Hangin out with the Globetrotters

I had a thrill on Friday night when I got to hang out with the Harlem Globetrotters for one of their games in Glendale, Arizona, in the Coyotes’ NHL arena.

I was actually on the floor for a while with my old buddy, LaTroy Hawkins, doing a routine with a basketball that the Trotters put together for us. LaTroy is pitching for the Brewers. We go way back to when I was 17, just getting started in baseball with the Twins. We were roommates back in 1993. So that was definitely a lot of fun, being part of our little act together.

Here I am, 34 years old, and I’m acting like I’m 10 around these guys. No matter how many times you’ve seen them – this was my fourth time in the past 10 years – they always crack you up. They contacted Tim Mead, the Angels’ PR man, and asked him if I could come out and do a skit with them. We invited them over to camp on Friday, and they entertained the guys before we went out to our workout.

Everybody had a great time, especially Bobby Abreu. He’s a part-owner of a basketball team in Venezuela, and they said they wanted to try out for Bobby’s team. Bobby’s got a great sense of humor, so he loved it.

I’ve always loved the Globetrotters. Being around them now, I have a whole new respect for what they do and the way they do it. These guys work out, eat right, keep themselves in great condition. You have to be in shape to travel the world and entertain people the way they do.

They’re on their way to England next and will be on the road for a month. Some of them have family in the Phoenix area, so they were enjoying that while they could before going back to work.

These guys are legends. They were in every household on TV, in cartoons.  It was these guys and Scooby Doo for me. They had their own cartoon show, and every Saturday we’d watch them. To have a chance to hang with them, talk to them and laugh with those guys, it’s really something special.

These guys are athletes, dancers, perfectionists. They take their job very seriously, and their job is to make people laugh – kids, middle-aged people, old folks. Everybody loves the Globetrotters.

Think about all the good will and joy they’ve spread over the world, and it’s awesome, really. I was looking around the arena and parents were cracking up right along with their kids. They had that old routine where one of the guys would run out carrying what everybody thought was confetti – but it turned out to be water, and he splashed some people.

Spring Training can get a little monotonous at times, going through drills day after day when you really want to just go out and play the game. But you have to prepare yourselves right to be ready – it’s part of the deal. Lucky for me, I got one of the best breaks in the routine you could possibly imagine when the Globetrotters invited me to be a part of their show.

It’s one of those things I’ll never forget. I wish all those guys the best in their travels.

 

Hangin’ with Hideki and friends

The first workout of Spring Training never changes. You just want to get through it. You know you’re going to be a little sore the next day, and you’re just happy to get it out of the way. Every player can tell you that.

No matter how many sprints you do or how hard you work out in the gym in the offseason, baseball shape is totally different. Today felt like all first days do, like you didn’t do a thing in the offseason. And I really worked hard coming off my sports hernia surgery after Thanksgiving. After six to eight weeks, I didn’t feel it anymore and was able to go out, do sprints, do a lot of lifting.  I started running hard on Jan. 5, so I’m in good shape. Even so, you still feel it on the first day.

All in all, it went well. I felt pretty good swinging the bat and moving around in the outfield. No problems at all with the groin. Didn’t even think about it, really.

It was good to be out there, in the Arizona sun, hanging out with the guys, taking some swings, getting the kinks out. I spent some time with Hideki Matsui, talking in the outfield, and that was fun. I’m really excited to be playing with a guy who’s a legend back home in Japan, Godzilla of the Yomiuri Giants. He’s an Angel now, and I think he’s going to like it here.

The Quiet Assassin, that’s what I think I’ll call Matsui.

I’ll miss Vladimir Guerrero, one of the greatest guys I’ve ever played with, but I think Matsui can really help us. He’s one of the quietest clutch hitters in the game. When I was with the Twins and he came to the Yankees in 2003, 2004, he came up with so many clutch hits against us. I got tired of chasing all those balls he hit.

He has great balance, a smooth, easy swing. You can see why he hits lefties so well with that balance. He stays in and stays on the ball. He’s going to be a good fit in our lineup. We’ve got some guys who can drive the ball, including Brandon Wood. I’m not worried about Brandon. He sits right next to me here, and he’s cool. He’s got some serious power and can handle the glove like a pro. This isn’t his first rodeo. He knows his way around.  

