Bader's first Yanks homer the stuff of childhood dreams

October 14th, 2022

NEW YORK -- The start of Harrison Bader’s Yankees career came with more questions than answers.

Bader, who made his first appearance in the Yanks’ clubhouse with a fresh haircut and a walking boot, was a last-minute Aug. 2 Trade Deadline acquisition who hadn’t suited up for the Cardinals since June 26. While homegrown starter Jordan Montgomery made an instant impact for St. Louis, Bader had to bide his time, waiting for his injured right foot to heal and for a chance to contribute to the team he grew up rooting for.

In a twist of fate, Montgomery’s National League Central champion Cardinals made a quick exit from the postseason, swept by the lower-seeded Phillies last weekend in St. Louis. Bader’s postseason with the American League East champion Yankees hadn’t even begun yet.

But when it did on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium, the 28-year-old Bronxville, N.Y., native might not have been able to dream up a better way for it to start.

With the Yankees down by one run in the third inning of Game 1 of the AL Division Series, Bader launched the first home run of his pinstriped tenure, a game-tying blast that answered Steven Kwan’s solo shot in the top of the frame. His first career postseason long ball, Bader’s well-timed drive into the left-center-field seats off Cleveland starter Cal Quantrill helped propel the Yankees to a 4-1 victory over the Guardians in the opener of the best-of-five series.

It also made Bader the first player in Yankees history to have his first career home run with the team come in the postseason. He made sure to soak in the reception he received from the electric crowd of 47,807, who packed the house for the club’s first postseason game in the Bronx since 2019.

“The energy from the fans, it was just amazing,” Bader said. “When you have such an incredible fan base, fans that are just rabid and want to win as badly as Yankees fans do, it’s almost like you’re playing with them on the field. They are on your team as you go into the dugout, as the opposition feels pressure with two strikes. That’s the type of energy that is a part of a winning history of a city.”

Growing up in nearby Bronxville and attending games at the old Yankee Stadium across the street, Bader knows a lot about that history. He also joined it in another way Tuesday, becoming the sixth New Yorker to homer in the postseason for the Yankees, adding his name to a distinguished list that includes Lou Gehrig, Alex Rodriguez, Raul Ibanez, Phil Rizzuto and Joe Pepitone.

More significant to him, though, was what it meant not within the context of the franchise’s storied past, but in the present moment as the Yankees seek to capture their first World Series title since 2009, a run that Bader was in the stands for during his late teen years.

That’s why Bader tried to keep his emotions in check as he rounded the bases, running at nearly full speed while the ball sailed out of the park, even though his mom, dad, sister and a considerable contingent of friends were in attendance. It’s a style of play he attributes to one of his coaches at the University of Florida, Brad Weitzel, who taught him to be “emotionless” on the field in order to keep his focus on the task at hand.

It’s a similar mantra to what he reminded himself throughout the rehab process, which culminated in his debut on Sept. 20, with only two weeks left in the regular season.

“I want to show them all why I earned that uniform, there’s no doubt,” Bader said. “The biggest thing is, I’ll be ready to play when I’m ready to play and when I’m healthy. That takes time. But I can assure you it was absolutely worth it. … Now we are in a position where I feel great and we’re in the postseason, and I’ve got everything to look forward to.”

With one big moment under his belt, Bader is already eyeing more. After all, for him, this was just the start.

“There’s such a long road ahead in October, ultimately in November, that I will save all of those emotions for a later date,” Bader said. “But no doubt, it’s special.”