Given its place as the kickoff to baseball's technical second half, the first game after the All-Star break always has a little added oomph to it. That oomph has been multiplied billions of times by the two loss of two icons in one week for the Yankees.
The team is urging fans going to Friday night's game to be in their seats by 6:45 p.m. so they don't miss a pregame ceremony honoring Bob Sheppard and George Steinbrenner. There will be a video tribute to the Boss and a moment of silence for both men with the team saying that further tributes to each man will be revealed during the proceedings. We already know the Yankees will wear uniform patches in honor of them and it doesn't seem like much of a leap to suggest that the team will place a plaque honoring Steinbrenner alongside the one honoring Sheppard in Monument Park.
That's a lot of emotion for one baseball series but the Yankees will just be getting warmed up. Saturday is Old-Timer's Day, normally an orgy of revelry in past successes. This year will surely be a more sober affair, something of an open-air wake, as the past Yankees share memories and stories about the deceased.
While the air will be tinged with sadness, it is impossible to talk about either Sheppard or Steinbrenner, who cover the last 60 years of Yankee baseball, without dwelling on championships and historic moments for some part of it. That should make both days a reminder of the dominant place the Yankees hold in baseball history and that makes for required viewing for any Yankees fan.
Not that the games needed much extra juice. The Rays are in town to open the second half and sit just two games behind the Yankees after finishing the first half with a flourish. That makes these games important table-setters for the months to come -- we'll have a more detailed view on the Yankees second half on Friday -- and it means that none of the players can afford to get too distracted by the pomp and circumstance that will surround this weekend's contests. Beating the Rays is hard enough with both eyes on the task at hand to allow yourself to slip for even one moment.
It hasn't been a problem in the past -- the Yankees have reeled off eight straight post-break wins in each of the last two years -- but the Yankees have never had quite so many ghosts in the room as they will this weekend.