When you think about some of the longest-tenured, steady Yankees of all-time, who comes to mind?
The usual suspects, I would assume — Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Derek Jeter.
But what about Brett Gardner?
The intense veteran outfielder is on the cusp of hitting a milestone in Yankees Pinstripes, becoming just the 18th player ever to appear in 1,500 career games with the organization, which dates backs to 1903.
A start in left field on Opening Day against the Washington Nationals gets him to that magic number, though that was hardly his focus just hours before first pitch on Thursday.
“It’s an honor to be playing on Opening Day. It’s an honor to be playing against the Nationals,” Gardner said. “After all the anticipation, we are looking forward to tonight and to playing the best.”
The 36-year-old should have hit this milestone months ago had it not been for the coronavirus pandemic, which has taken a large chunk out of his one-year deal to return to the Bronx after a career 2019 season.
That uncertainty makes this Opening Day that much more special for Gardner, who debuted with the Yankees as a rookie in 2008.
“Everything that’s happened over the last few months, not knowing if I’d ever get an opportunity to get out there — maybe ever again, who knows?” Gardner pondered. “So I definitely think I appreciate it more than year’s past.”
Gardner’s name won’t litter the Yankees’ record books when his time with the club is over, but the ability to carve out an extended career in one of the most demanding places to play in Major League Baseball is commendable within itself.
In what could very well be his final year with the club, his eyes are on winning a second World Series trophy that has alluded him since winning it all in his second year in the league in 2009.
A lack of trophies certainly resonates with Gardner, who admitted that he thought he would have had a few more championships to his name at this point.
“I’ve said that for the last few years. We’ve come really, really close but we’ve come up short and lost to some really good teams,” he said. “We have a great young core here in our clubhouse and I think a lot of those guys have experienced that over the last few years and it drives them more and makes them even hungrier. The will to win and desire to compete burns even more inside of them.”
This could very well be that year for Gardner as the Yankees are one of the favorites to win their 28th World Series title during MLB’s abbreviated 60-game season.