The trip between Commack, New York, and Wappingers Falls, New York, spans about 100 miles. It’s not an easy drive, regardless of the time of day, but late at night, after a baseball game, the journey is no doubt a little more taxing. Making the round trip again and again, night after night, takes a special level of dedication.
For Anthony Volpe, grandfather of the Yankees’ top Minor League prospect of the same name, making that drive from his Long Island house to the home ballpark of the Hudson Valley Renegades in Dutchess County, New York, where the young shortstop played from July through the end of the season in 2021, was truly a labor of love. At 80 years old, the retired New York City firefighter was far too excited about his grandson’s professional career to stay away.
“My grandfather was at every game I played at Hudson Valley,” the younger Volpe said over dinner at Roots Steakhouse in Morristown, New Jersey, last November. “When I was drafted by the Yankees, it was one of the best things that ever happened in his life, I think. When he got to watch me play in Hudson Valley, it was the highlight of his life.”
While the elder Volpe’s pride is rooted in his love for his grandson, it goes even deeper. Watching the stud prospect ascend through the ranks of the Yankees organization is a full-circle experience for the family patriarch.
“He is our family’s Yankees roots,” said the shortstop, who turned 21 on April 28. “His dad, my great grandfather, fought in World War II, and my grandfather was only 4 years old when his dad left for the war. So, when his dad came back several years later, he was a stranger to my grandfather. But they bonded while listening to and watching Yankees games. My grandfather got to know his dad through the Yankees. He loves the Yankees so much because he still feels that connection to his dad. He’s die-hard more than most people can even imagine that you could be.”
As a tribute, Volpe wears No. 7, the same number worn by his grandfather’s idol, Mickey Mantle.
Four decades after The Mick retired, the younger Volpe experienced a childhood that was in many ways much different than that of his grandfather. He and his younger sister, Olivia, were raised first in Manhattan, then in a Central New Jersey suburb by their parents -- Michael, a urologist, and Isabelle, an anesthesiologist originally from the Philippines.
The one undeniable similarity, though, was the special place that the Yankees occupied in their young hearts.
“Some of my favorite memories as a kid are being at Yankee Stadium,” said Volpe, wearing a white sweater and gray jeans. “I even bought a game program at just about every game I went to. In 2009, my family shared season tickets with a few other families. We were at a lot of games, and I also went to the [World Series] parade. It goes all the way back to my grandfather; his passion was really passed down from generation to generation in our family.”
And not surprisingly, Volpe’s favorite player was a fellow shortstop. “How could Derek Jeter not be my favorite?” he said. “I remember him more for his farewell tour than anything else. We traveled to Minneapolis for his last All-Star Game, and that was an unforgettable experience. Although the 2009 championship was the only one I was around for, Derek was my idol, a larger-than-life person to me.”
Besides playing the same position as his sports hero, Volpe reminds fans of the Hall of Famer for other reasons. They both have ties to New Jersey; they both come from strong, supportive families; and they speak similarly about their team-first mentality. Volpe’s dedication to his craft is reminiscent of The Captain’s, and Jeter was regarded as being very mature for his age when he was climbing the Minor League ladder. It’s easy to feel the same way about Volpe. But if you want to amuse the current Somerset Patriots shortstop, just bring up the comparison to Jeter.
“I don’t think that anyone should be compared to Derek Jeter,” Volpe said with a huge smile after a few seconds of laughing -- and even a little blushing. “I don’t think anyone will ever compare to him or come close to what he has accomplished. At the same time, I know that my parents were so happy that Derek Jeter was the face of the Yankees at a time when I was so young and impressionable. He was such a great role model.”
Volpe’s love for the Yankees was exceeded by his passion for playing the game. Thanks in part to years of backyard batting tutelage from his father -- who was not a baseball player -- Volpe was the star of every team he played on as far back as he can remember.
“My parents are so dedicated and driven,” Volpe said. “I’m so lucky to have them as parents, not just because of the people they are but also because of the opportunities that they were able to afford me, and for all of the sacrifices they made for me. My mom always woke up at 4:45 in the morning for work, and she would drive me all around for baseball. My dad was the same way.”
Volpe hit his first home run when he was 9 years old, the same year his family moved out of New York City and settled in Watchung, New Jersey. As a member of one of the Northeast’s most vaunted youth travel baseball programs, Volpe paved the way for one tournament victory after another for the Diamond Nation baseball academy, based in Flemington, New Jersey. Before his time with the Diamond Jacks team was done, Volpe displayed an ability that matched some of the best youths in the country. That growth brought about the first opportunity to play on a much bigger stage.