Matsui hit one ball over the wall in right in batting practice, and I was kidding around with him, telling him not to hit my car. It was parked out that way. I might have to move it over a little.

I keep saying I’m going to be more conscious of running into walls after what happened last year, so there I was again, going after a ball against the wall. That’s just me, man. I guess it’s who I am. That’s why they call me Spiderman.

The Japanese media is here in big numbers for Matsui. They’re very polite, very kind and respectful. I appreciate that. They were asking me who’s nicer, Matsui or me. That’s easy, I told them. Matsui is nicer than me. He’s definitely a very good guy. He’s special.

Sometimes I get upset and I’m ready to fight, I told them. I’m a good guy, but when you push my button, I can get mad. Matsui, if you push his button, he still smiles. That’s why he’s nicer than me.

This is going to be very interesting with all these new people around us. They’re here to cover Matsui, but they’re also here to cover baseball. And we plan to put on a good show for our new friends.    

Hangin with Hideki and friends

The first workout of Spring Training never changes. You just want to get through it. You know you’re going to be a little sore the next day, and you’re just happy to get it out of the way. Every player can tell you that.

No matter how many sprints you do or how hard you work out in the gym in the offseason, baseball shape is totally different. Today felt like all first days do, like you didn’t do a thing in the offseason. And I really worked hard coming off my sports hernia surgery after Thanksgiving. After six to eight weeks, I didn’t feel it anymore and was able to go out, do sprints, do a lot of lifting.  I started running hard on Jan. 5, so I’m in good shape. Even so, you still feel it on the first day.

All in all, it went well. I felt pretty good swinging the bat and moving around in the outfield. No problems at all with the groin. Didn’t even think about it, really.

It was good to be out there, in the Arizona sun, hanging out with the guys, taking some swings, getting the kinks out. I spent some time with Hideki Matsui, talking in the outfield, and that was fun. I’m really excited to be playing with a guy who’s a legend back home in Japan, Godzilla of the Yomiuri Giants. He’s an Angel now, and I think he’s going to like it here.

The Quiet Assassin, that’s what I think I’ll call Matsui.

I’ll miss Vladimir Guerrero, one of the greatest guys I’ve ever played with, but I think Matsui can really help us. He’s one of the quietest clutch hitters in the game. When I was with the Twins and he came to the Yankees in 2003, 2004, he came up with so many clutch hits against us. I got tired of chasing all those balls he hit.

He has great balance, a smooth, easy swing. You can see why he hits lefties so well with that balance. He stays in and stays on the ball. He’s going to be a good fit in our lineup. We’ve got some guys who can drive the ball, including Brandon Wood. I’m not worried about Brandon. He sits right next to me here, and he’s cool. He’s got some serious power and can handle the glove like a pro. This isn’t his first rodeo. He knows his way around.  

Matsui hit one ball over the wall in right in batting practice, and I was kidding around with him, telling him not to hit my car. It was parked out that way. I might have to move it over a little.

I keep saying I’m going to be more conscious of running into walls after what happened last year, so there I was again, going after a ball against the wall. That’s just me, man. I guess it’s who I am. That’s why they call me Spiderman.

The Japanese media is here in big numbers for Matsui. They’re very polite, very kind and respectful. I appreciate that. They were asking me who’s nicer, Matsui or me. That’s easy, I told them. Matsui is nicer than me. He’s definitely a very good guy. He’s special.

Sometimes I get upset and I’m ready to fight, I told them. I’m a good guy, but when you push my button, I can get mad. Matsui, if you push his button, he still smiles. That’s why he’s nicer than me.

This is going to be very interesting with all these new people around us. They’re here to cover Matsui, but they’re also here to cover baseball. And we plan to put on a good show for our new friends.    

Merry Christmas to everyone!

On Christmas Eve, I want to wish everyone a great holiday season with your family and friends. It’s a special time of the year, and we all need to keep in mind why it’s so meaningful and important.

Christmas is the day Jesus was born. On this day we were given life. It’s the reason for the season. It’s a day of giving, not receiving.

