Gerrit Cole, Yankees ready for Opening Day in front of fans

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After four-plus weeks of playing in games that don’t mean anything in the standings, Gerrit Cole is among the Yankees looking forward to Thursday’s season opener. The fact it’s against the Blue Jays — likely one of the Yankees’ biggest threats in the division — is even better.

“Bring it on,” Cole said of facing Toronto right away.

When the AL East rivals meet for the first time, it will also mark the first time the Yankees will have played in front of fans at Yankee Stadium since the 2019 postseason, as COVID-19 prevented fans from coming to the Stadium a year ago.

Starting Thursday, there won’t be any piped-in noise, as there was a season ago. It will be replaced by actual fans, with 10,850 allowed in the Stadium, matching the 20 percent capacity allowed by the state.

“We got a little taste in spring training,” Aaron Boone said of the return of fans, who were able to be in the stands throughout Florida and Arizona this spring. “There were a couple of games with a few thousand and it made a difference. It makes a difference. Nine or 10,000 fans in The Bronx is gonna be fun to experience again. The players are incredibly excited to play in front of a crowd. Hopefully it’s the start of seeing attendance really grow and getting our sport back to where it belongs.”

It will also be Cole’s first time pitching in front of Yankee fans at the Stadium, something he’s been anticipating since he signed with the Yankees prior to last season.

With a day remaining, Cole spoke of the anticipation heading into the season.

“There’s a lot of hope, a lot of excitement, a lot of projections [and] a lot of baseball out in front of us,” Cole said. “We’ve prepared up to this point and just want the gates to open and for it to start. It’s an important day, but the first of many. … It’s different when it counts. It feels better and sometimes, unfortunately, it feels worse.”

It will count right away, with their first 15 games of the season against teams in the AL East.

Gerrit Cole #45, during a workout at Yankee Stadium.
Gerrit Cole warms up at Yankee Stadium.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York

“We certainly want to get off to that good start, especially when you’re talking about divisional opponents that are gonna probably be fighting with us tooth and nail,” Boone said. “It’s nice to rack up as many wins as you possibly can. That said, it’s the beginning to be a champion, to be able win a division, you’ve got to be able to play pretty consistent baseball throughout the year. So hot start, slow start, 162 [-game schedule] is a separator. You’ve got to be legit and you’ve got to be real if you survive that grind to get to the postseason. You can’t do that right away, but the more you do right away, the better.”

Cole and the Yankees get that chance beginning Thursday.

And they’re confident the fans’ presence will make a difference — even if it won’t be the usual Opening Day scene.

“It’s exciting, especially after experiencing empty stadiums,” Chad Green said. “We’re all excited to have that, whether it’s 10,000 or 5,000 [fans]. Just to have someone there to get your adrenaline going. We’re all looking forward to it.”

They’re hoping it’s the start of a memorable season.

“We understand the talent and capability in our room and understand the urgency that comes with that,” Boone said.

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