02/16/2004 4:56 PM ET
The Yankees World Tour 2004
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
See the Yanks this year:
|Third baseman Alex Rodrgiuez can be a lieutenant to captain Derek Jeter, shortstop. (Jamie Squire /Allsport)
The biggest world tour of 2004 begins now in Florida and then goes to 39 different destinations for 162 dates, marching through emotion-charged stops in Japan, Boston, Texas and even Los Angeles, with strong expectations of an extended encore in October. Tickets are now available, the butane lighters are ready, and you don't have to camp out all night in a long line with a wristband to get in.
It's not the Stones, Springsteen, Outkast or Britney. We are talking about A-Rod, Jeter, Godzilla, Giambi, Mariano and the Bombers. Love 'em or hate 'em, you gotta see 'em. And you know you will, whatever it takes. Just give the roadies a little time first to set up the stage and permit the new band member to pick out his attire.
Baseball's biggest road draw just got a lot bigger, now that Alex Rodriguez, generally acknowledged as the game's best player, has become the Yankees' new third baseman. Got your printable schedule ready? Here is a tour through the Yankee World Tour, and hold on tight because it is going to be Ruth-big:
The Yankees train in Tampa, and that means A-Rod is back in Florida for Spring Training after his former Rangers had left Port Charlotte for Arizona last year. He had spent his springs in Arizona with Seattle, and saw only two Grapefruit League exhibition seasons. The Miamian will be in greater demand than ever among Florida tourists looking for his autograph, and those Tour followers who are not up for the task might want to consider bidding on the baseball he signed for the MLB.com Auction.
Early dates in any world tour are a good chance for the headliners to build some rhythm. Consider the March 7 tour date at City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, Fla. It seats 6,990 fans, and as the spring home of the Boston Red Sox it should present the first opportunity for a Sox fan to say, "I was there." It might be the biggest thing to happen to Spring Training since Michael Jordan played right field for the White Sox just up the coast in Sarasota one decade earlier, almost to the day. The clubs' other meeting is on March 24 in Tampa, where boos will turn to cheers.
It will always be one or the other on the Yankee 2004 Tour. Maybe like never before.
The Tour goes to Japan from Florida, starting with a pair of split-squad exhibitions March 28 against the Yomiuri Giants and the Hanshin Tigers of Japan's major league, both to be played at the Tokyo Dome. Kono seki aite masu ka? Yes, that seat probably is taken. Especially with Hideki Matsui coming back home for the first time with his Yankee teammates, and presumably to play in the game against his former Giants.
Then comes the meat of the world tour. Two days later, at 5:05 a.m. ET, the Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays officially open the Major League regular season with the first of two games at the dome. For fans back in the New York area, it will be a reason to get up early and watch it on YES. For fans outside that region, the game can be seen live on MLB.TV -- a cutting-edge place to watch any team you want in 2004. A subscription is only $14.95 per month and available now, another good way to follow The Tour.
By this point, you should have your A-Rod customized jersey, and even a cabinet-style jersey case to display it. First, though, you have to somehow get his signature on the pinstripes.
One suggestion for autograph hounds is to sneak back into the Tampa area for a two-day series April 6-7 against the Rays at Tropicana Field. The Tour will have already been there, and the real insanity will follow immediately.
The Yankees' first homestand is April 8-14, featuring four games against the White Sox and then two against the Rays. Single-game tickets for Yankee Stadium are available now through yankees.com, and the club is accepting deposit applications for season-ticket plans. Last year was Matsui's grand slam in the Yankee home opener; this one will be something like the Beatles playing Shea.
How do you describe the anticipation of what will immediately follow that first homestand? The Yankees are off on April 15, and then one of the biggest happenings -- maybe the biggest -- is all set for a Friday night at Fenway Park. The Yankees open a four-game series against the Red Sox, resuming a rivalry that is white-hot and possibly at unprecedented levels of intensity. A-Rod, of course, was this close to becoming a Boston shortstop over the winter. His acquisition by the Yankees has created a spectacular outpouring of emotion, and the Sox are not exactly conceding. They added Curt Schilling over the offseason, and they will suit up what could be the best rotation in baseball against what could be the best lineup in baseball.
