The Yankees haven’t had an official captain since Derek Jeter retired following the 2014 season. And while it could be awhile before the Yankees announce a new captain, it hasn’t stopped Brett Gardner from being a leader in the Yankees clubhouse.
On the heels of Gardner winning the game in walk-off fashion, Gardner’s teammates had nothing but praise for the veteran outfielder. Rookie outfielder Clint Frazier believes Gardner isn’t just a leader; he’s their de facto captain.
“For Brett to come here, day in and day out, I’ll say it, to be our captain,” Frazier said after the Yankees defeated the Rays 6-5 in 11 innings. “He’s got the most time here as a Yankee. He has the clutch gene. When he goes out there, when the game is on the line, he is doing something special to put us in a good position to win.”
Gardner alone was responsible for the Yankees comeback which started in the ninth inning; Gardner hit a lead-off triple and scored on a ball that should have been the final out of the game. In the 11th, Gardner rocketed a pitch into the right field seats, sending the team to their third straight win and a half-game behind the Boston Red Sox in the American League East standings.
“You could learn a lot,” Frazier added. “Obviously, he’s a guy who does a lot right. He’s been here a long time, so he’s earned the right for you to respect everything he does. For me, it’s a guy that’s important for me to watch. I think Brett does a lot of things right that, for me as a young guy, I need to try to emulate and hopefully when it’s my time in my career, someone says the same about me.”
Gardner isn’t only a role model to the Yankees rookies. The other veterans in the clubhouse are also in awe with the 33-year-old’s work ethic and fight. During his interview yesterday, veteran starter CC Sabathia said Gardner is the “heart and soul” of the team.
But most importantly, Yankees manager Joe Girardi reiterated just how valuable Gardner has been.
“He is an energetic guy that stirs the pot that keeps the guys loose,” Girardi said. “He’s a leader. Plays hard everyday. There’s just so many different things. To me, Gardy is a fighter. And you want fighters on your team.”
Gardner’s path to the Major Leagues was a bumpy one; after failing to make his college baseball team, Gardner returned the next day without taking no for an answer. The coach allowed Gardner to stay for practice, but if at any point he didn’t perform, he would be cut from the team. Gardner stuck with the team and was later drafted by the New York Yankees in 2005. Now in his 10th season with the Yankees, Gardner has an All-Star nod and a Gold Glove under his belt, and it was because he never stopped fighting.
Gardner brings those aspects to his game every single day, which is what ultimately helped the Yankees inch closer to first place on Thursday night. There may not be another official captain for years, but it’s hard to disagree with the team that Gardner is their captain.
He’s one guy any team would be lucky to have.