It’s safe to say that the New York Yankees franchise, Michael Pineda and the stadium itself haven’t lived up to their potential over the past few years.
The franchise — good enough to win 84-85 games but not good enough to be taken seriously. Pineda — the guy with lights out stuff who has yet to master the mental side of his game. The stadium — often criticized as being too corporate, as attendance has declined since 2009.
However, for one sun-soaked 80 degree Monday in April, all three were center-stage and we got a glimpse of what could be.
And it was fun to watch.
The Yankees franchise is in an interesting position right now. The empire is being rebuilt, and it’s palpable. The next game you go to, try to count how many Greg Bird, Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge jerseys you see. It’s refreshing.
Although Bird and Sanchez were sidelined on Monday, they received some of the biggest ovations during player introductions. Aaron Judge, a Yankee straight from central casting who is expected to be a part of the next dynasty, smacked a towering home run to left field. For the first time in a long time, there isn’t a feeling of being stuck in mediocrity. There’s a feeling of being on the rise — of trending upwards.
For Pineda, everyone knows he has the ability. It’s the mental toughness and focus that gets him in trouble. But when he marries his physical talent with mental toughness, he’s a top pitcher in all of baseball. We’ve gotten to see this really just twice now over Pineda’s tenure as a Yankee. Back on Mother’s Day 2015 when he struck out 16 Orioles, and this past Monday when he carried a perfect game into the seventh inning.
As Pineda cut through the Tampa Bay Rays lineup, the atmosphere inside the ballpark kept ratcheting up a bit. With each pitch and two-strike count, the crowd noise grew and grew with anticipation. You could see Pineda’s confidence increase with every sweeping slider and 96 mph fastball. We saw brilliance. We even heard “Big Mike! Big Mike!” chants.
The new stadium amenities were also on full display on Monday. From the Budweiser Party Decks, Kids’ Clubhouse, the new terraces in the outfield and the AT&T Sports Lounge to the new food items (may I suggest Lobel’s meatloaf burger?), the Stadium was given a much needed breath of fresh air. The outfield terraces were packed with people taking full advantage of the new spacious drink rails and device charging stations. The new renovations didn’t feel intrusive, but they were large enough to recognize that the stadium had changed a bit. I didn’t think I’d like the changes, but after going through a game, I’m definitely a fan.
Factor in Pineda’s near-perfect performance, the warmest weather for a Yankees home opener since 1960, the new stadium renovations and amenities, and Monday just had a different feel to it. A good feel. A different feel than in year’s past.
This wasn’t just an ordinary April baseball game. This felt like an important game deep in the dog days of summer, when the Yankees would pack the house on a weekday.
Hopefully, what we got a glimpse of on Monday is a portent of things to come.