As Challenger's handler Al Cecere told me in an exclusive interview, he hoped that the bird's return "will be the start of something big for the Yanks this year!" Cecere added, "Challenger will do his part if the Yanks do theirs." I agree! And I'm pumped up for Opening Day today.
Here are ten predictions for the 2009 season:
* The Yankees will win 95 games - and the division, in addition to #27.
* The Red Sox, hobbled by injuries and the decline of David Ortiz, will finish third, behind Tampa Bay.
* The Mets will have a great start, and a great year, until they suffer yet annother September collapse. The third time will not be the charm.
* Contrary to his previous pattern of being a slow starter, Mark Teixeira will get out to a great start this year.
* CC Sabathia will win 20 games and become the clubhouse leader this team has craved since Paul O'Neill and David Cone left the Yankees.
* Alex Rodriguez will be in the new Yankee Stadium - albeit in civilian clothes - for Opening Day. Suzyn Waldman spots him and starts screaming, "Oh my goodness gracious! Of all the dramatic things I've ever seen, Alex Rodriguez standing right in George Steinbrenner's box....!" Fans' boos drown out the rest of Suzyn's squawkings.
* If Cody Ransom gets off to a great start, the media will say "A-Rod Who"? If he stinks, it will still be A-Rod's fault.
* A.J. Burnett won't win 20 games, but he'll have another good milestone - a year without time on the DL.
* But Joba Chamberlain will spend time on the DL, leading to more media talk about how he should be in the bullpen.
* And Derek Jeter's defensive decline at shortstop will continue, leading to talk that he needs to move to a new position.
* * *
Jon and I did more formal predictions in our gig at Heater Magazine (click here to subscribe)
On another note, here's a fan video of Challenger's triumphant return to Yankeeland.