In my household, my kids never ask for anything. You play baseball, you can give your kids what they want. You want to make them happy, and it’s always a good feeling to give something nice to your kids. But they understand what this day, this season is all about.

It’s always about giving. It doesn’t have to be anything material. It can be a handshake, a smile, uplifting words. Those are all gifts. Giving is easy. Smile, brighten somebody’s day. Make somebody feel good.

You know what? It will make you feel good if you do. I guarantee it.

I’m pretty sure my mom would tell you that one of her happiest days was when I was a little kid, 7 or 8 years old, and I gave the 20 bucks she’d given us for Christmas to a guy I’d see every day on the street in our hometown of Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

Twenty bucks in my neighborhood made you The Man. I never had 20 bucks, but I gave it away. There was a guy I’d always see in the streets, a guy who didn’t have anything. I went out and gave it to him – the whole 20 bucks. He was so grateful. I’ll always remember that.

My mom was so happy when I did that, because I wasn’t thinking about myself when I gave my last. She instilled in me early in life that the best thing you can do is give. That’s especially true this time of year.

I’m looking forward to being with my family, enjoying this special time. I’m right on schedule coming back from my sports hernia surgery, already looking forward to a new season, taking another shot at that World Series crown with my Angels.

I haven’t run hard yet, but I’ve been doing some light lifting and pulling. I don’t want to push it until I’m ready. I’ll be getting started on my rehab program at the Athletes’ Performance Institute near my home in the Dallas area. I’ll be ready to go this spring, and I’m looking forward to putting together my best season yet in 2010.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone from the Hunter family!

 

Hernia surgery a success!

What a day! I had surgery to repair a hernia on my right side and was in the hospital for eight hours. My wife, Katrina, picked me up and drove me home, and it’s a good thing. I’ll sleep well tonight.

The surgery was a success. I did my homework when I found out what needed to be done, and I’m really happy to get this taken care of, so I can move on and play without this pain next year. Dr. John Priskett performed the surgery at Baylor University Hospital, and he assured me everything went right. That’s great news.

Whatever was wrong in there, it’s fixed now. It already feels great. I’ll have six to eight weeks of rehab, starting with some light bike work, cardio, and gradually picking up to where I’ll be able to work out in mid-January. That will have me ready for Spring Training.

I’m really excited by what Dr. Priskett told me. It was a low-risk, high-reward surgery. The long-term gain is significant. He said, “You’re going to feel way better, and you’ll play better.” That was music to my ears.
 
He said that once you have this surgery, it never bothers you anymore. No more hernias for me. The only way I’d hurt my other side is compensating for the right side, and that won’t happen, because the right side is strong again. So I’ll be good to go.

This was my first surgery since 1995 when I had my right knee operated on. My body has been good to me, allowing me to play a lot of baseball, all out, for the Twins in Minnesota and now with the Angels.

I look back on the season, and so many things happened. We lost Nick Adenhart, a teammate and friend, and we mourned and prayed and had to go on and play the season. We did that with passion and purpose, in Nick’s honor. It was a great team, one I’ll always remember.

For me, the team and Major League Baseball, it was a good year. I think about it all the time. I was on my way to my best season when I got hurt running into walls. The one at Dodger Stadium on May 22, when I caught my buddy Matt Kemp’s drive against the wall, I was hurting after that. Then I did it again in San Francisco on June 15, and that messed me up some more.

If I had played the whole season, I could have had 120-plus ribbies, 30-plus homers, scored 100 runs. It was great winning the Silver Slugger Award, but I know I could have done much more.

I knew on that Sunday in Arizona on June 28 that something was really wrong, when I sat at the locker after the game and couldn’t move. I was so disappointed that day, knowing I was hurt, but not knowing how bad it was.

I tried to play through it but had to go on the disabled list on July 10 with the adductor strain, and it cost me 32 games. When I came back, I still had some pain but I had to be there for my team, so I played the best I could. We took it to Game 6 in the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium after sweeping the Red Sox in Boston. That was an amazing experience.

It’s like I kept saying, adrenaline is a pain-killer. But it was a temporary solution. There are some things you can’t play through, and sometimes you have to go in and get something taken care of.

