Close to home, Volpe & Bader can take Yankees far

May 20th, 2023

and play what have always been the two glamour positions for the Yankees: shortstop and center field. Volpe comes from New Jersey to the place where used to play, a rookie shortstop the way Jeter was in 1996. Bader comes to his own prime real estate in the Bronx from Bronxville. Now they are a couple of local guys, young guys, who are transforming the whole feel of this Yankees team, and the way Yankees fans feel about it.

Especially the kid at shortstop.

Volpe came into Saturday’s game with the Reds still just hitting .216. But even with that batting average, which will only go up from here, he has made himself into one of the most important players the Yankees have after  -- No. 99 hit another homer on Friday night, his fifth of the week -- and , their ace.

Volpe has played a fine shortstop, has shown surprising power with seven home runs and has already stolen 13 bases, a year after led the Yankees with 22. But Volpe has been more than his numbers so far. He has helped change the personality of the Yankees just being on the field with the rest of them, and made them more fun to watch while everybody waits for Judge to hit another home run out of sight.

I asked David Cone, now with both the YES network and ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, about Volpe after the Yankees beat the Reds on Friday night. Cone was a Yankee when Jeter was young, and now he has watched Volpe, from the other side of the George Washington Bridge, hit the ground running.

“He’s an athletic presence all over the field,” Cone said. “Defensively athletic and a smart baserunner. Good instincts, too.”

Then Cone, who saw Jeter run out to short on Opening Day in 1996 like he was already a veteran, added this:

“His teammates believe he is a cut above.”

In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about this Yankees prospect or that one. But with the exception of Judge, none of them seem to stay on the field for very long. But they simply couldn’t stop Volpe from making the team in Spring Training, and now they show no interest in getting him off the field. Through Friday night, the Yankees had played 47 games this season. Volpe had played in every one of them.

Then there is Bader, whom the Yankees got from the Cardinals in a trade last season. He was on the injured list when the Yankees made the deal, sending to St. Louis. But when he finally was healthy in October, the time of the year when Yankees are ultimately measured, he was their best player. Better than Judge, better than all of them. By a lot.

Bader played nine postseason games against the Guardians and Astros in 2022. He had 10 hits and five home runs. Even as the Yankees were being swept in the American League Championship Series by the Astros, Bader hit .400. More than anything, the Bronxville guy played as if he belonged, maybe a half-hour -- or more, depending on Bronx traffic -- from where he was born.

Then he got hurt again in Spring Training, and he was back where he had started with the Yankees -- on the injured list, this time because of a left oblique strain. He did not start this season until May 2. The Yankees were 15-15 at the time. Since then, they are 12-5. This is mostly about Judge, of course, as he has put the Yankees on his back the past couple of weeks since coming off the IL himself. Still, Bader has hit three home runs since coming back, he's knocked in 13 runs in his 17 games and he's gone back to being a streak of light in the outfield.

Last Sunday afternoon against the Rays at Yankee Stadium, he made a long run before diving and sliding to make a catch in deep left-center, looking as if he was willing to chase a ball hit by all the way to Bronxville. The bases were loaded at the time. Bader ended up with a uniform full of dirt on the warning track in front of the 399-foot sign. But the ball was in his glove. It was one of the best plays any Yankees center fielder has made in a long time.

“I could not be more ready for this,” Bader said last season, and he meant to come home and play for the Yankees.

Bader didn’t start Friday night, but he came off the bench and got a hit to raise his average to .286. Volpe got another hit. The night before, against the Blue Jays in Toronto, Volpe hit his 7th home run. Only Judge and have hit more so far this season for the Yankees.

Volpe and Bader. Somerset County in Jersey for Volpe. Westchester County for Bader. Both of them Yankees fans growing up. Sometimes they must look around at the Stadium and still not believe where they are, even as they keep showing how much they belong.