By virtue of his famous surname, and the nature of his chosen profession, Mike Yastrzemski has followed the famous footsteps of his grandfather Carl, one of the greatest players in the history of the Boston Red Sox.
That Mike decided to be a baseball player only made the spotlight brighter. As he moved from town to town during his six minor league seasons with the Baltimore Orioles and San Francisco Giants organizations, people pointed at him, reporters and photographers cornered him, wondering what it was like to play the game his Hall of Fame grandfather excelled at during his 23 seasons in Boston.
Earlier this season, Mike, 29, was called to the Major Leagues for the first time by the Giants. And since then, he’s integrated himself, packing a powerful punch justifying the faith the organization had in him.
Then came Tuesday night. The Giants came to Boston and gave Mike the chance to do something he’d wanted to do his entire life – play left field at Fenway Park, just like his grandfather did.
And Mike wrote himself a Hollywood script when he smacked a home run in the fourth inning off 2018 World Series hero Nathan Eovaldi. As he circled the bases, Red Sox fans rose to give him a standing ovation.
“That was kind of one of those things where I just had to take a second and understand what was going on and appreciate that moment and not take it for granted,” said Mike. “I made sure to kind of keep my head up and look around and soak it all in because you don’t really get an ovation at an away or opposing park for your home run.”
As the statisticians were quick to point out, it was the 238th homer by a Yastrzemski at Fenway, the first since his grandfather’s last on July 31, 1983. It was also Mike’s 20th. No Giants rookie since Dave Kingman in 1972 had hit 20 homers in his debut.
“Being able to do that in front of friends and family was super special,” Yastrzemski said after the Giants’ 7-6 win in 15 innings. “I’m just glad that they got to make it for it.”
Growing up in the suburbs of Boston, Mike spent a lot of time at Fenway, although he isn’t old enough to have seen his grandfather play there. Tuesday was about reminiscence, reveling in good fortune of being able to retrace Carl’s steps as a contemporary.
“Playing here is cool, and I see it as part of my job and something I’ve always wanted to do. That doesn’t really overwhelm me,” said Mike before the game. “To do it in a setting where I have so many fond memories with friends and family and have them be able to be here, it’s special.”
The Red Sox fans picked up on the moment immediately. They bathed Mike in applause as he approached the plate for the first time. He struck out and walked in his first two at-bats before hitting the homer.
“I couldn’t be happier for him, and the year as a whole,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. “Getting called up here and playing the type of ball he is, having a chance to come here to Boston and play left field where his grandfather did and hit a home run in the first game, it’s hard to script out any better than what happened tonight for him.”
Carl came to Fenway on Tuesday, but stayed just long enough to take a walk through the outfield with his grandson, ostensibly offering advice on how to handle caroms off the Green Monster in left field.
“To be honest, sure, I wanted him to play left field tonight. He gets the nod there. It’ll be a cool moment,” said Bochy. “I’m sure for a lot of people here, it’ll be a great reminder of all the great things his grandfather did, bringing special memories into their minds. I look forward to it. I had a chance to meet Carl today and he came into the clubhouse and we sat and talked for a while, and so this is cool for everybody. The fans here in Boston, but us, too.”
In an interview with NESN, Carl equated the moment to his 1967 season when he was named American League MVP, hit for the triple crown and helped the Red Sox reach the World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals.
“It will be the first time since 1983 that the name ‘Yastrzemski’ will be announced. It’s definitely going to be emotional. To see him come into Fenway Park where I played for 23 years, to have his name announced, that will be a great thrill for me.””To play 700 games in the minor leagues, he (Mike) always said he’d make it,” said Carl. “I think that’s what I’m proud of the most, because of his sticking to it, not complaining. He’s a great kid, which is more important.
Mike had approximately 150 family members and friends attending the series.
“Through the long path it took me to get here, I started to understand which things are important and which aren’t so I could stay focused on the things that have really grown to matter and the story that needs to unfold here,” Mike said. “It’s special for my family and my grandfather as opposed to keeping it on me.
“This isn’t just special for me. This is special for anyone who saw my grandfather play and saw the Red Sox play over history. They have some tie to him because of his historic value to the organization. While it is special for me, I need to let it be special for everybody else as well.”
Mike almost hit another homer in the 14th inning. His blast to straightway center fell just short for a ground-rule double.
“He (Carl) has helped me a lot through the way in helping me understand what I need to do and what I don’t need to do to be successful and how I can kind of maintain that,” said Mike.
“The crowd reactions all night were incredible. I can’t thank them enough for being supportive and showing me some love when I’m on the opposing team. It’s unheard of, and it was really special.”