When your name is Yastrzemski and you’re a baseball player, it’s impossible to remain inconspicuous when you step onto a field.
For example, in Boston, the Yastrzemski name is to Major League Baseball what Brady is to the National Football League. Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski won a Triple Crown in 1967 and starred for 23 seasons with the Red Sox in the 1960s and ‘70s. He was and always be “Yaz.”
Mike Yastrzemski is Carl’s grandson and during his Minor League career reporters would gather around him to ask what it felt like to have royal bloodlines.
“We have a wonderful relationship,” Mike told me while at Hartford Courant a few years ago. “I will call him now and then, probably once a month, but mostly we talk about fishing or how his golf game is going. He’s been helpful throughout my career for sure in terms of the mentality of the game and how you always need to press forward.”
Last week in Baltimore, the media scrum around him remained the same, although the venue was drastically different. Yastrzemski finally made his MLB debut at age 28 and did so in a very big way for the San Francisco Giants.
“I did a little looking around before the game, just kind of taking that in and letting that sink in,” Yastrzemski said. “Once that happened, I was ready to play baseball instead of standing there in awe.”
That’s for sure. Yastrzemski had a homer and a triple in the Giants 9-6 loss to the Baltimore Orioles.
The Red Sox initially selected Yastrzemski in the 36th round of the 2009 MLB draft, but he enrolled at Vanderbilt.
“I think if he would have signed with the Red Sox, it would have been too much pressure,” Carl Yastrzemski told the Baltimore Sun in 2017. “The main thing with him is that he works hard, and it’s not going to be from lack of work that he won’t make it to the big leagues. He’ll get the shot. The main thing that I’m happy with is that he’s just a great young man.
“He proves that a lot of hard work can take you a long way. He’s worked hard all his life. He wanted to be a player, and he put the effort and time into it.”
After his junior year, the Mariners selected him in the 30th round in 2012 draft before turning down a $300,000 signing bonus to return to college for his senior year.
Finally, Yastrzemski was a 14th-round draft pick by the Orioles in 2013 and was in the Orioles farm system for six seasons before he was traded to the Giants for right-hander Tyler Herb in late March. Since then, he’d been smacking the ball around at Triple-A Sacramento, batting .316 with a 1.090 OPS and 12 home runs over 40 games.
“The way that it’s all unfolded was never something that you could have really predicted,” Yastrzemski said Friday. “I just got put in a really good situation and got lucky. I’m just really happy with the way things have turned out.
“That definitely makes it way more special. Being able to go through all the adversity, the ups and downs and the times of doubt. It feels really good to make it and now to be on the other side of some friendly familiar faces.”
In his coming-out party, Yastrzemski smacked an RBI triple to right as part of a five-run first inning. After the Orioles took a 6-5 lead, Yastrzemski tied it by clubbing Andrew Cashner’s first pitch of the second inning to right-center field.
“Deep down, I always wanted to come here (Baltimore) and hit one,” Yastrzemski said. “Always. Now it’s a reality, and that’s pretty special.”
Yastrzemski is batting .273 (6-of-22) in seven games with the Giants with an OPS of .905. Coming to Baltimore allowed him to reunite with many Orioles players with whom he played in the Minors. No one was closer to him than first baseman Trey Mancini, who lived with Yastrzemski during Spring Trainings and one offseason in Nashville.
“He’s as professional as it gets,” Mancini told the Baltimore Sun. “Mike’s always been a Major Leaguer, in my opinion, and I always knew he’d get there at some point, so it feels good that it finally happened officially this past weekend. He looks the part. He is the part. He’s a Major League baseball player, and he plays the game the right way, he plays really hard, and I think all the fans in San Francisco are going to see that really quick.”
When Yastrzemski was promoted to the Majors, the first thing he did was call his wife. Not soon after that, he called his grandfather with the great news.
“It was nice to be able to tell him on the phone,” the grandson said Saturday of his brief conversation with Carl Yastrzemski, who still lives in Boston. “So it was cool.”
In his first game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, a 10-4 loss for the Giants, Yastrzemski struck out twice but scored a run after being hit by a pitch.
“(It was) surreal,” Yastrzemski said. “It’s something you dream about your whole life, getting to walk in this clubhouse and play on the field out there, getting to bat and just be a part of the game was awesome.“
Unlike his grandfather, who played his entire career in Boston, Yastrzemski understands his career will likely be nomadic. Carl Yastrzemski was an All-Star 18 times with 452 career home runs, 1,854 RBIs and a career .285 batting average. He was inducted to the baseball Hall of Fame in 1989.
Mike Yastrzemski also realizes the good luck he had being traded to an organization that needed immediate outfield help.
“It’s all a matter of timing,” Yastrzemski said. “Getting to the big leagues, yes, it’s based on performance, but it’s also about getting lucky and having an open spot. From my time with Orioles, it never really folded in that manner, and there’s been no hard feelings. It’s just the way the game works, and to be able to be moved to an organization that had a hole that needed to be filled, I’m just happy to get the opportunity.”
And he doesn’t mind at all when someone wants to talk to him about his grandfather.
“Having this name that I do is no different to me than having any other,” Mike told The Courant. “I have only one name, and it’s the only one that I know. I realize that at times people want to talk to me only because of what my name is. I’ve also run into people that seem intimidated by the name, and I’ve run into people that have been over curious. It doesn’t bother me at all. It’s who I am.”