I want to thank all the fans who have expressed concern and shown me so much support over the years. I’m a lucky guy to have a great family and so many people care about me. I’m looking forward to taking it easy for a while, going on some dates with my wife and spending time with our sons.

Next thing we know, it will be February, and we’ll be playing baseball again in the sun in Arizona. I can’t wait to take another run at a championship.

Abreu, another Gold Glove and charity golf

I just got into Arizona to host a charity golf event, and I figured it was a good time to catch up.

First off, I want to say I’m really happy we signed my buddy Bobby Abreu to come back and play for the Angels. I’ll get to pick his brain some more now. Bobby’s so smart, and so valuable. He can hit in a lot of places in the lineup, and he’s a great leader, sharing all his knowledge and wisdom. He also cracks everybody up with his sense of humor, and you need that over a long season.

I spoke with Chone Figgins a few days ago, but we didn’t talk about his free agency situation. I know he’ll do what’s right for him and his family. Chone’s a smart guy. I was eating some red beans and rice, and he said he was hungry. That guy loves his red beans and rice.

I got word today that I won my ninth straight Rawlings Gold Glove, and that’s always a thrill. What makes it so meaningful is that it’s voted on by the managers and coaches, the men who know what’s really going on out there. Much respect from them is important to me, because they recognize all the things that go into being a good defensive player, like hitting the cutoff man, throwing to the right base, backing up guys along with making all the routine plays – and some spectacular ones.

I was disappointed my teammates, Figgy and Erick Aybar, didn’t win their first Gold Gloves. Both those guys were deserving. They worked so hard and had tremendous seasons, defensively and offensively. Those are two of the premier athletes in the game, with great speed and quickness and strong arms. Their time will come.

I thought I was having my best season when I injured my groin running into walls first at Dodger Stadium and then in San Francisco. Missing all those games, 32, that really hurt. When I came back, my groin was sore for another month or so, but I’m not second-guessing what I did. I play the game all out. You can’t worry about getting hurt.

I’m really looking forward to staying healthy next season and putting up some good numbers and helping us to get to our ultimate goal this time, the World Series. We were so close . . . but the Yankees beat us fair and square in the ALCS, and they showed how good they were winning the World Series.  

I like to relax as much as I can after a long season, but there are things to take care of, too. The Torii Hunter Celebrity Golf Classic I’m hosting will benefit schools and kids in need the next two days at the Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino.

Justin Upton of the Diamondbacks and his brother, B.J., of the Rays also are here helping out, and we’ve got a lot of big names showing up. Benefits will go to The Torii Hunter Project, The Heart of a Champion Foundation, Teleos Preparatory Academy in Phoenix and Sacaton Middle School on the Gila River Indian Reservation.

Tonight we have a gourmet dinner and a performance by Brian McKnight, a great recording artist. On Wednesday, we’ll have an exclusive pre-round golf clinic hosted by former PGA Tour professionals and golf TV analysts Gary McCord and David Feherty. Golfers, sponsors and some of the biggest names in sports and entertainment will then hit the course for a round of golf at The Whirlwind Golf Club at Wild Horse Pass.

Tonight’s emcee is Harold Reynolds, the former second baseman now doing TV commentary. We’re looking forward to having some of my teammates – Joe Saunders, Howard Kendrick, Jason Bulger, Mike Napoli and Scott Kazmir – along with my old buddy David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Darryl Strawberry, Nick Swisher, Derrek Lee, Tony Clark, Eddie Murray, Chris Young, Don Baylor, Kenny Lofton, Mark Grace and many others.

If you want to know more about the Torii Hunter Celebrity Golf Classic or to purchase tickets, call (480) 245-7177 or visit www.toriihunter.com.

I hope all my fans and fans everywhere have a great offseason. I’ll stay in touch now and then. Take good care of yourselves and your families.

 

A great season, but the end is never easy

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It’s tough, man. The Yankees beat us. They’re a good team over there. We battled those guys, made a couple of mistakes and ran into a big-game pitcher, Andy Pettitte, in Game 6. They pitched well all through the series and beat us, fair and square.

We had to overcome a lot of obstacles this season. Losing Nick Adenhart, a young guy we all cared so much about, that was too tragic for words, really. We mourned and stuck together and got a lot accomplished this season. I’m proud of all these guys, for the character they showed and the way they performed through all the adversity.

