It's been a long while since the New York Yankees dugout was so lively, and not in a phony or empty sort of way. Players laugh and smile these days, moving to the top step of the dugout to get a closer look at the action and getting genuinely excited for their teammates successes.
Yes, genuinely excited.
Since Game Four of the 2004 ALCS, no two words could be more inappropriate in describing the Yankees or their fans. Much of the confidence and determination that rebuilt the modern era Yankees into the sports empire it is disappeared as the most important parts of the team left the team and the game.
No, Paul O'Neill isn't walking through that door ladies and gentlemen...Tino Martinez isn't walking through that door.
And we no longer have to wait for them to. The Yanks have new faces and personalities to pick up the championship mantra now. As important as replenishing the roster and farm system has been, the key lies in the new focus on the types of people brought in to play baseball for the club.
It's no coincidence that the personality of the team has changed so drastically with the additions of free agents C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira along with the trade with Chicago that brought Nick Swisher to town.
GM Brian Cashman essentially turned Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, Kevin Brown, and Carl Pavano into these four players.
Sabathia has become a team leader, extending himself and his home to teammates, along with carrying his share of the pitching load on his hefty left shoulder.
Burnett has brought his 12-6 curve ball and a mastery of the AL East with him to New York, as well as his penchant for pranks and hitting teammates in their faces with pies.
Mark Teixiera, always portrayed as a loner and a businessman, chose the Yankees rich offer over plenty of others because New York was where he wanted to play for the next decade. From his first press conference until now, he has been nothing but passionate in his play and affable with teammates, the media, and fans.
Entire chapters of the bestselling novel "Moneyball" were dedicated to Oakland GM Billy Beane's obsessive pursuit of drafting Swisher, as he envisioned him to be the Athletics' "very own Dykstra" (as in Lenny Dykstra the gritty, trash-talking outfielder for the Mets and Phillies). Nick has obviously shared some of his enthusiasm for the game and his confidence with his teammates, had for such a minor price.
Couple these moves with the development of an existing core of young players, such as Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera, and Brett Gardner and the emergence of regular pitchers Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes among others in the bullpen, and it's clear these are not the Yankees of 2005-2008.
And what about the man responsible for the transfusion of new blood in the roster?
Brian Cashman restocked his farm system, perhaps not with can't-miss prospects but solid developmental players and draft picks. In doing so, he also lowered the Yankees' mammoth payroll and is clearly focused on creating a strong pipeline between the farm and Major League club.
The plan seems to be to nurture young talent and eventually open the purse strings only to keep that home-grown talent at home.
Yes, sometimes even the team with the most money deserves some of our credit.