By JOHN ZENOR
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Yankees manager Joe Girardi spoke to Alabama’s football team about topics he’s quite familiar with — handling expectations and success — to return the favor after coach Nick Saban’s spring training visit.
“They had a tough game in Chicago last night, didn’t get in until 3 o’clock in the morning,” Saban said after Thursday’s practice. “He was over here at 10 (a.m.) to talk to the team with his son. I really appreciated him doing that. I think the players really appreciated it as well.”
Saban said Girardi, whose team lost in 12 innings to the White Sox on Wednesday, brought his son Dante — a football and baseball player — along. Girardi spoke about three issues that can hurt a team with high expectations: complacency, selfishness and accountability.
The Yankees and two-time defending champion Tide annually face some of the highest expectations in their respective sports.
Girardi has also been dealing with the saga involving Alex Rodriguez, who on Wednesday formally appealed a 211-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs.
“Obviously they’ve had a lot of tough circumstances this year with the Yankees with injuries,” Saban said. “But there’s still high expectations.”
Saban spoke with scouts, coaches and some 200 players in the Yankees farm system during a daylong spring training visit before meeting with the major league team. He often quoted closer Mariano Rivera on handling success during and after last season’s national championship run.
“They were interested in how we evaluate players, what we do, talking about how they do things, how they develop players, how they teach,” Saban said. “Really interesting that people in the organization would be interested in talking about that. But I thought it was great and I learned a lot.
“Then in the afternoon I spent with the big team with Joe, got to talk to Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera and talked to the whole team. I just told Joe after that day that we spent together that I’d love for him to come talk to our team sometime. I thought it would be really hard for him to do it during the season.”
Tide safety Vinnie Sunseri was especially enthusiastic about the latest guest speaker to address the team during preseason camp. Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and ESPN’s Herm Edwards have already visited.
“That was awesome,” Sunseri said. “I’m a Yankees fan, so he came here and I was all googly-eyed and everything when he was up there. He had a lot of good things and a lot of things that we need to listen to and not just pass it off. He’s a great manager of the game and a lot of the stuff that he said relates to us, and we’ve got to really take it to heart and take it into the season.”
By JOHN ZENOR