We had a great season. There’s nothing to hang our heads over. We had a big mountain to climb here in New York. We got over one mountain in Boston and played those guys tough. We played some of the best games I’ve ever been a part of in my career — some of the best games all these guys have played in, I’m sure.

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The Yankees have some of my favorite players, so I’m going to be rooting for them in the World Series. Why not? I’m an American League guy. Always have been, so of course I’m pulling for our team.

If I had to point to one thing as the difference, I’d say maturity. They have a lot of seasoned, smart players. They’re very mature. They know how to execute and play the game. They’re the beast of the East for a reason. Those guys are going to be tough to beat in the World Series.

I’ve been battling the Yankees since I was in Minnesota, and it looks like I’ll keep battling them. They’ve got all those guys signed for years, so that mountain will be there. We have a lot of guys who learned and grew this season, and they’ll be better off for it.

Looking back, we didn’t play Angels-style baseball in this series. We made mistakes that just aren’t like us. We should have been better defensively, for sure. But baseball’s a crazy game. Anything can happen. It could have turned our way, but it didn’t. We just have to move on.

It’s going to be an interesting winter, with so many free agents, so many decisions to make. I have a lot of faith in our organization doing whatever it takes to be successful.

Right now, it’s just tough, really tough. You play for so long, with so much passion and energy, and then it’s over. We’ll have time now to reflect and think about what we accomplished, and I think the guys will have a lot of pride in the season we had.

It was a challenge, right from the start, losing Nick and having to go forward and dedicate ourselves in his memory. I know he’s proud of the effort we all put forth. When it’s all said and done, the relationships are what matters, and this was a wonderful team to play for this season, from our manager, Mike Scioscia, all the way through the ranks.

I want to thank all of our great fans for their support and devotion. I want you all to know that we appreciate how you stood behind us, and we’ll try to reward you by going a little deeper, a little farther, next season.

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Heaven — and Game 6 — can wait

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We figured all day there was going to be a rainout. Trust me, we hate there’s a rainout. We want to keep playing. You hate to lose your rhythm. It’s kind of good right now.

But there are some good things about this. We’ve got John Lackey available for a Game 7 on three days’ rest if we get by Game 6. I’m pretty sure that bulldog will want to be out there. You know John, how he loves to compete and hates to come out of games.

Tomorrow’s supposed to be sunny. I’ve got a chance to go out and work on my sun tan in New York. Just kidding. I’m looking forward to another historic baseball game for me. These games are a lot of fun — the past, and in the future.

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We’ll start Game 6 tomorrow, go on to Game 7 on Monday. We just want to play. I didn’t pack for an extra day, so I’ll have to go buy a shirt tomorrow.

Seriously, all you can do is keep working on your swing, keep your rhythm going, come back tomorrow and play with everything you’ve got. This team of ours is very adaptable. We’ve got a lot of athletes, and you want athletes to be running around on a nice surface, not all sloppy. So from that perspective, it’s a good thing we’re not playing tonight.

I like our guy Joe Saunders, being from the East Coast. He loves cold weather. He’s not like some of the guys from warmer climates. Joe is cool. He’ll be ready to go. And we’ll have all our other arms ready to deal behind him. You bring everything you’ve got to a game like this.

It’s exciting — very exciting. The Yankees and Angels, playing for the World Series in the Big Apple. I can’t wait.

Back to the Bronx for more thrills

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We earned ourselves another trip to the big city, to New York. It wasn’t easy, but we made it happen. I’m so proud of this team, the way it keeps coming back.

The Angels are for real. I don’t think anybody can doubt that now.

Man, I was going crazy out there in the seventh inning. They scored six runs to take the lead, and we came right back to get three and then held on. Hey, nobody said it was going to be easy, right?

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That ninth inning got to me. My knee started hurting me. That hasn’t happened all year. I guess it was the intensity of the moment. My heart was beating fast. It was very exciting — especially when Erick Aybar got under that last popup by Nick Swisher on the 3-2 pitch by Brian Fuentes and it was finally over.

We came out and played our game. We were aggressive right from the start. I’m not giving away any strategies, but A.J. Burnett, last time we faced him in New York, got ahead of us pounding the strike zone. We came out taking some good swings after Chone Figgins worked a walk to get us started.

