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Youth dominates Yanks' clubhouse

Youth dominates Yanks' clubhouse

TAMPA, Fla. -- Joba Chamberlain spent too many hours last year grabbing a marker and scrawling his number on every piece of clothing he owned. He was just a rookie. Rookies don't get fancy clothes with their number stitched on.

So imagine Chamberlain's grin when he jaunted into Spring Training on Thursday to find a locker stuffed with gear labeled No. 62. Technically, he's still a rookie, but the Yankees know much better than that.

"I think I got most excited that they put my number on my shorts," Chamberlain said. "I won't ever lose my stuff now."

And he might not ever lose a job. Yankees pitchers and catchers officially reported to Tampa, Fla., for Spring Training on Thursday, and the demographics at George M. Steinbrenner Field -- formerly Legends Field -- were telling. These aren't the Yankees of old. This is a team with youth, enthusiasm and excitement.

And with just as much of a chance to win.

So when pitchers and catchers filtered into the Yankees' clubhouse on Thursday morning, youth was the theme. For every player with roots in the past, there are three or four more with eyes to the future.

Consider who wasn't in attendance. Andy Pettitte was still back home, thanks to a reporting date extension the Yankees gave him. Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera didn't show, since their new contracts required that they take their physicals in advance. Instead, the big names stalking around the clubhouse were Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Chamberlain, among so many others. That's what makes this spring so different.

That, and the man at the head of it all.

Manager Joe Girardi was pacing around the halls beneath George M. Steinbrenner Field as well, while his players all filtered in to take their physicals. He, too, is a bit younger than his predecessor, Joe Torre. And that's equally exciting.

"A new manager means a new start for the whole team," left fielder Hideki Matsui said through an interpreter. "I'm really looking forward to it."

Matsui didn't have to be in Tampa until position players are due to report next week, but he made his way onto the field anyway. Fellow position players Derek Jeter and Shelley Duncan have also been roaming around Tampa recently, though neither came to the field on Thursday morning.

They'll join the rest of the Yankees' hitters on Monday, before the team's first full-squad workout the following day. And that's when this shiny new Spring Training will fully begin.

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It's a time of uncertainty, and that's about all that's certain. Gone are the days when players waltzed in with their guaranteed roster spots and breezed through a relaxing spring. Now, February and March have become nothing short of a competition. May the best Yankees win.

"We're here to get ready, but at the same time, we're here to win jobs," Hughes said. "That's what Spring Training is all about."

This spring will be about learning, also, even though these young players have already learned plenty -- plenty about their skills, plenty about their place on the Yankees and plenty about what they've already become.

Chamberlain realized that last bit during one of his many offseason trips around the country. He traveled to Las Vegas for the first time and flew to Puerto Rico for some charity work. But what stood out as much as anything was his trip to Arizona, where a Yankees fan stopped him and told him how much of a fan he was. As if to confirm the fact, the fan whipped out his cell phone and showed Chamberlain a background emblazoned with his likeness.

"I was like, 'This is unreal,'" Chamberlain said. "I was in Phoenix, Ariz., and I've never even been here."

Chamberlain has never been in big league camp before, either, so Thursday marked yet another new experience -- and if last season was any indication, this year's Spring Training will be just the first of many. His right arm feels strong, his shorts are now numbered, and last season's disappointment has now officially melted into this season's hope.

For Chamberlain, and for everyone else.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["spring_training" ] }
{"content":["spring_training" ] }