You can see already, just off a couple of games, how much Yankee Universe wants Anthony Volpe to be something more than the Yankees’ latest hot kid, how much they want him to be the real thing, and how much they want him to live up to the hype. The city is still a sucker for a story like this.
On Thursday, on an old pageant like Opening Day that he turned young, Volpe ran out to shortstop the way Derek Jeter did 27 years ago in Cleveland. Now he tries to be the first Yankee kid since Aaron Judge to be the real thing.
And you know it was different with Judge, who didn’t make his major league debut until August of 2016, hitting four home runs between then and the end of the regular season. He didn’t have the kind of spotlight on him, and the kind of stage, that Volpe, the Jersey kid, the Yankee fan, got on Thursday afternoon, when he first heard his name called by the Bleacher Creatures and first heard the cheers at the Stadium.
Actually, when Judge hit the big leagues, the big spotlight was on Gary Sanchez, an in-season sensation back in 2016, hitting 20 home runs in his first 51 games and tying a major league record in the process getting to 20 that fast. It now seems as if Sanchez disappeared from the Yankees almost as fast, even if it actually took years. But now he’s gone and Judge is very much still here, having become as big a star of his sport as Shohei Ohtani last season, breaking the all-time Yankees’ home run record with 62, and starting off this season by hitting another one, bottom of the first on Thursday afternoon, giving the people exactly what they wanted.
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On this day, though, they also wanted to see Anthony Volpe run out to shortstop. Yankee fans have been hearing about him for quite some time. They know the kind of spring he had, and how the Yankees didn’t have to make a choice about shortstop because Volpe made it for them, the kid taking all the pressure off everybody by earning his way to the Stadium on Opening Day.
And you really can see already how much sports fans, here and everywhere, really do love a story like this. Yankee fans love Judge because he is one of theirs. Mets fans love Pete Alonso, for the same reason. We all remember Alonso was no sure thing to make it north with the Mets in 2019. Then he sure did, on his way to hitting 53 homers and breaking the rookie record Judge had set in 2017.
Volpe isn’t a slugger the way Judge is, or Alonso. Yankee fans still want him to be a rookie who really does belong, who makes them want to watch; who will hit enough and catch the ball well enough to stick around, and begin to pay off on all of his bright promise. And you know there is one difference between him and Alonso: Volpe is Jersey. He is from around here. Maybe that is why he knows, at least so far, how to say all the right things and do all the right things, and does act as if he belongs.
It doesn’t happen this way very often for the Yankees, despite the hype machine we always get for their prospects, and for their farm system. There have been plenty of kids across the years, Yankee fans know that better than anybody. Remember Mason Williams, from about a decade ago? Didn’t think so. He was one of the top Yankee prospects and he was going to maybe be the first star outfielder they’d developed since Bernie Williams. The last we heard of Williams is when he got the proverbial cup of coffee with the Mets a couple of years ago.
David Wright was a hot kid once with the Mets, and so was Jose Reyes. The Knicks? They haven’t drafted a star since Patrick Ewing, unless you count Porzingis. They have some nice young players on the roster right now. Odell Beckham Jr. was a hot kid with the Giants until he wasn’t. Same with Saquon Barkley. Daniel Jones may still turn out to be somebody who lasts at quarterback for the Giants, but he was never the hot kid. Mark Sanchez was that guy for the Jets for about 20 minutes, before he faded, too.
The Yankees always talk a good game about young guys. Maybe Gleyber Torres, whom they got in a trade, might yet turn out to be a baseball star. Just not yet. But now Jasson Dominquez threw a charge into spring training even before Volpe did. Maybe someday, and soon, he will be out in center field at Yankee Stadium, and the Yankee farm system will actually have filled that star position the way they are hoping to fill the star position of shortstop, for a long time, with 21-year-old Anthony Volpe.
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One of the reasons that people love this story is because it doesn’t happen very often, certainly not very often around here. He comes to the Stadium, and to the story, from about an hour away in Jersey, depending on the traffic. He is the youngest guy to make it to Opening Day with the Yankees since Jeter, playing Jeter’s position.
“Probably the most fun day of my entire life,” Volpe would say later.
He kissed the Yankee logo on his uniform during the roll call at the Stadium on Thursday. The place gave him a great big hug in return. Even with Judge’s home run, and the way Gerrit Cole pitched, it felt like the kid’s day. His time. About time.
They finally started a baseball season without my dad the other day.
Bene Lupica made a gentle exit from this world last Monday morning, at the age of 99, after his truly wonderful American life, as a son and brother and hero of World War II; as a father and grandfather and finally great-grandfather.
He left us with a million memories, left all of us who knew and loved him to lean hard this week on a wonderful line from Dr. Seuss: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
So, this is one of the memories he left me, and it’s about baseball, because we shared baseball a lot, as much as I wanted and as long as I can remember, from the time he first took me from our home in Oneida, N.Y. to the Hall of Fame game they used to have in Cooperstown on Hall of Fame weekend.
This particular memory, a sweet one, is about the last time he went to Yankee Stadium.
The first time my Pops had been to the old Stadium was with the Air Force Reserves and he came up to Mitchell Field for his active duty and at night he would take the train into the city and then get on the 4 train and he would go up to the Bronx and the Stadium and see the Yankees.
He told me he liked the third-base side best. Sometimes he would sit in the mezzanine and sometimes in the upper deck and didn’t care. He was finally here, that was all that mattered. He had missed seeing Joe DiMaggio by a year. But Mickey Mantle was in center and Yogi was behind the plate and the monuments were still in the outfield, in the Yankee Stadium we said goodbye to a long time ago.
“I wanted to see what I had spent my whole life hearing about,” he said, about a life that had been spent almost exclusively in and around Sherrill, N.Y. until he went off to fight for his country as a 20-year-old in 1944. “I was a kid from upstate New York and I’d finally made it there, and I just remember thinking that it was everything I’d imagined it would be. And more. The first night I was there, I waited until most of the crowd left and an usher finally came up to me, sitting by myself in the mezzanine and said, ‘You have to go now, sir.’”
I brought him back to the Yankee Stadium one Sunday morning in 1995, when Buck Showalter was still managing. Bene Lupica had never been to this Yankee Stadium, had last set foot inside the old one in 1960. It was the weekend Mickey Mantle died and my dad had come with me to the city to watch us shoot our “Sports Reporters” in the old ESPN Zone in Times Square. On the way home I called Buck about 8:30 in the morning and asked if he wanted to take a walk with us out to Monument Park, as a way of visiting Mickey there.
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My dad and Buck and I walked through the Yankee dugout and out across the field on that August Sunday in 1995; and at the age of 71, more than 40 years after he had seen the old Stadium for the first time as a young man, my father had finally made it out of the mezz and out of the upper deck and onto this grass. Showalter and I went and stood in front of Mantle’s plaque finally and my father looked at everything else and then we made the walk back to the Yankee dugout.
“I remember he walked with a purpose,” Buck said on Friday. “He had somewhere he needed to be.”
When we got back to the top step of the dugout that day, my father turned around for one last look at the Stadium.
“I was finally on that field,” my dad said.
He smiled. He had some smile.
“This was a good day,” he said.
He very rarely had a bad day. I know I never had a bad one when I was with him. I smile today because it happened.