March 2012

Ankle surgery fells Joba

The news about David Robertson’s foot injury was a relief. Other injuries to Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher, Freddy Garcia and Eduardo Nunez proved to be the usual aches and pains sustained during spring training. The Joba Chamberlain situation is far more dire.

Chamberlain required surgery Friday on a severely dislocated right ankle, an operation of life-threatening urgency because of the blood loss resulting from the trauma. What ramifications this will have on the relief pitcher’s season remains to be seen, but it appears clear that the Yankees will not be able to count on him for some time, perhaps not at all in 2012.

“A significant injury” is what Yankees general manager Brian Cashman called it.

The stunning circumstance occurs to a player who was making a satisfactory recovery from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow that has kept him inactive since last June. Chamberlain was not expected to start the season for the Yankees, but he had made sufficient enough progress that Cashman and manager Joe Girardi were encouraged that the popular righthander could be a factor in the first half.

Now this. Since Chamberlain was to have stayed in Tampa after the Yankees broke camp, his trip to the disabled list does not affect the pitching staff at this point. Robertson and Rafael Soriano remain in line to handle the setup role in front of Mariano Rivera. Yet you can’t have too many arms, and Chamberlain coming back to bolster the bullpen in May or June was a very nice thing for a general manager and manager to think about when reinforcements are always welcome.

Chamberlain’s injury is also a reminder of how athletes need to be careful off the field. All that was known Friday was that Chamberlain was with his son at a play area in Tampa. Sounds innocent enough, but accidents can happen anywhere. At this point, the Yankees are more concerned about Chamberlain’s condition than for the reason for it.

HOPE Week to return for 4th year

The Yankees announced before Friday’s Grapefruit League game in Tampa that HOPE Week will return in 2012 for the fourth consecutive season. HOPE Week (Helping Others Persevere & Excel) is a social program that illuminates five stories intended to inspire individuals into action in their own communities. HOPE Week 2012 will take place in New York from Monday, June 25, through Friday, June 29.

Each day over the five-day stretch, the Yankees will reach out to an individual, family or organization worthy of recognition and support, surprising honorees with a day celebrating their accomplishments. Outreach will often take place away from Yankee Stadium, allowing the Yankees to connect with individuals in settings that highlight their greatest successes.

HOPE Week is rooted in the fundamental belief that acts of goodwill provide hope and encouragement to more than just the recipient of the gesture. Fans can learn more about the initiative and nominate inspirational individuals for HOPE Week recognition by visiting the official website at hopeweek.com.

In the spirit of the initiative, the Yankees honored Tampa Catholic High School baseball player Owen Sarwatka, 17, who as a sophomore in 2010, was inspired to create “Everyone Can Play,” a nonprofit, volunteer-run, baseball skills clinic for children with physical and/or intellectual disabilities.

Owen, his parents, Suzanne and Frank, along with participants and volunteers from “Everyone Can Play” were guests of the Yankees Friday at Steinbrenner Field prior the Yankees’ game vs. the Twins. The group took batting practice on the field, followed by an on-field ceremony in which disabled players and their mentors stood side-by-side with Yankees players during the national anthem. Owen delivered the Yankees’ lineup card to the umpires and threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Owen first became interested in helping disabled youth while watching highlights of major-leaguers giving their time in support of Little League Baseball’s Challenger Division. Some of Owen’s goals in launching his project and supporting the Challenger ideals included promoting acceptance and inclusion for all members of society, eliminating the bullying and exclusion of those least able to defend themselves, improving the health and fitness of those with disabilities, and providing young mentors an outlet to give back to their community while developing mentoring skills.

To get his idea off the ground, Owen chose to forgo Christmas presents in order to receive donations for his project. After hundreds of hours of planning devoted to his mission, the first “Everyone Can Play” event took place Jan. 15, 2011, at Bloomingdale Little League in Valrico, Fla. The festivities brought together a diverse group of over 300 individuals, including his teammates, other high school athletes, community volunteers and 40 special-needs children, 16 of whom had never before played baseball.

Owen’s vision and determination were validated when, as a result of their experience, all 40 of the special-needs children who attended his clinic signed up to play baseball in the spring. Recently, Owen held his second clinic Jan. 14, 2012, at Tampa Catholic, drawing 450 people, including 60 special-needs children. Planning is already in the works for another Challenger event Jan. 13, 2013.

To remind participants of the importance of giving back to others, the uniforms of all players and volunteers in “Everyone Can Play” were emblazoned with a “GMS” patch, honoring the humanitarian efforts of the late Yankees owner George M. Steinbrenner.

Owen’s accomplishments have come in the face of his own challenges. Despite having been born with a malfunctioning kidney that has necessitated multiple surgeries and caused chronic pain, he remains focused on improving the lives of disabled children in his community.

Equally significant during HOPE Week is garnering publicity for the highlighted causes and organizations. The greatest challenge facing many not-for-profits is generating interest, awareness and funding for their missions.

At the conclusion of HOPE Week 2010 and HOPE Week 2011, the Yankees and the Steinbrenner family were honored with the President’s Volunteer Service Award, given “in recognition and appreciation of commitment to strengthening the Nation and for making a difference through volunteer service.” The awards were bestowed by the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation in conjunction with the Corporation for National and Community Service.

The Yankees were also twice honored during the recent offseason, receiving the DMF Champion of HOPE Award from Daniel’s Music Foundation Nov. 8, 2011, and the “Just Cause” Award at the PromaxBDA Sports Media Marketing Summit Nov. 15, 2011.

Valentine keeps sniping

The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry was expected to get a little more juice (as if that was needed) when Bobby Valentine gave up his cozy cushion at ESPN for the hot seat belonging to Boston’s manager. Bobby V got the tweaking started before spring training with his quips about Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, and he added to it Thursday night by criticizing Yankees manager Joe Girardi for refusing to continue playing in the 10th inning of a 4-4 game because he had run out of pitchers.

“They had plenty of pitching,” Valentine told reporters in Fort Myers, Fla. “The umpire came over and said we couldn’t play. I don’t care about not playing. It’s just, ‘Why do I have to warm up my pitcher, who’s trying to make a team — come in a tie game against the Yankees and maybe help him make a team — and instead, he has to walk off the mound and take a shower?’ That’s just not very courteous.”

Let us all try to remember that this is spring training. The games do not count. They are designed for players to get work in preparation for the regular season. Yes, Girardi still had some pitchers left, minor-leaguers, but the Yankees had a pair of split-squad games scheduled Friday, so why tax arms in a game that had already gone nine innings?

Before anyone gets on Girardi for taking his team off the field when a result had not yet been established, this is spring training. Yes, fans paid for their tickets, but they got what was guaranteed — nine innings of baseball — for what they paid for. Of course, this would not be allowed in a regular-season game, but spring training is different.

Girardi had burned one of his pitchers by having him throw a bullpen session after the Yankees had taken a 4-0 lead. The Red Sox’ comeback, climaxed by a suicide-squeeze play in the bottom of the ninth, left the Yankees vulnerable to using more pitchers less than 24 hours before playing was essentially a doubleheader.

This is really small stuff, but Valentine chose to mole-hill it. Get ready, Yankees fans, Bobby V will continue in this vein all year. Not long ago, he belittled Jeter’s famous shuttle toss to Jorge Posada to cut down Jeremy Giambi in Game 3 of the 2001 American League Division Series and doubted whether the Yankees practice that play during spring training, which they have done for more than a decade. The Red Sox new skipper also insulted Rodriguez when in praising retired catcher Jason Varitek pointed to his “beating up” A-Rod in a 2003 brawl at Fenway Park. Even Varitek was embarrassed by the remark.

Valentine should concentrate on his job, which is to try and replace Terry Francona, whose legacy of winning two World Series (with an 8-0 Series record) should not be completely tarnished by Boston’s el-fold-o in the last month of 2011.

Individual tickets available

Tickets for individual games during the 2012 season at Yankee Stadium are available to the public through a MasterCard pre-sale online at yankees.com and yankeesbeisbol.com and via Ticketmaster phone until 10 p.m. March 25. During the MasterCard pre-on-sale, fans can purchase tickets using their MasterCard card. For more information, please visit http://www.yankees.com/priceless.

