A Yanks debut you have to see to believe

May 22nd, 2023

This story was excerpted from Bryan Hoch’s Yankees Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Yes, Ben Rortvedt is real -- and there is now irrefutable video evidence to prove it, silencing any lingering doubters within the Yankees’ universe.

A debate over Rortvedt’s existence had become a light-hearted trope on social media over the past season-plus, as the 25-year-old catcher battled numerous injuries that stalled his club debut. Not only was Rortvedt aware, but he was in on the gag.

“I know it’s a joke, and it’s pretty funny, but I’m just excited to be here and to play ball,” Rortvedt said.

Called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre with starting catcher Jose Trevino dealing with a left hamstring strain, Rortvedt finally got into the Yanks’ lineup this past weekend in Cincinnati, going 2-for-4 with a double in New York’s 7-4, 10-inning victory on Saturday afternoon.

“It was awesome, just looking around the dugout to see who we’re surrounded with,” Rortvedt said. “We’re never out of a game. There’s a bunch of big names. I’m just doing my best to pull my own weight and keep us in the game.”

Originally drafted by the Twins in the second round of the 2016 MLB Draft, Rortvedt is a square-jawed, muscular backstop whose defense-first mindset and no-nonsense demeanor have prompted comparisons to a young Joe Girardi.

In fact, during his time with the Twins, Rortvedt’s bulk generated its fair share of attention: a memorable snapshot taken by Minnesota team photographer Brace Hemmelgarn showed Nelson Cruz inspecting Rortvedt’s biceps while handling a kettlebell in the club’s weight room.

"It's not like he's doing some ungodly amount of weights,” Twins reliever Tyler Duffey said then. “He was just touched by God and is gifted in what he's got. Just making sure to take care of it.”

Rortvedt was part of the March 2022 trade with the Twins that delivered third baseman Josh Donaldson and shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa to New York, in exchange for catcher Gary Sánchez and third baseman Gio Urshela.

But Rortvedt had a pre-existing oblique strain that kept him sidelined through camp, then sustained a partial meniscus tear in his left knee after playing just two Minor League games. He was called up to the big league squad in early September, but did not appear in a game; hence, the debate over whether Rortvedt was “real.”

This year, his spring was shut down when he noticed that the index finger of his left hand seemed to be perpetually turning blue. That prompted the discovery of an aneurysm in the posterior artery near his throwing shoulder -- a shocking diagnosis, considering that if it had gone unaddressed, amputation might have been necessary.

“It’s definitely a lot better than before surgery,” Rortvedt said. “To be completely honest, my finger [issue] is still kind of lingering, but I’m glad I got the surgery. It’s a big improvement from where it was before. I’m pretty used to it; it’s kind of back to the point where it’s just stinging as a catcher’s [finger] should.”