As he enters the final year of his contract, Joe Girardi keeps his focus only on the present
TAMPA - Joe Girardi's first official act of spring training, or at least the first official act that I witnessed, was him hopping into a golf cart and zooming from the clubhouse to the parking lot. If there was an actual speed limit in the corridors of George M. Steinbrenner Field, the manager of the Yankees shunned it. There was a lot of work to be done and Girardi is a tireless worker, a man who rushes from one task to the next.
A few minutes after Girardi parked the golf cart, he preached optimism during his first press conference of the season. Optimism about the Yankees' young players and the future and optimism about the addition of Matt Holliday and the return of Aroldis Chapman. Being eternally optimistic is another one of Girardi's traits, a man who believes in his team, in great or dreadful times.
"I am optimistic about this season because I think that there's a lot of talent in that room," Girardi said.
Those words tumbled out of Girardi's mouth after I asked him to describe his greatest concerns about the season. Even when Girardi was asked about some of the possible doubts he might have, doubts that virtually every manager has, he still found a way to remain positive. That's always been Girardi's approach: stay optimistic, work hard and then work a little harder.
As the Yankees embark on the 2017 season, they are thrilled about having super human catcher Gary Sanchez for an entire season, they are cautiously confident that Greg Bird can be as serene and successful as he was in 2015, they hope Aaron Judge's new hitting approach will help him become a fixture in right field and they really, really hope the unsettled starting rotation will settle itself and become an asset. The Yankees need Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia to repeat what they did in 2016, they need Michael Pineda to throw more change ups and be less perplexing and they need a few members from the firm of Severino, Mitchell, Cessa, Green & Warren to perform competently.
The man driving the golf cart is the man who will help make the decisions about who starts at first base and in right field and who wins the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation. That man is used to answering questions, dozens of questions about what is happening around the Yankees. But, since Girardi is in the final year of a 4-year, $16 million contract, he will also be answering questions about his own lame duck status. Those questions started on Tuesday and Girardi handled them with aplomb.
"It doesn't really impact me," Girardi said. "I'm going to do my job the same way, in a way that I believe is the right way to do it. I won't seek any clarity (from ownership). They have not extended managers, as far as I can remember, during the course of a season. So I'll just do my job and whatever happens happens."
He added, "I'm a faithful man and I believe God is going to put me where He wants to anyway."
Girardi is entering his tenth year as the manager of the Yankees, a tenure which includes a 2009 World Series title and one post-season game in the last four years. When I asked Girardi if he envisions himself managing the Yankees for an 11th season, he answered quickly.
"I do," he said. "I don't envision myself doing anything different. Maybe this is why I don't think about it much. This is what I know. This is what I've known for a long time."
Soon after, Girardi's press conference ended and he exited the room, moving quickly to the next assignment. There was more optimism to spread and more managing to be done. A new season awaits.