Bobby Abreu stroked that double to center, which put two guys in scoring position. I got something I liked and drove it past Derek Jeter for two runs. That’s a good feeling, us getting off to a good start like that. Then Vladimir Guerrero and Kendry Morales came through with hits, and we’re up 4-0. I’m sure John Lackey liked that.

But we knew four runs weren’t safe, not against that team. Lackey pitched great, man. I had a good view of that 3-2 pitch to Jorge Posada that was called a ball. It was a good pitch, man. People are asking about Lackey reacting the way he did, but if you don’t react on a call like that, you shouldn’t be here. It’s a natural reaction, nothing bad or hostile about it. He thought he threw a strike and didn’t get the call, and it was big. I don’t blame John for reacting like he did. Any competitor would have done that.

That was a fight, a battle to the finish. Those guys never give up, and neither do we. That’s why this is such a great matchup. There’s a lot of mutual respect here, I think.

We know they’ve got Mariano Rivera in the bullpen, so it’s important to get early leads and hold onto them. That’s what we need to do against Andy Pettitte in Game 6 on Saturday. We’re looking for another good effort by Joe Saunders, who really pitched well in Game 2 against Burnett in New York.

Joe is cool, and he likes the weather cold, being from Virginia. I’m pretty sure he’ll get that kind of weather again. I don’t think it’ll be in the 70s, like it is in Southern California this time of year. But let’s not get started about the weather again. The cold didn’t beat us those first two games. We didn’t make plays we usually make. We didn’t play like the Angels.

Tonight, when we had to — we were the Angels, the team we’ve been all year. We’ve been on a mission to win this for Nick Adenhart’s family, and that mission continues.

We got what we were after, a return trip to New York. Now we plan to make the best of it and force a Game 7. But it’s one game at a time, one inning at a time, one pitch at a time.

I’ve got a headache right now. This excitement is getting to me. I can use a day to relax and get ready for another battle in the Bronx.

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Mountain climbing time

Well, we’ve got a mountain to climb in Game 5. No getting around it. We’ve just got to get there, get to the top somehow. It is a mountain, though, no question about it. A big one.

If they win, it’s over. Yankees go to the World Series, we go home. Simple as that. Down 3-1 in the ALCS, I wouldn’t say I’m frustrated. Mad is more like it. We know baseball. It can turn around any time. We’ve got to go out there and try to climb that mountain.

Everybody is asking me how they’ve shut down our offense. They’ve go CC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera. And A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte, and a good bullpen. CC and Mariano, need I say more? But that doesn’t mean we can’t get something going, get our offense rolling again. Sure we can. We need to take it one at-bat at a time, play the way we have all season, and get this thing back to New York.

They had their big man going last night, and we’ve got our big man going tomorrow night. John Lackey, man, I’m comfortable with him out there. He pounds the strike zone, like CC did last night. We didn’t play good defense behind Lackey in Game 1 at Yankee Stadium, and we can’t let that happen again. We’ve got to be on top of our game. We’ve got to play better than that.

People talk about pressure, but we don’t have any pressure down 3-1. We’re just going to go out and play the game the right way, and hopefully that’ll take us back to New York for Game 6. The pressure’s not on us. I don’t buy that at all.

We’ve been trying to get back to our game since the start of the series. We know we can do it. You don’t sweep Boston without being good. We have to get that aggressive mindset and play free but also smart.

It’s been rough offensively. We just haven’t been getting the big hit when we need it. Smooth Bobby Abreu was saying that we’re trying to do too much with runners in scoring position, that we’ve got to relax and hit the way we did during the season.

Bobby knows best. I think he’s on the money. We can’t force things. We have to be disciplined and get pitches in good spots and drive them. We need to be aggressive but play with intelligence at the same time.

It’s a mountain, for sure, but you’ve got to take it one step at a time. We don’t want this to end, and we don’t want to see the Yankees celebrate on our field. No team wants to watch that. Let’s get after it. Crank up the volume, fans, and get the Rally Monkey warmed up.

It’s time to get busy, time to go to work. Time to put on the mountain-climbing boots.

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