Home Sports The return of baseball to Yankee Stadium: ‘Quite a journey’

The return of baseball to Yankee Stadium: ‘Quite a journey’

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Home, FINALLY.

Home, triumphantly.

Yes, we all know that Major League Baseball, mirroring the United States of America, is teetering on the verge of cancellation, too many participants and practitioners not respecting the novel coronavirus’ obvious danger. Friday brought three COVID postponements, not quite how Rob Manfred and Tony Clark drew it up.

Yet if the Yankees’ formal return to Yankee Stadium Friday night, defeating the rival Red Sox, 5-1, in their home opener, didn’t serve as cause for baseball to celebrate, it sure as heck created an opportunity for New York, city and state, to take a well-deserved bow. It did just that in style, with Aaron Judge slamming his third homer in three days (and second game-winning blast in two days).

“It’s been quite a journey,” Paul Lee, the Yankees’ head team internist said.

Lee took part in magnificent pregame festivities that honored medical personnel on the front lines. With each introduction of a pandemic hero, the Yankees and Red Sox players banged metal lids, replicating the sound that became synonymous with nightly tributes — at 7 p.m., right around the time of this salute — to these folks who served the greater good when the Big Apple served as the epicenter for this horrible disease.

Yankees announcer Suzyn Waldman sings the national anthem before Friday night's Yankees-Red Sox game.
Yankees announcer Suzyn Waldman sings the national anthem before Friday night’s Yankees-Red Sox game.Getty Images

“It reminds me of coming home, leaving the hospital at 7 o’clock and hearing the city,” Lee said. “It feels like the unity. You feel like you have everybody supporting you.”

Throw in a beautiful rendition of the national anthem by Yankees radiocaster Suzyn Waldman and a moment of silence for late Yankees owner Hank Steinbrenner, and it made you wish there were fans here to appreciate the return of baseball to The Bronx; the Mets already have hosted five games at Citi Field.

“I was sitting on the bench talking to DJ [LeMahieu], saying how rocking this place would’ve been: Home opener, Red Sox-Yankees. It would’ve been packed,” Judge said. “It doesn’t change. The game still goes on. Life goes on.

Back in late March, did you ever envision a ballgame taking place anywhere close to New York City? I sure as heck didn’t.

“Maybe a little naively, I was optimistic [in March],” Aaron Boone said.

Yet here we were, the Yankees returning home two days later than scheduled after the Marlins’ outbreak created a snowball effect that sent the Yankees to Baltimore at the last minute Wednesday and Thursday. New York, by the way in which it shut down firmly and then carefully opened back up, stands as a role model for other states to follow.

Friday night turned out to be “bittersweet,” as Kyle Higashioka put it, and not only because of the empty seats. The Yankees learned that they likely have lost valuable reliever Tommy Kahnle to Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, a tough break for their bullpen. They have the depth to withstand the loss, however. So far, the Yankees have backed up their preseason words that they’re well-equipped to handle the adversity of the coronavirus as well as the challenge of playing without fans.

“I think once we get rolling, I think our guys will be excited to put the pinstripes on and know what we’re playing for,” Boone said prior to the game, a good call (especially against a Red Sox team that seems checked out).

They should play for all whom we have lost to COVID. For those frontline workers. For their fans who wish they could join them and instead derive joy from watching them on TV and listening to them on the radio (and streaming, too, keeping us current).

They should play for New York, which worked so hard to get out from under this horror and must stay diligent. Rarely has there been a prouder time to represent us.

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