For those using other accepted methods of payment, the general public on-sale will begin at 10 a.m. Tuesday, March 27, also at yankees.com and yankeesbeisbol.com, and via Ticketmaster phone only at (877) 469-9849 and Ticketmaster TTY at (800) 943-4327.

Beginning Monday, April 2, tickets may be purchased at the Yankee Stadium Ticket Office, all area Ticketmaster outlets and all Yankees Clubhouse Shops.

The Yankees will make available individual-game ticket value programs, including the Half-Price Game Ticket Special, which allows fans to purchase tickets for select games in 2012 in select areas of the Terrace Level, Grandstand Level or Bleachers for 50 percent off the advance ticket price. Tickets for Half-Price Games may be purchased in advance or on the day of the game.

For a complete list of ticket specials, including game dates, seating locations, and terms and conditions, fans should visit http://www.yankees.com/ticketspecials. Fans with questions may call 212-YANKEES (212-926-5337) or e-mail tickets@yankees.com.

E-Saver Games – Fans can register at http://www.yankees.com/esaver to receive e-mail ticket offers for E-Saver Games available only to Yankees e-mail subscribers.

$5 Games For select home games during the 2012 season, fans can purchase tickets in select areas of the Terrace Level, Grandstand Level or Bleachers for $5. Tickets for $5 Games may be purchased in advance or on the day of the game.

Tuesday Night Games Ticket Special – For each Tuesday night home game at Yankee Stadium, fans can take advantage of specially discounted tickets in select areas of the Grandstand Level. Tickets for Tuesday Night Games may be purchased in advance or on the day of the game.

Family Games – For designated Monday through Thursday games, families can receive 25 percent off the advance ticket price in select areas of the Grandstand Level. Tickets may be purchased in advance or on the day of the game.

Senior Citizen Games – Senior Citizens (60 and older) can purchase $5 tickets in designated seating locations for select Monday through Thursday home games. Tickets may be purchased only on the day of the game, beginning two hours before the scheduled start time of the game, at Yankee Stadium Ticket Windows, adjacent to Gate 4, and are subject to availability. All tickets are sold on a first-come, first-served basis. A valid proof of age must be presented at the time of purchase.

Student Games – For select home games during the 2012 season, students who present their valid high school or college ID cards when purchasing tickets can receive one half-price ticket in designated seating locations. Tickets may be purchased only on the day of the game at Yankee Stadium Ticket Windows, adjacent to Gate 4.

Youth Games – All fans 14 and younger, when accompanied by an adult (18 and older), are eligible for half-price tickets in designated seating locations for Saturday home games. Tickets may be purchased only on the day of the game at Yankee Stadium Ticket Windows, adjacent to Gate 4.

Military Personnel Ticket Special – Active military members can present their military identification card at designated Yankee Stadium Ticket Windows before select Monday through Thursday home games and receive one complimentary ticket in select areas of the Grandstand Level or Bleachers, or purchase one half-price ticket in other available non-premium seat locations at Yankee Stadium. Tickets may be purchased only on the day of the game, beginning two hours before the scheduled start time of the game at Yankee Stadium Ticket Windows, adjacent to Gate 4.

Andy back from ‘vacation’

A year ago, no one with the Yankees or anywhere else could have convinced Andy Pettitte to keep on pitching. He was certain following an injury-disturbed second half of the 2010 season that it was time to hang up his glove and spikes.

The Yankees were hoping against hope that Pettitte would think it over, particularly after Cliff Lee rejected their seven-year, free-agent offer and signed instead with the Phillies. This left a gaping hole in the rotation, one that the fit Pettitte would have easily filled.

But no. Family came first, an honorable position. Andy wanted to go home to Deer Park, Texas, for good and watch his children grow up. The Yankees would have to make do with aging cast-offs Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon to fill the gap in the starting unit.

There would be no turnaround for Pettitte that might have mirrored pal Roger Clemens’ famous about-face when he retired from the Yankees after the 2003 World Series only to rejoin his left-handed partner in Houston where Andy landed after filing for free agency. For their part, Garcia and Colon accomplished more than anything the Yankees expected last year, but any chance that Pettitte could change his mind remained in the Yankees’ thinking.

