There are only so many Opening Days. Only so many first ones, like Luis Rojas was going to experience at Citi Field on Thursday. Only so many when you think you have a stacked team, like Aaron Boone believed he possessed.
In separate conversations with The Post, both men said they still think there is going to be a 2020 Opening Day. And both New York managers expressed that the delays were small in the grander scheme of the medical, emotional and financial siege ongoing due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Mets and Yankees were scheduled to begin campaigns with big dreams shortly after 1 p.m. Thursday, the Mets against the defending champion Nationals in Queens, the Yankees against maybe the majors’ worst team, the Orioles, in Baltimore.
For Rojas this is just bizarre added to strange. He was not even named Mets manager until late January in the aftermath of the departure of Carlos Beltran due to his ties to the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. Yet, he acknowledged constantly imagining his first Opening Day as a manager since and noted that when 1 p.m. Thursday comes, “I am going to be thinking it is first pitch right here.”
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Boone said the only reason he would think of it now is because I had asked him. But the Yankees skipper, who will begin Year 3 on the job at a currently unknown time, feels the sense of loss, recognizes this was the meal that was in the kitchen that never got to the table.
“The bummer in realizing what is eventually coming up on Thursday is that we are aware we were just two weeks away when the plug got pulled,” Boone said. “In my little selfish bubble, you think about all that goes into getting to that point of spring training. It is close to go time. It is frustrating that it ends. You do all of that offseason work that goes into spring training and to get to the two-week mark, you can feel how close (Opening Day is). Professionally, it is disappointing and frustrating. But I also feel I always have perspective on things. I know this is bigger than me and baseball. I will do my part and want the world to get back to its rightful place.”
For now, Rojas and Boone are stay-at-home dads. Rojas brought his family from the Dominican to Port St. Lucie to stick together during the national crisis. His 7-year-old son, Luis Felipe, is learning at home, working on the value of coins and money.
“He is starting to figure out some things,” Rojas said. “We are having fun learning that. I am becoming a better teacher.”
Boone drove from Tampa home to Greenwich, Conn. last week to be with his wife and four kids ranging from 10 to 17. They also are incorporating home learning while killing time watching Netflix and cooking. Boone made dinner the other day, “a mish-mash” of beef, rice, corn and black beans. “Actually the kids really enjoyed it,” he said. “It was a hit.”
It is not the kind of hit Boone imagined being part of his life right now; Rojas either. Both independently noted their baseball lineage for helping understand how the game twists and turns, even if this is the strangest twist of all for them. Boone’s grandfather (Ray), father (Bob) and brother (Bret) were major leaguers and Bob was a manager. Rojas’ father (Felipe Alou) and brother (Moises Alou) were both major leaguers and Felipe was a manager.
“The way I was raised in baseball, I learned how the game can throw you curveballs all the time,” Rojas said. “I am in acceptance and adaptation. I am up to what is next. There is no frustration or disappointment whatsoever. We are going to have an Opening Day and when it is time we need to be ready.”
Even without the games and proximity, both New York managers are finding ways to fill their baseball jones — for the nostalgia-loving Boone that includes binging on the classic games on MLB Network and YES.
Boone is in contact near daily with Yankees GM Brian Cashman and assistant GM Jean Afterman. There is a chain text with coaches. There is regular reach-out to players to make sure, most important, all are safe, but, yes, how are they staying in shape.
Rojas is similar. There’s near daily contact with Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen, regular communication with coaches, updates with players. Rojas, 15 years in the Mets organization, has built strong ties in Port St. Lucie and there is a group that is supporting each other to let them know where necessary items might be available day-to-day.
But there is reality too. Boone noted to his wife on March 22 that the Yankees would have been leaving spring training in Tampa, flying to Montreal for the final two spring games against the Blue Jays before the unofficial national holiday that is Opening Day.
Rojas and I spoke on the day the Mets were to play the Orioles in Annapolis and he said he was thinking a lot about that, making him conjure what was so tantalizingly close even more.
“It was a day (Opening Day) I thought about even before all this happened,” Rojas said. “How would it be and how will the day shake out. … You have thoughts of Jacob deGrom on the mound. I have been thinking about all the hypotheticals, of what would have been. That will be an emotional time. We would have seen our guys in competition the first day, it is like a playoff atmosphere, the electricity at our home field is unbelievable.”
Instead, Rojas waits, like Boone. Both are optimists that there will be a 2020 opener, a season to play. That the unofficial national holiday due Thursday is still in the offing. They feel blessed to be safe and healthy with family, they keep their ears open to new information about their baseball universe, preserving ties, keeping hope.
“What is potentially in front of me is how I look at it,” Boone said. “I still think special things are ahead this year.”
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