To Gardner, Jeter was a mentor, and on occasion Jeter would pull Gardner aside and teach him the rights and wrongs about being a Yankee. Jeter also made Gardner feel comfortable during his transition from the minors to the majors, which was something Gardner appreciated.
Years later, Gardner is following Jeter’s plan and is now mentoring the kids that are currently in camp, even if one day they might come up and replace him.
“One of the things Derek always told me and you’d always see him do with the young guys,” Gardner told the media on Saturday while the Yankees B-Squad was defeating the Detroit Tigers 11-1, “he said, ‘You got to make the young guys feel comfortable. You got to make them feel like they belong because when they are comfortable, they play better. And when they play better, the team wins.’ ”
This year, Gardner is taking on the role that Jeter once took on. He’s become a veteran presence to the kids, notably Aaron Judge. While the Yankees were away winning a ballgame, Gardner and hitting coach Marcus Thames pulled Judge to the side and gave him some advice on his hitting.
Judge heeded Gardner’s advice and ultimately hit a line drive off the Yankees scoreboard.
Gardner’s mentoring skills put Judge at ease, and Judge agrees that if he’s relaxed and plays well, there’s no doubt the Yankees will as well.
“It’s giving back to the organization,” Judge said. “If everyone can feel comfortable, you play your best. That’s all we want. We’re going to win. We’re the New York Yankees, and we’re here to win. We don’t accept anything else.”
While the Yankees are looking forward to the future, Gardner sometimes thinks about the Yankees before him. Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran are no longer with the club either because they were traded or retired. But while everyone is interested in McCann and Beltran’s departure, the one departure Gardner will miss the most is Teixeira’s.
“I think the guy everybody overlooks is Tex, man,” Gardner said. “He’s been here since 2009, eight years, was an absolute gamer. He played with a broken leg when nobody knew his leg was broken. Gold Glove defense. He’s somebody we are really going to miss. Carlos, too. We’re going to miss those guys.
“But we do have a good group of young kids. The show goes on. This game doesn’t stop for anybody. If it was going to, it would have stopped when Derek or Mariano Rivera retired, but it didn’t stop. It goes on and the cycle continues.”
Gardner is looking forward to the Yankees competing this year. Especially with the crop of talent the team already possesses.
“I think it’s going to be a good year,” Gardner said. “It’s going to be exciting. The future is bright. We’ve got a lot of young guys who are hungry and want to prove that they belong here.”