Can you imagine being a Yankee fan? What are they going through right now? Last October they watched their team complete the worst chokefest in sports history. They must have thought about it all winter. Reliving Millar’s walk. Revisiting the steal every night in their fevered dreams. The extra innings. The humiliation. And they must be counting each minute until they can lay down an old-fashioned Yankee whoopin’, just like the good old days. Or…are they? After the events of the off-season and a twist of the knife from the schedule-maker, the dawn of the ’05 season might just be a continuation of their suffering.

The rivalry between the two teams has never been hotter. The brawls of last season and the ALCS have fueled a winter war of words. Schilling, Nixon, Wells and Arroyo have all taken verbal jabs at A-Rod. Not only has he not responded, but his teammates have remained eerily neutral on the subject. If we were to speculate (and let’s face it, that’s what we do), we could say Mr. Slappy-Blue-Lips-Choke-In-The-Last-Four-Games might not be fitting in over there.

Then you have Giambi-Gate. Last year was an agonizing season of illness and injuries. Again, if we speculate, most of those steroid-related. So he comes out and apologizes, but doesn’t say what he’s apologizing for. Luckily Sheffield was there for him. Not. He will be greeted in every park he appears with chants of STER-ROID, or worse.

So they go into Spring Training with a starting rotation with an average age of 35 and an average salary of over $10.5 million each. Wright started a total of 22 games in the 4 seasons prior to last year’s comeback. Pavano had an ERA of around 5, mostly in the National League, before last year’s breakout. But they did sign Mendoza to a minor league contract, so they’ve got that going for them. Which is nice.

Finally, they’ve got opening day in Fenway Park. They will be present for the first World Series banner being raised since 1919. Hopefully, they will have to suffer through a very long ceremony where the Sox receive their rings. No doubt with 2004 highlights blaring and former Red Sox greats present to bear witness to the long-awaited day.

Yes, this could be the year King George snaps for good. I can see him exhuming Billy Martin’s body and propping him up on the bench dressed in pinstripes. Or trading in the turtleneck and blue blazer in favor of fatigues and face-paint, maybe a helmet, Zim-style. Or maybe just sitting in his luxury box with his 2000 Yankees action figures, playing out his last World Series victories in miniature.

Without question, there will be brush-backs, knockdowns, mound-charging, bench-clearing antics. And plenty of trash-talking before, during, and after each game of the first couple of series. And it will only be April…