On the 29th of May in 1995, the Yankees blew a 7-4 lead to the Mariners at the Kingdome, losing 8-7 in 12 innings before a skimpy crowd of 18,948. (Rich Amaral, who entered the game as a pinch runner for Jay Buhner, tagged Scott Bankhead with a walkoff homer to give Seattle the victory.) This contest would be deservedly forgotten but for one fact: it was in this game that a promising young rookie named Derek Jeter made his first appearance as a Major Leaguer. It was not an auspicious debut: batting in the nine hole, the future captain drew an 0-5 collar. His first at-bat was a short fly to right. Not the best start, perhaps, but in the dozen years since, Yankee fans have had the extraordinary opportunity to follow the career arc of a player who has not only met but exceeded our every expectation. It’s been a joy and, yes, a privilege to follow Derek Jeter these many years, and we’re glad his career seems a long way from home, even if it’s now rounded second.
The Yankees have not had a prospect of Jeter’s caliber since, well, since Jeter himself. Until now. Philip Hughes, at 20, has savaged his way through the minor leagues. He’s got it all: a protypical pitcher’s body, a deadly arsenal, command, control, and—by all accounts—a maturity beyond his years. He is at or near the top of virtually every scouting report. Hughes projects as a number 1 starter—an ace, if he can stay healthy. Sox fans are rightfully excited about the addition of Daisuke Matsuzaka to their club; for Yankee fans, anticipation of Hughes’s arrival is no less special, and perhaps more, as we’ve been watching him rise through the ranks over the last few years. Matsuzaka arrives in Boston a fully formed pitcher in his prime. Hughes is still an apprentice. As with Jeter, Yankee fans will, hopefully, have the opportunity to watch the full arc of Hughes’s career. Of course there are no guarantees he will live up to his potential, that he will remain healthy, or that he will remain a Yankee for a decade or more. But the team has handled him with care, he has the tools to achieve, and the enlightened Yankee administration seems like they’re doing all the right things to manage a succesful career. Certainly they have the cash to retain him if things go well.
It appears Hughes will start the season in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre, where his innings can be tightly controlled, but there is every reason to believe that he will be with the big club by mid to late summer. That first game might not be a memorable one—who knows?—but we’re expecting many big ones to follow. And we’ll be watching from the beginning.