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Gardner looking forward to playing beside Ellsbury

Veteran honored at Thurman Munson Awards Dinner, benefiting AHRC NYC Foundation

NEW YORK -- Brett Gardner said that he was caught off guard when the Yankees added Jacoby Ellsbury, a move that shook up the club's defensive alignment, but the speedster said on Tuesday that there should be more than enough room in the outfield for both players.

"I was surprised at first. I didn't really see that coming," Gardner said. "But listen, he's a great player. You put him on our team and any other team across baseball, he makes them better. I look forward to playing beside him and really learning from him.

"I've got a feeling he knows a thing or two about some pitchers, especially in our division."

Gardner was in New York on Tuesday to be honored at the 34th annual Thurman Munson Awards Dinner, paying homage to the fallen Yankees captain and benefiting the AHRC NYC Foundation.

Former big leaguers David Cone and Jim Kaat were also honored, as were Mets pitcher Dillon Gee, Knicks Hall of Famer Bernard King and Giants safety Antrel Rolle. The event has raised more than $12 million to serve children and adults who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.

"It means a lot," Gardner said. "I didn't grow up a Yankee fan when I was little, but I grew up as a Yankee. I got drafted by the Yankees, so I've never been anywhere else. Early on, you know who Derek Jeter is, you know who A-Rod is.

"You learn real quick who Thurman Munson is and how much respect everyone in the organization had for him; not just the way he played the game, but the way that he treated people and the things that he did away from the field. It's a very good honor and I'm very humbled by it."

Gardner will soon turn his full attention to Spring Training. Though manager Joe Girardi has left himself some wiggle room in advance of camp, the Yanks are leaning toward installing Ellsbury in center field and shifting Gardner back to left field.

Saying that he is not coming in with any expectations about his position or his place in the lineup, Gardner said that he did speak with Girardi shortly after Ellsbury's seven-year, $153 million pact with the Yankees was finalized.

"I talked to Joe a little while after it happened," Gardner said. "He called to check in and see how I was feeling, I guess mentally -- what I was thinking, where I was at, and to explain that it didn't necessarily mean that they didn't want me around or didn't have a spot for me.

"He still envisioned me playing a big role on this year's team. That was really it. I didn't feel like I really needed to reach out to anybody; I didn't expect anybody to reach out to me necessarily. I've always been a big believer in controlling the things that I can control. That's something I have no control over."

Gardner said that he took a similar approach to the trade rumor mill, where multiple clubs expressed interest in dealing for him.

"You hear about it. It's hard to ignore it," Gardner said. "I don't go digging for information on a daily basis, but when you talk to people -- I try to tell my wife and parents and people like that not to bother me with it, but other people will say, 'I heard this' and 'I heard that.' You can't help but try and run from it, but it always follows you."

The Reds were one of the teams that came calling about Gardner, offering second baseman Brandon Phillips in Winter Meetings trade talk, but the proposal was turned down. Yanks officials said at the time that they were not interested in trading Gardner unless it was for a front-line starting pitcher.

"I've said all along the last few months, I plan on going to Tampa to Spring Training and helping this team win," Gardner said. "It's definitely something I want to be a part of. We're looking pretty good on paper; we've got a good team and a good group of guys."

Gardner said that he believes the Yankees have improved from last season, when they posted 85 wins and finished tied with the Orioles for third place in the American League East.

"I hope so, with all of the guys we've got and money we've spent," Gardner said. "I think that we're definitely better. I'm excited to see what some of these new guys can do. I'm excited to meet them and play beside them and go out to battle with them. I think it's going to be a fun year."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat.

New York Yankees, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner