Notes: Nieves realizes dream
Journeyman catcher starts '06 on Yanks' big-league roster
PHOENIX -- After spending nine consecutive Opening Days in the Minor Leagues, 28-year-old Yankees catcher Wil Nieves finally will get to experience one at the big-league level.
And it doesn't matter that he might be the most unrecognizable player on the field when the visiting team is introduced Monday night at McAfee Coliseum in Oakland prior to the regular-season opener for the Yankees and Athletics.
Before public address announcer Roy Steele announces a New York starting lineup that includes Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi and a few other household names, Nieves will get his moment to savor when he's introduced with the Yankees' reserves.
"This is like a dream come true," Nieves said, flashing a big smile. "This is my first Opening Day [in the Majors], and for it to be with the Yankees ... it couldn't be any better."
The Yankees will begin the regular season with 11 pitchers and three catchers. That is one fewer pitcher and one more catcher than most American League teams. Nieves backs up starter Jorge Posada and reserve Kelly Stinnett.
"I know my role, and it's to be there when they need me," Nieves said.
Nieves is out of Minor League options and therefore would have to clear waivers before being sent down. But there is more to him making the team than the waiver situation.
"What it helps you do is pinch-run for either Jorge or Stinnett late in the game," manager Joe Torre said.
Nieves has played in 31 big-league games, four of them last season after being promoted from Triple-A Columbus. He went 0-for-4 in 2005, and he has a .171 (13-for-76) career Major League average, compiled with the Padres (2002) and Yankees. Nieves had a brief stint with the Angels in 2004, but he didn't appear in a game.
The catcher went 7-for-17 this spring, hit one home run, drove in two runs and scored six times. He watched the final two exhibition games against the Diamondbacks, including Saturday's 3-3 tie that ended at the end of nine innings.
Nieves was told last Tuesday night following the Yankees' game against the Phillies that he would be on the 25-man Opening Day roster.
He broke the news to his wife, Yormarie, outside the Legends Field clubhouse in Tampa.
"She almost started crying," he said. "She has been with me in the Minor Leagues for the past two years and knows how much I want to be in the big leagues. Then we called both of our families [in Puerto Rico]."
With Opening Day only a few hours away, Nieves said the reality probably won't hit until early Monday morning.
"Right now, I'm OK," he said. "I'm pretty calm and feel normal, like it's just another day of work. But on Monday, that's when everything will start happening and it will be a lot different. I can't wait, and I thank God for everything that has happened in my career. A lot of prayers from a lot of people have been answered."
Roster moves: The Opening Day roster was set after Saturday's game, pending word from pitcher Scott Proctor on the family illness that has kept him at his Florida home the past few days.
Pitchers Aaron Small and Octavio Dotel were placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to March 24, and Carl Pavano went on the DL, retroactive to March 28.
Also, the team released infielder Luis A. Garcia and cut pitchers Matt Smith, Matt Childers, Jose Veras and Ramiro Mendoza, catcher Omir Santos, and infielders Russ Johnson, Damian Rolls and Felix Escalona.
The deadline for setting the 25-man roster is midnight ET on Saturday, and general manager Brian Cashman said the organization was waiting to hear from Proctor or his agent before deciding whether to possibly put Proctor on the bereavement list and replace him with another pitcher.
A smooth transition: For the first time since becoming the Yankees' pitching coach, Ron Guidry was on his own Saturday as his predecessor, Mel Stottlemyre, returned to his home near Seattle after spending the entire Spring Training with the team.
"I think [the transition] was very smooth, and I probably paid more attention to that, because early on I realized that I didn't have to watch [first-base coach Tony Pena] or [third-base coach Larry Bowa]," Torre said. "Similar [to] what I did with Mel, I followed Guidry around a lot just listening to him talk to pitchers and seeing how pitchers reacted. There was no confusion in what he was saying to them."
Torre said he sensed a "little tentativeness" in Guidry at first, but the former Cy Young Award winner gradually has become more at ease with his new job.
Returning to the familiar Yankees family has helped.
"It has been a smooth transition, one I have hoped for, because back when I was thinking of the time when I knew Mel was leaving, Gator [Guidry] was the first and foremost guy who I thought would do a good job here," Torre said.
"And a big part of that is he has pitched [for the Yankees], he has taught as a celebrity instructor [in Spring Training], being up to his elbows in work. He wasn't just window-dressing."
Torre said that having both the outgoing and the incoming pitching coaches together this spring was a huge benefit for everyone involved, and the tentativeness Guidry had early in camp is now gone.
"He has gradually relaxed and he doesn't look before he steps now," Torre said. "Whatever needs to have the attention paid to, he's right there."
Contingency plans: Rain is in the forecast for Oakland on Monday, and that would put the regular-season opener in jeopardy.
If the game is rained out, it probably would be rescheduled as part of a day-night doubleheader on Tuesday. The Yankees are off on Thursday, and they would be available for a makeup game then, but the Athletics begin a four-game series in Seattle that night.
The Yankees will work out on Sunday at McAfee Coliseum regardless.
"We have to do our meetings, and guys can hit in the [batting] cages," Torre said. "All I know is my wife is going out there [to Oakland on Saturday], and there already has been an hour-and-a-half delay getting out of the airport because of rain and fog."
If Monday's opener is called off before it starts, the Yankees would go with a one-two punch of left-hander Randy Johnson and right-hander Mike Mussina on Tuesday.
Go West: If Cashman had it his way, the Yankees would open the regular season on the West Coast more often.
"I like going out West to start the season," he said. "We can take 35 players with us, play some exhibition games somewhere along the way, not be in a rush and get used to the time change. It's a lot harder to deal with when you fly from New York after a game on a Sunday to Seattle or Anaheim for a game on Monday night.
"It makes a tough trip less tough."
Cashman said he usually requests a West Coast opener, but seldom has the request been granted. The last time it happened was in 2000, when New York defeated the the Angels, 3-2, in Anaheim, ending a streak of four consecutive losses in West Coast regular-season openers.
Previously, the Yankees opened in Seattle in 1997 (losing, 4-2), Anaheim in '98 (losing, 4-1) and Oakland in '99 (losing, 5-3, in a game shortened to eight innings by rain). The only other West Coast opener occurred in 1983, when the Yanks dropped a 5-4 decision to the Mariners at the Kingdome.
Streak nearing an end? Left fielder Hideki Matsui has been in the Yankees' starting lineup since the day he arrived from Japan three years ago -- a span of 487 games. He ended his career in Japan with a 1,250 consecutive-games played streak, making it one of the longest streaks in history.
But a tender left knee that is more of an occasional nuisance than anything else, and a game plan to keep him fresh throughout the grueling 162-game season, could end the streak before it is mentioned in the same sentence as Cal Ripken Jr.
"[The knee] is an ongoing thing that is nothing unusual for someone who is used to playing every day," Torre said. "He'll have good days, he'll have bad days and in-between days. I don't think it will get worse or I would have been alerted to it. I just hope we can spell him at times."
Torre said the streak had nothing to do with Matsui playing in all 162 games last season. The primary factor was the team trailed Boston most of the season, and every game was so important that finding a place for Matsui in the lineup was critical -- as it was with most of the regulars.
Matsui and A-Rod were the iron men, playing in every game, while Jeter missed just three games.
Coming up: Johnson is scheduled to take the mound on Monday, as the Yankees open their regular season in Oakland against the A's, beginning at 10:05 p.m. ET.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.