FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As the rivalry re-sets for the 2018 season, the rosters have each re-stacked with a marquee new slugger (Giancarlo Stanton for the Yankees and J.D. Martinez for the Red Sox), and the stage is set for what should be an epic race in the American League East.
While Stanton didn't make the trip to Fort Myers on Saturday and Martinez isn't quite game-ready yet after his late arrival to camp, an obvious new rivalry element was on display for this Red Sox-Yankees Grapefruit League contest at JetBlue Park.
For the first time since 1992, both teams enter the season with a new manager. But Red Sox manager Alex Cora and Yankees skipper Aaron Boone aren't new to each other or the franchises they have been entrusted to lead.
Cora and Boone were teammates at ESPN for several years, and they spent countless hours at the network's offices in Bristol, Conn., on and off the air discussing the game they both love so much.
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The respect they have for one another is as obvious as their desire to beat one another this season.
"Alex is someone that I have a lot of respect for," said Boone. "I think he's going to be really good at his job. And I know he's got a really good team. And a team that if we're going to reach our ultimate goal, that's one of the teams that's going to be a real challenge for us, and we understand that. I think hopefully we'll be good representatives for our sides in what is one of the greatest rivalries in sports."
"He's a guy, he pays attention to detail, he communicates," Cora said of Boone. "Great sense of humor. People are going to like him. But it's the people you surround with and the people that are going to help you be who you are. I know with Aaron; he can care less about the credit. He wants to win. He's all about the Yankees. I think you guys have a feeling, it's all about the Red Sox with me."
Cora, who played for the Red Sox from 2005-08, knows all about the rivalry. So, too, does Boone, who was traded to the Yankees midway through the '03 season and finished off the Red Sox that year with a for-the-ages walk-off home run in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.
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Just about every day, someone reminds Boone about that home run.
"It kind of speaks to how big the rivalry is," said Boone. "It's one of those moments that, especially as I'm out traveling, I'm blown away by how many people, whatever side of the ledger, whether you're Yankees, Red Sox or just a baseball fan, how many people have a pretty intimate story around that game, around that moment. It's really neat for me, it's humbling for me and I think it speaks to how important these two teams are for a lot of people."
Now as managers, Boone and Cora will soon experience what it is like to have their every move magnified 19 times during the regular season and maybe seven more times in October. The first regular-season meeting is set for April 10 at Fenway Park, and it sounds like Cora's mother might not be there.
"It seems like everybody wants to go to that series, everybody really wants to watch it, everybody wants tickets," said Cora. "From a personal standpoint I told my mom, I said, 'Mom, I know people want to watch the Yankees and the Red Sox, but the Red Sox play the Rays a lot of times in Tampa, it's a lot easier to go to Tampa.' So, it's a big deal, man. It's going to be fun."
Cora and Boone will be central figures for every Red Sox-Yankees game. Through it all, they plan on maintaining their friendship.
"He's in a great place, I'm happy for him, but at the end, he understands," said Cora. "I know what he wants. He knows what I want. We're going to play a lot of games, and we're going to be in the spotlight of baseball for 19 games during the season and let's see what happens after that. We understand where we're at and what it means to the baseball world, but at the end of the day, after those games, we're still friends. During the games, we want to beat each other. There's no secrets."