The decision announced Thursday by Pettitte that he would accept a minor-league deal from the Yankees for non-guaranteed money of $2.5 million came as a shock to most Yankees fans (it certainly did me), but there have been indications that the big lefty was leaning in that direction for some time.

Pettitte was essentially fighting his emotions. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman confirmed that he had discussed a contract with Pettitte last December. Still no go was Andy’s reply. But when he put that uniform on again last month as a spring-training instructor, well, he was a goner.

Back up close to the game, Pettitte’s competitive instincts were aroused. It is a big step for him but a relatively small risk for the Yankees. For them, it is completely a win-win situation. There is no doubt that Pettitte is still in outstanding physical shape. Now he needs the time to get back into pitching shape.

The timetable for a Pettitte return would likely be early May, by which time the Yankees could use a boost in the rotation. Let’s face it; every year something happens that makes a club wish it had someone of Pettitte’s caliber in reserve. Take last season, for example, when Phil Hughes’ arm went soft, and Colon helped save the first half for the Yankees.

Make no mistake; what Pettitte is attempting is not easy. Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg may be the best example of what taking a year away from the game can do. Due to personal reasons, Ryno sat out the 1995 season after 14 years with the Cubs and returned in 1996 at age 36 to bat .244 with 25 home runs and 92 RBI, surprisingly good numbers for a player who had been away from the game for a whole season. But an off year in ’97 (12 homers and 64 RBI in 447 at-bats) was a signal to him that he was no longer the same player and he retired.

It was not uncommon during World War II for players to un-retire and return to the major-league rosters decimated by the draft, the most notable of whom was Hall of Fame first baseman Jimmie Foxx, who was little more than a glorified pinch hitter for the Cubs and Phillies.

Yogi Berra tried to come back as a player with the Mets in 1965, the year after he had managed the Yankees into the World Series and was fired after they lost to the Cardinals. Yogi admitted to manager Casey Stengel that he could not catch up with the fastball anymore and retired after four games and nine at-bats to become the Mets’ full-time first base coach.

What Yankees fans remember is that the last time they saw Pettitte he was still effective at getting out batters. His problem was trying to avoid groin and back flare-ups that are part of the aging process. One of the most popular players in recent Yankees history will try to reverse that process, and it will be fun for the rest of us to see if he can do it.

Sigh of relief for Robertson

The Yankees averted a major scare this past week when the freak accident suffered by David Robertson turned out to be a bone bruise in his right foot and not any kind of fracture. The great fear there for a few days while the Yankees had various tests taken on Robertson’s damaged puppy was that he might have sprained the  Lisfranc ligament, an injury that would have shelved the righthander for at least three months. A similar injury to Chien-Ming Wang in June 2008 forced him to be shut down for the rest of that season and may have contributed to shoulder problems that have plagued his career.

That is where Robertson needs to be careful from this point on. While rehabilitating the foot, David must be careful not to alter his delivery in any way. Scores of arm injuries over the years have been tied to pitchers changing their motion to reduce stress on ailments elsewhere on their bodies. It appears that Robertson will be shut down for at least two weeks before resuming pitching.

Yankees fans can be grateful that the injury occurred so early in spring training, which should give Robertson sufficient time to get healthy and be ready to open the season with the club in April. Robertson enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2011, pitching to a 1.08 ERA over 70 appearances in which he posted a 4-0 record with 1 save and 100 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings.

All those strikeouts helped raise money for a foundation — High Socks for Hope –that David and his wife Erin created to fund recovery efforts for families devastated by last year’s tornadoes in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Robertson’s hometown. The foundation raised more than $200,000, which was acknowledged by the New York Chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America with its presenting him the Joan Payson Award for community service in January.

David also needs to heed the advice of trainer Steve Donohue. After Robertson explained how he hurt the foot by missing a step and tumbling down the staircase of his rented house in St. Petersburg, Fla., while taking empty boxes out to the recycling bin, Donohue said, “Next time, just kick them down the stairs.”

 

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