“One of my coaches got wind of a tryout for the USA National 12U team,” Volpe said. “He suggested that I go to the tryout. I remember him saying, ‘Whatever happens, happens. Let’s see how good A.V. is.’”
Volpe made the 18-player roster, and before he knew it, he was off to Taiwan. He started for the team at second base, and the experience had an impact on him that he feels will last for long after his playing days come to an end.
“It was like the Little League World Series here, but it was 100 times bigger,” Volpe said. “It was like if the Little League World Series took place in New York City, because we played in Taipei City. We played the gold medal game against the host team in front of 20,000 people. But we felt like we were playing in Cooperstown or at Diamond Nation; I had no idea how big of a deal it was, and I wasn’t nervous at all.”
Volpe’s U.S. team took home the gold medal after defeating the Taiwanese team in the final game of the tournament, and while the victory was sweet, he learned more from the overall experience than from his own on-field success.
“Being on the American national team in a foreign country is like playing for the Yankees,” he said. “You have to carry yourself a certain way. Everyone is looking toward you when you are wearing ‘USA’ across your chest. Even when you’re off the field, you can’t really be playing hotel tag like normal 12-year-olds do.”
Over the next few years, Volpe played on a few other travel teams. When he was 12, he was recruited to play on a squad filled with all-stars from Manhattan, Brooklyn and Long Island. That team competed in one of many tournaments held each summer in Cooperstown, New York, on fields located a few miles from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Volpe’s team won the whole thing, and he hit 13 home runs that week.
Things only got better for Volpe after that. He began his high school career at the prestigious Delbarton School in Morristown, New Jersey, and he made the USA National 15U team. That team took home a bronze medal.
“We played in Iwaki, Japan, which was about two hours outside of Tokyo,” he said. “It was a lot more secluded than playing in Taipei City when I was 12.”
When he was a sophomore in high school, Volpe was already fielding scholarship offers from several of the top collegiate baseball programs in the country, and in the fall of 2018, he committed to play at powerhouse Vanderbilt.
Before graduating from high school, Volpe played for the national team again, competing on the 18U team in 2018. That team won the gold medal by defeating Panama in front of some 15,000 fans in a rural area of the opponent’s home country.
“Looking back at all three of those experiences, we were always getting the other team’s best games,” Volpe said. “I realize now that it was like playing for the Yankees; everyone wants to beat you. That was good to learn at a young age, just how other people view you and the team you are on. I think experiencing that three times helped prepare me for being in the Yankees organization.”
As Volpe began his senior season at Delbarton, things got really interesting. Having already committed to Vanderbilt, Volpe was outspoken about his intentions, even going as far as discouraging the Yankees from scouting his games. But Jim Hendry, a trusted advisor to general manager Brian Cashman, along with other members of the team’s front office, wondered whether Volpe’s plans to enroll in college were absolutely set in stone. Hendry contemplated what would happen if the team that Volpe had dreamed of playing for his entire life were to draft him. Would he pass up that opportunity?
“My high school coach asked me not to tell Major League teams that I was definitely going to college,” Volpe said. “He wanted there to be a lot of scouts coming to our games because he felt it would benefit our other players. But my family and I didn’t want the Yankees to waste their time, just because of how well they had treated us.
“One way or another, Jim Hendry got involved,” Volpe continued. “He knew that I was a big Yankees fan, and he just asked if I was really going to give up on the idea of playing for the team I loved so much. We had some mutual friends, and he had come out to see me play a few times.”
At some point prior to the 2019 draft, a seed was planted in Volpe’s mind about playing for the Yankees. Over dinner at Roots Steakhouse (coincidentally, the same restaurant in which this interview for Yankees Magazine took place), Hendry spoke with Volpe and his parents about life in professional baseball, while also expressing the team’s interest in the star shortstop.
“When I was planning to go to Vandy, my parents had a few years to digest that; to get a sense of the people I would be around,” Volpe said. “But Jim really helped me and my parents to understand what the reality of playing in the Minor Leagues would be like. He convinced me that it would be similar to playing baseball in college. I would be surrounded by really good guys and supportive coaches. He told me that I would have the same support that I would have if I went to college. He told me that right here.”
Volpe and his parents left the dinner not only feeling enlightened, but also excited about a dream that now seemed more real.
“On the ride home, it felt crazy to even be talking out loud about getting drafted by the Yankees,” he said. “It’s one thing to talk about it when you’re a young kid, but when you are training and working toward reaching your goals in baseball, that dream almost seems unattainable. Growing up in New York City and watching the Yankees, the players seemed larger than life. But after that dinner meeting, I felt like the opportunity to get my foot in the door with the Yankees would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and that made me change my mind about going to Vanderbilt.”
