Volpe earns praise from The Wizard at MLB Flagship Store event

November 9th, 2023

NEW YORK -- With the MLB Flagship Store adorned with the hints of Christmastime and an emblazoned gold carpet leading throughout the venue, MLB’s past and present Gold Glove Award winners descended upon the store on Thursday afternoon for a meet-and-greet with fans hosted by Rawlings. It was a mix of highly decorated and freshly minted Gold Glovers, with 11-time winner Keith Hernandez and Rangers catcher and first-time winner Jonah Heim in attendance.

But sitting just to the right of them, speaking in hushed tones as they waited for fans to roll through in droves, was the physical embodiment of the Gold Glove lineage at the shortstop position -- 22-year-old Yankees shortstop and first-time winner and Hall of Famer and 13-time winner .

And as someone who understands how the weight of the defense can rest on the shortstop’s shoulders, Smith had nothing but kind words to say about how Volpe handled his first full season at the position in the Bronx.

“At the times that I’ve seen him play, I know that he’s become an integral part of the Yankee organization,” Smith said. “It’s going to be tough to replace [Derek] Jeter, a legend like that. So there’s all that pressure, but he seemed to handle it. Well now, it’s just a matter of him being able to go out and play every day.”

Volpe became the second Yankees shortstop to win a Gold Glove Award, joining Jeter in the exclusive club (he made sure to shout out teammate Isiah Kiner-Falefa, though, who won a Gold Glove in 2020 with the Rangers as a third baseman). Volpe also set multiple marks, passing Alan Trammell (1980 with the Tigers) as the youngest shortstop to win the honor (22 years and 156 days old), and stands alone as the only Yankees rookie to grab a Gold Glove.

While he wasn’t the leader in fewest errors and fielding percentage (finalists Corey Seager of the Rangers and Carlos Correa of the Twins both were better in those metrics), Volpe was second among American League shortstops in defensive runs saved (15). In a season where the offensive side of the ball had its ups and downs, he logged more innings and assists than his counterparts, speaking to his consistency and dependability up the middle, something he took pride in.

“There’s just a lot of consistent work,” Volpe said. “I never played a 162-game season. … So I was just super happy with how throughout the whole season, I felt like I could be consistent with all of my ground balls, stuff like that.”

That word -- “consistency” -- is what Smith credits as the reason he has 13 Gold Gloves sitting at home and in Cooperstown. Sure, everyone remembers the backflips before taking the field, the leaping double plays and the diving plays in the hole. But the willingness and patience to provide stability in the middle of the field surpasses everything else.

“The importance of the position is always going to be there,” said Smith, who has the most career assists from a shortstop. “For the teams that win and win consistently … they understand the importance of having somebody in the middle that can catch it and throw it consistently. That’s what it boils down to -- being able to make that routine play every day.

“And Volpe is one of those guys that gives that consistency you need up the middle.”

Volpe doesn’t want to get too ahead of himself when it comes to the context of baseball history. Before the meet-and-greet, he downplayed questions about being in the same company as Jeter and other legends like Smith, saying that he’s got a “long way to go” to reach those heights. But as he tries to forge his path in the shadow of greats, he likely will try to embody the spirit of a nugget from Smith.

“People think that offense only goes into a slump, but defense goes into a slump, too,” Smith said. “The saving of a run is just as important as driving in a run.”

And as the fans began to pile into the Flagship Store, finally sheltering from the wind on 6th Avenue, Volpe and Smith continued to quietly chat, leaving onlookers to only wonder what bits of wisdom were being imparted upon the 22-year-old -- and how he might use them to reach great new heights in the coming years.