Confident Cole hitting his stride with Yanks

July 10th, 2023

NEW YORK -- 's eyes twinkled as he padded across the visiting clubhouse at Seattle’s T-Mobile Park earlier this season, spotting an electric guitar that had been autographed by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder. Strapping the instrument over his shoulder, Cole asked a veteran reporter: “Hey, you want to hear me play?”

As his teammates continued their pregame routines, Cole turned up the volume and strummed. Licks of classic rock and alternative songs spilled from a speaker, recognizable tracks like “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd and Bush’s “Glycerine.” Cole explained that he and former teammate Jameson Taillon had taught themselves to play during a long-ago Pirates spring.

The impromptu concert concluded, and as applause was heard, Cole beamed. Now in his fourth year as the Yankees’ ace, Cole appears more confident than ever before in his workplace, with All-Star results to match. The 11-year veteran was named an All-Star Game starter for the first time in his career on Monday by AL manager Dusty Baker.

“Anytime you come to a new team and sign a big contract, it’s a tough position to be in,” Aaron Judge said. “We see it a lot around the league when guys sign with new teams. It’s a learning curve; you’re trying to get comfortable, you’re meeting new teammates. It’s a rocky situation.

“For him, he dove right in and started building the bonds from the very first day. Now a couple of years later, you’re starting to see that bond turn into true friendships. He’s a leader. I’m excited he’s over here. He’s comfortable, and he’s really grown into himself.”

A six-time All-Star who has gone 9-2 with a 2.85 ERA in 19 starts this season, Cole was apprised of Judge’s comment. He agreed, with no hesitation.

“I’m just more settled,” Cole said. “It’s all about getting more familiar with people. I’ve played with [Judge] now for four years. I’ve gotten to know [Anthony] Volpe and Big G [Giancarlo Stanton] and a lot of the other people in the organization on a more personal level.

“It’s been great. I don’t have a great handle, but I’m getting a better handle on becoming a better father -- becoming more dialed in and efficient at home. It’s not like I’m doing a whole lot different; it's just that everything’s more settled in and set up.”

Intense and focused throughout his starts, Cole can be goofy at times, and he always seems opinionated on a variety of subjects -- especially the art of pitching, a topic upon which Yankees personnel have been awed by his level of expertise. Cole frequently peppers manager Aaron Boone with his thoughts, including game strategy.

“He's got so much to offer. He's so invested,” Boone said. “That's what I appreciate, probably as much as anything. I love when he pitches every fifth day and what he brings on the mound, but [also] his investment in us, in our team, this organization, his teammates. He lives that every day; I would even say he lives it 365. He's all in, and that shows every day.”

Cole has come a long way from the 11-year-old who held up a sign at what was then called Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix before Game 6 of the 2001 World Series between the Yankees and D-backs, reading, “Yankee Fan Today Tomorrow Forever.”

He achieved his boyhood dream by signing a nine-year, $324 million contract with the Yankees after the 2019 season, a pact that managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner predicted would lead to “multiple” World Series championships in the Bronx. That has yet to transpire, of course.

Cole shifted from Houston to New York during the COVID-19 delayed 2020 mini-season, pacing the Majors in both strikeouts (257) and home runs allowed (33) last year. This year, Cole has corrected what Boone called his home run “bugaboo,” to the point where the manager wonders if Cole may be underrated in today’s game.

“I think he's on that Hall of Fame trajectory,” Boone said. “Perhaps he’s underappreciated, but I know we certainly appreciate what he's doing, the model of consistency he's been for our team.”

The past three-plus years have also helped Cole become more closely tied in with the organization, providing a road map to find whatever is needed at any given time -- whether it’s a detailed analytic report or a peanut butter & jelly sandwich.

“You’re always trying to be a better teammate, a better player, a better friend,” Cole said. “All of those components play a role. Hopefully, I’m a little better when I come back next year, too.”