CLEARWATER, Fla. - Charlie Manuel is not among those attempting to downplay today's Grapefruit League opener. The Phillies' manager left New York in November unsatisfied, and is hungry to compete against the Yankees no matter what the setting.
"CC against Halladay, coming right out of the gate," Manuel said recently, lifting an eyebrow and grinning while anticipating the matchup of Sabathia vs. Halladay at Bright House Field.
A few days earlier, Manuel was even more clear about his ultimate desire for 2010. A visitor to his office suggested that a Phils-Seattle World Series - meaning a likely Game 1 duel of Halladay against castaway ace Cliff Lee - would be an entertaining matchup.
"Nah," Manuel said, with a quick and dismissive shake of his head. "I want the Yankees."
Underlying the manager's desire are the two central pursuits of the Phils' 2010 season.
The Phils hope to reclaim the championship the Yankees snatched from them last autumn. And, entering a later phase of their current run, they want to solidify their position among baseball's elite. The surest way to do that is to conquer the Yankees, a more storied opponent than any other.
"Whether you want to admit it or not, they're the New York Yankees, and that means something," Jayson Werth said. "The Yankees always have some sort of mystique."
Acknowledging the Yankee mystique does not mean bowing to it; for Werth and his teammates, it means wishing to eclipse it.
"One thing that I have always noticed about going to Yankee Stadium was, the pregame Jumbotron always showed excessive amounts of Yankee tributes," Werth said. "They really enjoy themselves, but they have a right.
"I don't think there would be anything better than to reach the World Series again and to beat them. We were the defending champs, and they took it away."
When the Yankees discuss the Phillies, it is from the more desirable vantage of confident winners.
"They're a good team," shortstop Derek Jeter said recently at the Yanks' spring-training complex in Tampa. "They've been in back-to-back World Series, so it's not like it's a fluke.
"They've got good pitching. They hit. That lineup makes them almost like an American League team. They play defense, too. They steal bases, so they can beat you in a lot of different ways."
Jeter said the Phils would be still more impressive after adding Halladay. Though he has collected 2,747 base hits in his career, Jeter's lifetime batting average in 92 at-bats against the longtime Toronto Blue Jay is just .242.
"I'm so happy Halladay is in the National League," Jeter said, exhaling with a relieved smile. "In my opinion, he's as good as any pitcher in baseball.
"He's got a plan; he's going to stick to it. He doesn't miss his spots. He's probably going to dominate. He dominated in the American League. They're going to love him in Philly."
The admiration is mutual. Halladay considers Jeter the centerpiece of his team's success.
"Derek Jeter is the one," Halladay said. "He's smart. He does a lot of different things. He takes the ball the other way; he can juice the ball a little bit. He does all the little things. He's a tough out to try to get, and he has been there the longest. He stands out."
Like Manuel, the Phils' new ace is glad to see Jeter and the rest of his team so early in the year.
"You kind of jump right into the fire, although at this point, you have to be focused on what you're trying to get out of it and what you're trying to accomplish," Halladay said. "It's more about you than the opponent."
Sabathia agreed. Asked recently if it meant anything to face Halladay this week, the pitcher laughed.
"No," he said. "I'm in the dugout eating seeds and goofing off. He's a great pitcher, but it's spring training."
It is spring training, and there will likely be minimal drama this afternoon. But for Manuel and his team, the day presents an opportunity to glimpse the easy swagger they once enjoyed.
To feel that again, they might have to defeat the Yankees in a colder, louder, and far more intense setting later this year.