By Sweeny Murti
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TAMPA, Fla. (WFAN) — It began for real Tuesday. Aaron Boone as Yankees manager. I suppose I can say that again on Opening Day in Toronto when the games count. But being named manager in December in a suit and tie with a jersey draped around you is one thing. Being in Yankees gear and ready to hit the field and start doing the job as pitchers and catchers report to spring training, that’s what feels like the real start of the job.
And as the Yankees hit the field with lofty expectations, Boone isn’t shying away from it.
“We understand the expectations,” Boone said at his opening spring news conference Tuesday.
“Last year was great,” Boone said of a team he watched from the broadcast booth reach Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, one win shy of the World Series. “A lot of these guys came of age and viewed it as a very successful season. But I think what stands out being in that room right now … the hunger is there and there’s no satisfaction with what they were able to accomplish.”
But Boone now begins the job of trying to push this Yankees team to the next level. He begins by telling his players why they are good and why they can be better.
“Just because things look good right now, or things look good on paper, and we believe we have a really great team … it’s also really hard,” Boone said. “And there’s a lot of little things that can allow you to be a championship club and those are the things we really want to dive into, especially starting here in spring training. But from what I can tell, the hunger in these guys is real.”
A lot of what we see and hear from Boone over the next few weeks and months will be through the prism of a man that is doing something he’s never done before. That’s why Boone might be the biggest question mark on a team that has a few holes, yet none too glaring to keep them from a favorite’s status.
“I’m consumed with the job and being great at it,” Boone said of being in the manager’s chair for the first time. “Hopefully (I’m) impacting our guys (and) that allows us to take another step as a club and ultimately become a championship club.”
Boone’s style both on and off the field will be what we are all looking for in the early going. It will be hard to define in February and March, but Boone has an idea for what he wants his team to look like as they prepare for the regular season.
“I expect us to have an energy and a pace to the way we practice,” Boone said before reciting what he calls a sort of mantra for his first spring training. “We want to practice at a championship pace. So we want to be out on the field with energy, moving quickly, practicing as much as we can at game speed.”
Speed and energy with a group of young players. That sounds kind of fun, doesn’t it? Fun is also what Boone is looking for.
“One of the things I really want to impart on these guys — and that they already do really well in my view — is have fun playing the game,” Boone said. “I think that’s one of the things that’s really helped connect this team (to the fans) at even another level than we’ve seen in recent years.
“I think what leaps off the screen with this club is the fun that they’re having playing baseball together. That’s something I want them to never lose — to continue to have that fun, but understand we’re going out there with an intensity and an expectation of greatness.”
Now that sounds like Yankees talk right there — expectation of greatness. Boone wants his team to walk that line that Joe Torre used to speak of, that ability to be intense without being tense.
Boone speaks often of how he marveled at Torre, a man he played for only three months during his lifetime in the game. Those three months seem to have left an indelible mark when you hear Boone speak about the kind of manager he wants to be.
“I want to be somebody that is known as a smart manager that makes smart decisions, that’s prepared,” Boone said. “But also, one that when you walk into our clubhouse, hopefully I’m a part of what I believe is a winning culture — a culture where guys are at ease, where guys are allowed to be themselves, where when you walk into our room, it’s not a stressful place; it’s a place where guys are at work and enjoy coming there to do their job, and hopefully I’m part of creating that atmosphere.”
Boone didn’t say it out loud, but it sounds like a man trying to undo the tensions — both real and perceived — that marked the end of Joe Girardi’s tenure.
“I think when guys are comfortable,” Boone continued, “when guys are able to be themselves, especially younger players — guys that we’re going to count on hopefully to be part of a championship club — it’s really important to me that those younger players feel comfortable in that room, feel like they’re allowed to be themselves in that room. And I think when you have strong relationships, you’re able to bring that out in guys. It also allows, when those relationships are strong, for you to have difficult conversations, and for you to challenge guys. Hopefully we are challenging each other all the time, not always in agreement, but we kind of work through situations because hopefully the communication is strong. I think it creates a winning environment.’
It better. That’s what the Yankees need to be in Year 1 of the Boone era — winners.
Please follow Sweeny on Twitter at @YankeesWFAN