Yastrzemski enjoys family legacy
It’s one of the most legendary last names in sports history, and Bowie outfielder Mike Yastrzemski wears it proudly.
“I just love wearing that on the back of my shirt when I get the chance to and just try to make him proud,” he said.
The “him” in this case refers to one of the greatest baseball players of all time, Hall of Famer and Boston Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski.
The one and only Yaz, 1967 American League triple crown winner who collected 3,419 hits in the majors.
Mike Yastrzemski, 23, will always be known as Carl’s grandson. In Altoona, Mike also will forever be known for his ninth-inning double Friday night that broke up Adrian Sampson’s bid for the first individual no-hitter in Curve history.
Yastrzemski fought off a slider inside and smacked it the opposite way for a double to left with one out in the ninth. It was just his second game in Double-A, and he went 4-for-5 in his debut Thursday night against the Curve.
That’s what you call making a great first impression with your new teammates.
“He’s just a baseball player, and we’re really happy with how he’s played,” Bowie manager Gary Kendall said. “He knows the game, he knows how to play the game, gives 100 percent effort on the field.”
Rarely a day goes by, Yastrzemski said, that someone doesn’t ask about his legendary grandfather. That could be a burden for some, but not to Mike.
“It’s not tough at all. I’m used to it,” he said. “I used to be caught up in expectations when I was young, but now I don’t get fazed by it. I just enjoy each opportunity that comes and enjoy other people’s stories.”
As odd as it sounds, Kendall made a valid point when asked if Yastrzemski is treated any differently by teammates because of his last name.
“I don’t think so,” the Bowie manager said. “Probably half those guys don’t even know his grandfather.”
“How can you not know that name?” Curve manager Carlos Garcia said. “It’s part of the history of the game.”
Regardless of the name, Orioles farm director Brian Graham said Mike is treated like anybody else in the organization.
“He’s absolutely a regular guy because that’s the way he acts,” said Graham, the Pirates’ former farm director. “He’s very humble. He has tremendous respect for the game and for what his grandfather did in the game, but he wants to make it to the big leagues on his own merit.”
Mike Yastrzemski’s father, also named Mike, played minor league ball and reached as high as Triple-A with the White Sox in the late 1980s. He died in 2004 at age 43.
Mike said he speaks with his grandfather a couple of times a month, but Carl hasn’t yet been able to watch him play this season. They do talk hitting “all the time,” Mike said, but the best advice his grandfather has given him has been about the mental side of the game.
“(He said) just learn to keep things off the field that need to stay off the field and leave your game on the field,” Mike said. “You’ve got to separate your life and understand that there are other things other than baseball out there.”
Mike attended Vanderbilt and was drafted in the 14th round last year. He has skyrocketed to Double-A in a hurry after beginning his pro career last year in short-season A ball.
He started this season at low-A Delmarva and hit .306 with 10 homers and 44 RBIs in 63 games. That earned him a call-up to high-A Frederick, where he hit .312 with one homer and 19 RBIs in only 23 games.
“His mental toughness, his work ethic and the way he prepares, he’s one of those kids that comes to the ballpark every day prepared to play the game correctly,” said Graham, who added Mike has “solid big league tools in every aspect.”
Players seldom jump up two levels this quickly in a season in the minors, but the Orioles figured Yastrzemski would be able to handle Double-A. They were right.
As if his 4-for-5 debut wasn’t enough, he followed that up with one of the bigger hits ever against the Curve on Friday.
Sampson had a no-hitter for 8 innings when Yastrzemski came to the plate, and the Altoona pitcher got ahead 0-2 in the count. Sampson shook off a sign from catcher Elias Diaz for a high fastball, opting instead to throw a slider low and in.
The pitch stayed up just a tad, though, and Yastrzemski laced a double down the line in left to break up the no-hitter.
“He made me pay for it,” Sampson said of the mistake pitch.
“I felt if one guy was going to get a hit, it would be him,” Garcia said. “Not taking anything from the other guys, but he has a good ability to stay on the ball and be a line drive hitter. He is a good hitter, and he showed it.”
Yastrzemski went 1-for-3 with a double against the Curve on Saturday, making him 6-for-12 in his first three Double-A games.
“He seems to barrel up pitches, hits the fastball, breaking ball, changeup, stays back and puts good swings on pitches,” Kendall said. “He looks like he’s got good plate discipline, good balance. He’s got the ingredients to be a good hitter.”
And the genes.
Few hitters in baseball history were better than Carl Yastrzemski, so it’s no surprise that someone with that famous last name also knows a thing or two about smacking around a baseball.
“I’m very proud,” Mike said of his name. “It’s a unique name. There aren’t too many people in the world who have that name.”