone said.
Now is the time.
Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029.