Keith Foulke vs. Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning?
Schilling vs. A-Rod?
Pedro vs. ... oh, if only Don Zimmer were still with New York.
The Yankees then head to Chicago to play the White Sox, and then they are right back to start a homestand April 23 against, you guessed it, the Red Sox. That's another Friday night against Boston, the kind you live for as a Bleacher Creature. Maybe that Tour stop will be an even bigger happening than April 16 at Fenway. Boston is followed into the Bronx by Oakland and yet another top-shelf rotation, and it will be another early matchup of two projected American League powers. That homestand is finished off by Kansas City, another club expecting to be around this October.
By this point, it will feel like a summer already has passed, a non-stop level of energy for Tour faithful. They will have gone through dozens of butane lighters by that point, and withstood countless autograph battles to find a star on a sweet spot. But by the end of that homestand, it will have been just the start.
May brings a trip to Oakland and Seattle, and then home-and-away series May 11-13 and May 18-20 with the rebuilt, re-invigorated Anaheim Angels. They are the guys who won it all two autumns ago and believe they can handle the Yankee World Tour. But then it gets even better. The Yankees go from Anaheim to Arlington, Texas, for a May 21-23 series against A-Rod's old Rangers. How will Texans respond? Will they still love him? Or will they aspire to a Fenway catcall level?
Again, there is no in-between.
June will bring another year of Interleague Play, and last year offered one historic matchup after another, like the Yankees' first trip to Wrigley Field since the 1930s. The June 15-20 Western leg of this Tour will bring back Fall Classic memories as well. The first three games are at Arizona, the Yankees' first appearance there since the D-Backs took them out in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. Maybe A-Rod will face his old teammate, Randy Johnson. Then there is a June 18-20 series at Los Angeles, marking the Yankees' first games against the Dodgers since Tommy Lasorda's club won the 1981 World Series.
It also should be quite a homecoming for Kevin Brown. If his ERA is anywhere near the ground the way it was last year at Dodger Stadium, then the kind of road reaction predicted for the A-Rods and Jeters of the Tour might befall him there.
Conveniently sandwiched between the annual home-and-away Subway Series with the Mets is another three-game series with the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium, June 29-July 1. It started at City of Palms Park. The Tour will be going strong.
The Tour will no doubt move to Roger Clemens' new home, Houston, for the All-Star Game on July 13. The only question is which performers will show up. Once again, that will be up to the Tour faithful. In the meantime, you can bid on a base used during the 2003 All-Star Game; maybe A-Rod stomped on it last summer.
We know some Yankees stomped on this base, used during Game 5 of the last World Series in Florida. That was Clemens' last game, and it is another good way to get this Tour started.
The second half of the Yankee World Tour begins July 15-18 at Detroit, and with those four games it should be clear just how much the Tigers have improved in the Pudge Rodriguez era. But how much will that matter? It will be just another Tour stop, with an overloaded team-hotel lobby and autograph seekers still on their quest that began in Florida. The same will be true in Canada, the third country of this Tour, when the Yanks visit the improved Blue Jays for the first time on July 26-28.
August will bring a three-game series at Minnesota, and it was about that time last year that the Twins started to make real noise again. Despite winning the opener, the Twins fell to the Yankees in the AL Division Series last fall. You have to wonder what Twins fans will think of YWT2004. It might be easier to see it come through town with Eddie Guardado still around, but, hey, anything can happen these days in baseball.
By this point, it's all about the scoreboard. Many of the Tour stops will be repeats of the first half. If this September is anything like the last one around the Majors, then at least half of baseball will be battling for a division or Wild Card lead, and if the Yankees live up to their promise, then it only means the Tour becomes a bigger deal wherever it goes. One can only imagine the scene that could unfold Sept. 24-26 back in Boston, setting up the final week of the regular season.
Then an encore is expected. An encore is always expected.
By October, the faithful Yankee World Tour follower should have that elusive A-Rod autograph and the kind of memories that kept Springsteen fans following The Boss around the country last summer. It all starts now, on warm spring days in Florida, where the stars are about to arrive for the show.
Mark Newman is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.