Veteran Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner takes a swing at some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.
Q: Have you given thought to how much longer you want to play?
A: At this point, I’m just kind of taking things one year at a time. I’ve really always looked not too far into the future, obviously. The contract that I signed, the Yankees have a team option on me for next year. In a perfect world for me, I stay healthy and have a good season and they pick that option up and I come back and do it all over again. For me, I’m just focused on this current season and literally taking things one day at a time, trying to get prepared for a season. I know it sounds cliche, but I kind of learned that from some guys that I’ve played with along the way, that when you’ve been around this long, there’s no sense in looking too far into the future, really. You don’t know how much longer it’ll last, so really just enjoy every minute of it.
Q: Did the retirement of Giants quarterback Eli Manning impact you in any way?
A: Eli’s obviously been a great Giant. I think he’s gonna be a Hall of Fame quarterback, obviously. But he’s a guy that’s done it all in New York, played his whole career there, and just got a ton of respect for him at what he accomplished.
Q: Could you see yourself wearing any other uniform other than the pinstripes?
A: I can’t. … I can’t, I’ll be honest. There were times in the offseason, especially early on, where some other teams were interested, and with the season I had last year, I was gonna continue playing. My priority was to come back to New York.
Q: Would managing appeal to you down the road?
A: (Laugh) No, I don’t think so. That’ll be a too time-consuming for me. If and when my time is done as a player, obviously the game has been very good to me, and I’ll find ways to try and stay involved in one way or another and give back, at whatever level it may be. I’ve got two young boys that obviously I want to spend a lot of time with. I haven’t been around to see a lot of their early childhood, so I look forward to those days, and obviously my wife [Jessica] has made a lot of sacrifices to get me and us where we are. So I really look forward to stepping away a little bit.
Q: Tom Brady wants to play until he’s 45. Do you have a goal as far as how long you want to play until?
A: No, I don’t. Physically, I’ll be honest, last year and right now going into this season, I feel better than I did several years ago, just because of being a little bit smarter about what I do and making some changes and just fortunate to have made it through these last couple of seasons relatively healthy and going into the offseason healthy and being able to train is a whole different [thing] than going into the offseason when you’re rehabbing something trying to get back to being healthy. So I feel great physically, and I know that I can continue playing for several more years, but that’s a decision that a whole lot more goes into it than just how I’m feeling, so we’ll see what happens.
Q: All things being equal though, you would still prefer to retire a Yankee. Is that accurate?
A: Oh of course. I’ve always been very transparent and honest about that. I was drafted by the Yankees almost 15 years ago. I’ve obviously played with quite a few teammates over the years that have either come from other places or that have come up with me and gone other places, and I’ve heard from quite a few of ’em that there’s nothing like playing in New York … so something that I’ve obviously I’ve never gotten a taste of playing baseball somewhere else. … New York and the Yankees fans have always been great to me, and love playing there.
Q: With CC Sabathia gone, you’ll have to fill even more of a leadership void.
A: Yeah, a little bit, but we’ve got a lot of great leaders in that room, and some of ’em are in their early-to-mid 20s, guys like Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres, and we’ve got some guys that have come over from other organizations that really command a great deal of respect and really have a lot to offer with all these young guys that we have in the room -— guys like Giancarlo Stanton, and obviously Adam Ottavino, now Gerrit Cole coming over on board, a veteran guy like Aroldis Chapman … we kind of share the load. There’s no one guy that does most or all of it. I feel like we’ve got a great balance. At the same time, we’ve got a really good young corps that sets us up for a bright future.
Q: How would you compare your mindset or mentality now to your very first spring training?
A: The older we get, and the more people meet, especially in the field that I’m in and the team that I’ve been with. I’ve been fortunate to have played with a lot of guys that I’ve really been able to kind of pick their brains and learn from ’em and what makes them so special, and also be around some of the best coaches and get some great instruction that has allowed me to continue to improve my game even this late in my career. I think I’m a lot different now than I was then. I’m smarter in the way that I go about things and the way that I prepare and train and what I do to get ready for a game, and what I put in my body, right down to how I sleep and how I take care of myself. That’s one of those things where if you want to play for as long as possible, you only get one shot at it. So I’ve always tried to for the most part make good decisions and give myself an opportunity to play as long as I want to, and so far that’s worked.
Q: Are there foods that you avoid?
A: (Laugh) Honestly, no. I’m not gonna stand up here and beat my chest and act like I’m on a some strict diet, because to be honest, I try to take in about as many calories as I can but I do try to be smart about it. But I do love pizza, and I do love deserts and sweets, so I’m not anti-anything, even though I probably should be.
Q: With Luis Severino out for the year, is it still World Series-or-bust?
A: I think that’s the expectations here every year, and the last three years really, we could have been that team standing any of the last three years, and we’ve obviously come up short. I think with the addition of Gerrit Cole, and some of the guys that we have — we have a pretty young core group of guys that in my opinion, some of these guys are only gonna continue to get better. Just look forward to continuing to help them belong and watch them grow, and I expect us to have a better season than last year, and hopefully we’re that last team standing.
Q: What makes Cole’s stuff so elite?
A: Well, his fastball’s obviously very hard. Anytime the harder the fastball is, the better the offspeed stuff plays. It’s just a big difference in looking for 100 and a 90 mile an hour slider versus looking for 95 and an 85 mile an hour slider. I think his presence on the mound, and his ability to attack all four quadrants of the strike zone.
