Harrison Bader was born on the Upper East Side, grew up in Bronxville, and played high school baseball at Horace Mann, a private school in The Bronx.
He also played three seasons for the New York Grays, a travel team that often practiced on a field at 29 PS on 157th St. and Melrose Avenue, just a mile from Yankee Stadium.
On Tuesday, he played his first game in a Yankees uniform at the Stadium and had three RBI’s. In the bottom of the ninth, he saw Aaron Judge Babe Ruth tie his 60th home run of the season and Giancarlo Stanton hit a game-winning grand slam.
“It was great,” Bader said the next day. “That was a great performance, but everyone here has the bigger picture in mind: winning the World Series.”
Bader, who sat in the stands at Yankee Stadium when he was younger, came to the Yankees in August in a trade with the Cardinals in exchange for left-handed Jordan Montgomery.
It was the most unexpected move of the Yankees’ trading TUSEN. Montgomery was a solid southpaw in the middle of a rotation that the Yankees wanted to upgrade. To make matters worse, Bader was sidelined due to plantar fasciitis and weeks away from being able to play.
But the Yankees wanted a midfield upgrade after Aaron Hicks played his way out of the starting grid and brought Judge back into right field to reduce his wear. And then Montgomery went to the Cardinals and started pitching as vintage CC Sabathia.
The trade became unpopular with the fans and questioned in some parts of the baseball world.
“I didn’t pay attention to the talk or anything like that,” Bader said. “I just focused on my job to get back, and the Yankees did a great job of that.”
Now Bader is ready to contribute to a stretch run in The Bronx.
“I called him right after the trade,” said Kevin Martir, Bader’s former teammate with the Grays. “I told him, ‘Finally you have pinstripes. This is what we envisioned when we were younger: to play for the Yankees. to play at Yankee Stadium.’”
Martir is from Brooklyn and, like most of Bader’s teammates, lived with the Grays downtown. After playing his college prom in Maryland, Martir spent some time in the minors before injuries ended his career. He is now the batting coach for the Low-A Tampa affiliate of the Yankees.
“We were mainly a bunch of Latin kids from The Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens,” said Martir, who was drafted in the 18th round by the Astros in 2015 and played in the minors for three seasons. “He came in that first day and we said, ‘Who is this boy?’ But you could immediately see how much he wanted to play and how hard he worked, so he fit right in.”
David Owens runs the New York Grays and was an assistant coach to Horace Mann for a short time. He helped send Bader into the Grays program.
“He adapted very well right away,” Owens said. “Regardless of your background, if you’re a ball player, you’re a ball player.”
Bader isn’t the only former Gray in the majors: Jose Cuas is a right-hander in the Royals bullpen.
“The Grays taught me that once you step on a baseball field, regardless of background, money, or race, it doesn’t matter the ball,” Bader said. “Whether you’re from Brooklyn or the Upper East Side. I was one of the outsiders because I am not Spaniard. But they welcomed me because I could play.”
He played well enough to make it to the University of Florida before being drafted by the Cardinals in the third round in 2015.
Working on off-season drills with Owens and other trainers, he has become an elite defensive center fielder, which is what Aaron Boone and general manager Brian Cashman like about the 28-year-old. Bader won a Gold Glove award last season and also posted career highs in home runs (16) and OPS (0.785).
“He was sloppy and played hard,” said Martir. “He always wanted to get better. Every year he came back bigger, stronger and faster. He did the work. You could say he was obsessed with the game.”
Martir is a batting coach and he is confident that his old teammate will contribute to the plate.
“I think there is still a lot of advantage with his bat,” said Martir. “We talk about hitting and I believe he is in the right place at the right time to get the most out of himself as an athlete.”
Now Bader is doing it with the Yankees.
“My dream was to just play in the big leagues,” Bader said. “I was fixated on that. So when I got to the majors with the Cardinals, I didn’t think about the Yankees anymore.
“But I always wanted to play the game on the biggest stage, so in the back of my mind I thought about New York. It’s really a different feeling. It makes me fall in love with New York again. But wherever I am, I have work to do .”
save a thought
Who’s going to close?
The Yankees have just a few weeks left before the postseason to get their bullpen in order. Clay Holmes leads the team with 20 saves, but the righthander hasn’t been the same since the All-Star break and lacks inexperience after the season.
Aroldis Chapman has a lot of playoff experience, a lot of it is not good. He’s second to the Yankees on nine saves, but there’s no guarantee he’s on the playoff list, let alone in the closer role.
Next up is Wandy Peralta with four saves. Boone has noted the southpaw’s “fearless” but Peralta is out with a back injury until at least early October. The Yankees are still hopeful of his return for the play-offs.
Zack Britton, back on Thursday after a one-year hiatus after last season’s UCL surgery, has to show his stuff has returned after being out of the running for so long.
Just like they’ve done for most of the second half, the Yankees may need to put the end of the games together.
Ducks on the pond
Oswaldo Cabrera has stood out in several ways since he was called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in mid-August. He has shown that he can play in all four infield positions and on both outfield corners.
But perhaps his most impressive performance has come at the plate: in four at bats with the bases loaded, 23-year old Cabrera is 3-for-3 with a walk and eight RBI’s, including a grand slam in the first inning of Wednesday’s win on the Pirates.
He does have some work to do in other situations. Cabrera has only seven RBI’s in 119 at bats without the bases loaded.
Still, it’s another example of how Cabrera has shown the ability to not be overwhelmed in new and different spots in the majors.