I can still remember the look and feel of the Little League schedule, printed on thick yellow paper; folded and unfolded so many times that the black ink was well worn from each and every crease. It didn’t matter, I could still read it, and I could still tell that we were playing Rotary tomorrow. Man, those guys are good. I hope we win.
I didn’t know the word for it then, but today I can say that those kids had swagger. Well, maybe they just had a couple of kids who could really hit, but as a result, everyone wearing that green and white uniform walked, talked and just felt like they were going to win.
Fast forward three decades and I find myself in that all too familiar mental reflection: if I only knew then what I know now. But, I digress.
I can’t remember the word swagger being used before the Yankee teams of the late 90’s were taking the field, and the hopes of their opponents as well. They had swagger. The air surrounding those Yankees was so full of confidence. It wasn’t that they looked down on their opponents abilities, they just knew that their own abilities would surpass them.
They expected to win. Lately the Yankees have been hoping to win.
It’s true that opponents have taken advantage of injuries and youth in key positions. But beyond that, or perhaps because of it, there seems to be an air of uncertainty around the pinstripes. Specifically the youngsters Hughes and Kennedy, while full of potential, they don’t trust themselves.
That wouldn’t be an issue with significant run support, but the Yankee's team performance with runners in scoring position could almost be looked at as an advantage to opposing clubs.
They’re setting a precedent that gives every opposing pitcher confidence, instead of instilling concern, the type of concern that might rattle all but the coolest of characters.
Back in the late 90’s if you walked a Yankee the probability of that runner scoring was very high. High enough to make pitchers more concerned about walking Yankees than they would be other teams.
Concerned pitchers are micro managers, prone to making mistakes, which the Yankees of nearly 10 years ago would absolutely jump all over; generating even more concern among pitchers scheduled to go against the Bronx Bombers.
The new millennium has been unkind, regular playoff appearances not withstanding. The Yankees aren’t the team to beat anymore, they’re the team you can beat.
Maybe, hopefully, when the roster is full and the DL is empty, the obscurity and mediocrity that surrounds them will make them stealthy enough for the rest of the American League East to not see them coming, until it’s too late.