Q: What have you observed about his makeup and how it will play in New York?
A: He’s a bulldog, he’s a competitor out there on the mound. I already see him on a daily basis just kind of holding court with all of his teammates really but mostly pitchers, just talking to them about approach and conviction. It’s good to see. Not only is he a really, really good pitcher every five days when he’s out there on the mound, then he’s the best right-hander in the game right? But I think he’s also a guy that makes others around him better.
Q: With Sevy gone, do you have enough arms in the rotation?
A: I think we definitely do. We’ve got some really good candidates for that spot or two in the back end of the rotation. We’ve got some guys that are really right there knocking on the door waiting for their opportunity. … Jordan Montgomery’s gonna be back this year 100 percent healthy, and he’s looked good early in camp.
Q: Deivi Garcia?
A: He’s in the mix, guy’s got a really good breaking ball, really good sneaky hitter and a bright future ahead of him too, so we got plenty of pitching.
Q: What do you think of Gleyber Torres at shortstop?
A: I think he’s a natural shortstop. We saw early last season when Didi [Gregorius] was out, pretty smooth transition, and being in left field, being in center field, I get to play behind him, so I think he’s been really good, I think he’s gonna continue to get better on both sides of the ball. He’s just one of the most talented young baseball players that I’ve ever seen. It’s special to watch.
Q: Miguel Andujar in the outfield?
A: His very first game in the outfield a couple of days ago, I’m in center field and he’s in left field, the second pitch of the game, there’s a ball hit right to deep shortstop, and he had to run in and communicate with Gleyber on [it], he called Gleyber off and made a good play. But the ball has a way of finding you, so it was a pretty cool moment because you just knew that he was gonna get one hit to him pretty quickly, but he’s an athlete, and he’s a worker, and with that bat, obviously be the guy that we want to find ways to get in the lineup. If he can learn to be pretty efficient out there in the outfield, it really increases his versatility and the opportunities that [manager] Aaron Boone has to mix and match, and not only put his bat in the lineup, but give some guys done days off and move some guys around. He’s a big piece of this puzzle, and you saw what he was able to do two years ago when he was healthy. He missed all of last year, but he’s back now, and he is fully healthy. His bat is quick as ever, and it’s great to have Miggy back.
Q: What are your expectations for a healthy Aaron Judge?
A: This is a guy when he stays on the field for 140-plus games, I think he’s gonna win the MVP. I don’t like putting too high of expectations on guys, but that’s how much I believe in him. He’s got the ability to change the game on both sides of the ball and on the bases. We’ve seen how dangerous he can be at the plate. I think people were starting to talk about how great he is out there in the outfield, and obviously his ability to run the bases. For those that haven’t seen him play, he only has to take three steps and he goes from second to third. As big as he is, it’s impressive to watch and see how fast he is and how much ground he covers, not just in the outfield, but his quick he gets around the bases. For me, when he’s healthy and on the field, he’s the best player in the league
Q: Describe DJ LeMahieu?
A: Man, he’s a baseball player, he’s an absolute professional. He’s all about preparation, and he’s just 100 percent committed to his craft, and you could put him anywhere on the field, and he wouldn’t complain and he’d do a dang good job at it. Last year was just a tough year with us for injuries, and he moved all around, and just did an awesome job for us. Everybody talks about second in the league in hitting and what he was able to go with the bat, but his defensive versatility and value was just ridiculous. He’s one of my favorite teammates of all time.
Q: If Alex Rodriguez is interested in owning the Mets, would ownership interest you?
A: (Laugh) Maybe something like the Charleston River Dogs would be more my level. … I haven’t heard too much about that, but I have no doubt that whatever he does, he’ll be successful at.
Q: Have you guys spoken about the coronavirus?
A: We have … just try and be aware of your surroundings, and wash your hands a lot, watch what you do. … It’s definitely concerning, but just be smart about what you do.
Q: What are your thoughts on Kobe Bryant?
A: Just sadness. Obviously there’s a lot of people affected by that. … Not just the player that he was on the court, but the way that he affected people off the court, and the ability to motivate people. … It’s sad anytime there’s a tragedy like that.
Q: Did it take you a while to get over last year’s ALCS defeat to the Astros?
A: It always does. It always does. I think the older you get, it gets harder and harder because you realize you’re running out of opportunities, and you don’t know how many more chances you’ll get. That’s always tough to get over, but at some point, you gotta lick your wound and you get back up and get back to work, and here we are.
Q: Your sons, Hunter and Miller, are 11 and 9. Did they ask you about the Astros’ cheating scandal?
A: Yeah, a little bit they did. Just use that as one of those parenting moments, just teaching right from wrong, and the right way to do things and the wrong way, just kind of attack it from that angle. They understand the game, and they are old enough to realize what’s going on. But at the same time, they’re still young kids, so I try to keep ’em sheltered a little but as much as possible I guess.
Q: What’s it like being the longest-tenured Yankee?
A: It’s crazy, man, it really is. It’s hard to believe I’ve been here as long as I have. It’s not something I take lightly. It means a lot to me to still be here, and I’m very happy to have an opportunity to come back here and try and finish some unfinished business. … It’s crazy it’s been 13 years.
Q: What intangibles do you like best about this Yankees team?
A: These guys early in camp seem really driven, seem really focused. This is a group that has kind of been in the trenches together for the last couple of years, and like I said, we’ve been really close but we’ve come up short, and we’re ready to get over that hump and be that last team standing. We’re hungry.