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Yankees players talk about Jeter's farewell

It will be Opening Day for everyone at Minute Maid Park, but in the spotlight will be a certain shortstop wearing No. 2 in gray, playing for the visiting Yankees in Game No. 1 of his last 162.

There's plenty of anticipation to go around for both the Yankees after their extravagant offseason and the Astros as they head into what they hope is a breakthrough season, but this is where Derek Jeter's farewell tour begins, and that's a storyline that's hard to miss.

Houston will have no shortage of legendary talent of its own on display prior to the opener, with Nolan Ryan throwing the ceremonial first pitch to Craig Biggio -- two Astros icons getting things started for 2014.

And, officially, Jeter will be honored by the Astros prior to the second game of the season Wednesday. Still, the shortstop with the five World Series rings no doubt will be the focus of much of the attention from pregame introductions onward as two American League clubs become the last to start their seasons tonight.

The Yankees legend heading toward Cooperstown has some unfinished business in 2014 after missing most of 2013 to injury, and he retains his usual nonchalance about these being his final steps in the game.

"I've just tried to not look forward to everything being over," Jeter said recently. "If you call that soaking it in in Spring Training, I guess so. But I'm just trying to enjoy my time and not looking forward to it being over. That's the best way to put it."

Everything begins for both clubs with slimmed-down lefty CC Sabathia making his sixth consecutive Opening Day start for the Yanks, his 11th overall, against Astros right-hander Scott Feldman, making his first appearance for Houston in his second career Opening Day assignment (2010 with Texas) -- a matchup of 6-foot-7 pitchers.

With his sixth opener on the mound for the Yankees, Sabathia ties Lefty Gomez, one short of a club record shared by Whitey Ford, Mel Stottlemyre and Ron Guidry.

"I think they're all exciting," said Sabathia, the 33-year-old who had a career-worst 4.78 ERA last season but went for a 1.29 ERA in 21 spring innings. "I think it's exciting just because of the fact that we got Carlos Beltran and Mac [Brian McCann] and [Jacoby] Ellsbury. It's always a different feeling that you get. I think this is a year that we can try to make the playoffs and hopefully make a run at winning the title. Those things are exciting. I put last year behind me and just keep going forward."

Feldman's road to this Opening Day start included a couple of changes of uniform. A year ago, Feldman was the No. 4 starter for the Cubs, and then was dealt to the Orioles for the stretch run. After a combined 12-12 mark with a 3.86 ERA in 30 starts, a season that compares favorably with his previous peak in 2009, the 31-year-old hit the free-agent market and signed a three-year, $30 million deal with the Astros.

Feldman will be the fifth Opening Day starting pitcher in the past five years for Houston, and he knows what stands out about this one.

"It's Derek Jeter's last Opening Day, so that's cool," he said.

Yankees: Big offseason over now

It began with the acquisition of McCann, a veteran catcher with seven All-Star seasons in Atlanta behind him. It went to a whole different level with the acquisitions of Ellsbury for $153 million over seven years and the veteran Beltran. And then it went off the charts with the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes.

The Yanks owned the offseason. Now it's time to see if they can do the same with the regular season.

Once more, a word from the Captain:

"I like the guys that we have," Jeter said. "I've said that; we have a lot of talent here. We've got to stay healthy. It seems like every team says the same thing. That applies to us as well. We need to stay healthy, because there are always going to be injuries, but you've got to try to limit those injuries. But yeah, I think we have a lot of talent here, a lot of optimism. The bottom line is, you have to perform on the field, but I like the guys that we have."

Astros: Change for the better?

The way Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow sees it, young players will have to step up and veterans will have to shine, but this is a year that will feature a better brand of Astros. It starts with a roster that is looking at just nine players who were there Opening Day a year ago, and it will have to continue through the marathon season ahead.

"We're going to have a much-improved product," Luhnow says. "The fans are going to be able to see tangibly by coming to Minute Maid this thing is working."

Of course, that starts with this opening series, and the opening month of the season. In an AL West that is stacked with talent, the Astros head into their second year in the division knowing that to improve on their 51-111 record in 2013, it would begin by improving on an 8-19 start before May 1.

"A fast start is important," Luhnow said. "It's a marathon, not a sprint. As Bo [Porter likes to say], it's 162 sprints, and we'll try to win as many of them as we can."

Worth noting

• The Astros have lost 15 in a row entering the season, including a three-game sweep by the Yankees in Houston to end 2013 -- so that means it's six straight home games for the Astros against the Yanks.

• The Yankees hold the all-time edge at 13-2 for the regular season, including winning all six in Houston.

• Overall, the Yanks are 63-47 and the Astros are 24-28 on Opening Day.

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