TAMPA, Fla. -- Though he hit one of the most memorable home runs in franchise postseason history, this week will mark Aaron Boone's first time setting foot into the Yankees' clubhouse at George M. Steinbrenner Field, when he does so as the manager of a squad expected to play deep into October.
Boone had blown out his left knee in an ill-fated game of pickup basketball by the time the 2004 Yankees assembled at what was then known as Legends Field, never making his scheduled trip to the Sunshine State. He was released in February, 10 days after the team traded for Alex Rodriguez.
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Now Boone will have a second crack at wearing the pinstripes, taking over a team that finished one win away from advancing to the World Series, then added National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton in one of the biggest blockbusters of the winter.
"This is an amazing opportunity," Boone said. "This is a chance to win at the highest level, an organization that is in a great spot, from just how we set up from a roster standpoint, from the farm system. … This is a team that has a chance to win, and win big."
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Though Boone has not managed or coached at any professional level, a contingent of Yankees executives conducted an extensive interview process to determine that he was the clear front-runner to replace Joe Girardi, whose contract was not renewed after the season.
"He comes from a great lineage; he's played the game," pitching coach Larry Rothschild said of Boone. "The managing part, I think, will come fairly naturally. He's going to go through different things. He's smart, and he's got a great personality for it. There's a lot of good things in place."
Boone's blast to defeat the Red Sox in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series should buy some goodwill with the fan base, and his experience in ESPN's broadcast booth promises a polished give-and-take with the media, but he understands what the No. 1 responsibility will be.
"I feel like my job is getting the most out of these players, especially the young players," Boone said. "Hopefully they continue to get better, to get to that next step. I think everyone that goes into this, we all desire and thirst for the championship."
Boone addressed the media on Tuesday, when pitchers and catchers reported. He'll speak to his players for the first time on Wednesday, prior to the Yankees' first workout.
"It's going to be weird because I haven't had any other manager running Spring Training," pitcher Adam Warren said. "From everybody I've talked to that knows Aaron, he seems like a great guy. … I hate to see Joe go; I really respected Joe and really liked him, but I'm excited for what Aaron is going to bring to the table."
Position players are scheduled to report on Sunday, with the first full-squad workout set for Monday. The Yankees' Grapefruit League opener is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET on Feb. 23, against the Tigers at Steinbrenner Field.