He’s been a Yankee since the 2008 season.
Prior to this season, he had played in 1.067 games as a New York Yankee.
He’s been an All-Star (2015) and has led the league in triples (2013) and stolen bases (2011). Last year he won a Gold Glove Award.
He plays hard, he gives his all, he wears his heart on his sleeve.
And yet, prior to the 2017 season, I was never a big Brett Gardner fan.
Don’t get me wrong, I have always liked Brett Gardner. I appreciated his style of play. I like aggressive players who work hard and seem to maximize their talent. But, for whatever reason, Brett Gardner always seemed to be a player who fell a little short.
Brett Gardner always seemed to be the guy who would play well, get hurt, wear down, and be an automatic out late in the season. A lead-off hitter, Brett Gardner never hit .280. His on base percentage never reached .400. It also always seemed like Gardner didn’t try to steal enough bases and that he got caught stealing far too often. Finally, over the years, I saw Brett Gardner take far too many strike three pitches.
On an aging and expensive roster, Brett Gardner seemed to be the one player who was a tradable asset. Over the years I was always on the “Trade Brett Gardner for Something Good” bandwagon.
But this year, that all changed.
As Yankees fans embraced Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez as legitimate power hitters, as we watched Luis Severino and Didi Gregorius become stars, and as the team won against all expectations, I also became a big Brett Gardner fan.
I am kind of embarrassed to admit that it took me this long to really appreciate this great player who has been part of the team for so long.
This season I was able to relish in Gardner’s drive and his enthusiasm. I loved the jumping “high fives” and the outfield celebrations. In addition, Brett Gardner always seemed to be in the middle of every rally. This year it was Gardner who seemed to be able to deliver the walk-off hit in game after game.
I think the young players fed off of Brett Gardner’s determined work ethic. He was the spark at the top of the line-up. His energy helped define the team.
My favorite Yankees moment of the season came in the Wild Card game when Brett Gardner blasted a home run in the bottom of the second inning to give the Yankees the lead. After connecting, I loved how Gardner stood at home plate, for just a moment, relishing in the blast. He seemed to say, “Follow me boys, we’re winning this game!” And they did!
Brett Gardner was also at the center of another great Yankees moment that is a favorite of mine. On July 27, as I started to believe that this team might have some magic, the Yankees entered the bottom of the ninth inning training the Tampa Bay Rays 5-4. Gardner led off that inning with a clutch triple. The passion he showed as he successfully made it to third base exemplified the energy he brought to the team each game. Two outs later, Brett Gardner scored the tying run on a base hit by Gary Sanchez. Two innings later, Brett Gardner won the game with a walk-off game winning home run to lead off the bottom of the eleventh inning. I hadn’t seen Yankee Stadium so energized and excited since it first opened.
In 2017, Brett Gardner set career highs in home runs (21), slugging percentage (.428), and OPS (.778). His outstanding defense will most assuredly earn him his second Gold Glove Award. But it was more than that. It was his energy and drive and focus that helped define a team that far exceeded all expectations.
Sometimes in life, we don’t truly appreciate the good things we have. For me, prior to this year, I didn’t fully appreciate Brett Gardner as a ballplayer. That all changed in 2017.
Here’s to Brett Gardner!