As draft night got closer, Volpe was at peace with whatever outcome lay ahead.
“In my heart, all I knew is that if the Yankees took me, I was going to sign with them,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do if another team selected me, but no matter how the draft went, I felt like I was in a win-win situation. I knew that I was going to go to bed happy that night, and I felt really lucky to be in that position.”
Three days before the draft, Volpe helped Delbarton win a state semifinal game, and a day before the big night, he graduated. Yet he knew that the whirlwind week would be defined by what would take place on an unforgettable Monday evening. Sure enough, before he went to bed on June 3, the Yankees selected him with the 30th pick in the first round of the 2019 MLB Draft.
“After practice that day, I invited the whole team over,” Volpe said. “Being with them and my coaches and my family, it was a really nice night. Luckily, it wasn’t that stressful; it was more of a celebration than anything else. When I found out that the Yankees had drafted me, it was really emotional for my parents. It hit them before it hit me. I don’t really know when it hit me, but the night itself was special. Just having so many people reach out and support me at such a big moment was really nice. It wouldn’t have been the same if I didn’t experience it with my family and friends.”
The good times kept rolling as Volpe’s team won the state championship three days after the draft. “I really tried to stay focused on winning the state championship with my high school buddies that week,” Volpe said. “I wanted to enjoy that experience as much as I could. Sometimes, it’s easier said than done to stay in the moment, but for whatever reason, I was able to do it at that time.”
A week after being selected by the Yankees, Volpe signed his first professional contract during a visit to Yankee Stadium. He had come to the Bronx as a fan countless times, but this visit -- during the 2019 Subway Series -- carried much more importance, as on that rainy night, Volpe was fitted for pinstripes of his own. He toured the Stadium and met manager Aaron Boone and the New York media. He posed for photos with his parents and sister, with his grandparents, with Cashman and vice president of domestic amateur scouting Damon Oppenheimer and with area scouts Matt Hyde and Kelly Rodman, both of whom were instrumental in the organization’s courtship of Volpe. Making the night even more sentimental in retrospect, Rodman passed away less than a year later from cancer.
“The day I signed was an awesome day,” Volpe said. “The game got rained out, but I got to be there with Matt and Kelly. That was the last time I saw Kelly. She was so proud to represent the pinstripes, and seeing how happy she was that day for me and for my family was very special.”
Only a few weeks after competing at the high school level, Volpe began his professional career in Rookie ball with the Pulaski Yankees. Success didn’t come quickly that summer in rural Virginia. He collected three hits in his first four games while making two errors. He then began a nearly monthlong stretch during which he batted just .164.
For Volpe, July 2019 was a unique time. “Growing up, I was accustomed to playing well,” Volpe said about struggling as an 18-year-old pro. “That was the first time I didn’t play well in my life. I probably struggled a lot more than other guys at some point. I called my parents after some of those games I didn’t do well in, but I never felt like I got too down on myself. I never felt like it was the end of the world. I was just so excited to be living that life and to have those experiences.”
Against the Kingsport Mets on July 27, Volpe reached base safely three times with two singles and a double, and on the last day of the month, he smacked an RBI double against the Danville Braves. With a little momentum, Volpe played well in his final seven games -- hitting safely in six of them -- before coming down with season-ending mononucleosis.
Looking back on his first professional season, in which he batted .215 with two home runs and 11 RBI, Volpe shares a perspective that speaks volumes about the confidence he has in himself, and the mature-beyond-his-years character that the Yankees fell in love with prior to drafting him.
“One way to look at it would be to say that it was challenging, but I had so much fun being down there and getting to know the other players who were drafted,” Volpe said. “We were all going through the first taste of the Minor Leagues together. It was tough not playing the way I wanted to, but even in the moment, I was so grateful to struggle and to learn about myself from those struggles. That was an opportunity that not everyone gets, and I was OK with it. I was grateful for it. If I could do it all over again and bat .350, I honestly don’t think I would take that. It was a humbling experience and a really good learning experience.”
Volpe also got an education in what it would take to ultimately become a big leaguer.
“The things that happened made me realize how hard I had to train after that season,” he said. “One of the things we did was work with coaches to prepare for pitchers that I wouldn’t be facing that night or even that season, but instead for three or four years down the road in the Major Leagues. I had that big-picture mindset, and that helped me. Regardless of what happened on a given night in Pulaski, I knew that I had a long way to go. That was comforting.”
Ready to build off everything he had learned in Rookie ball, Volpe arrived in Tampa for the 2020 season with boundless optimism and signs that he was about to break out. Then the COVID-19 pandemic halted everything. Before he could play a single game, Volpe was sent home to New Jersey.
“When we got sent home from Tampa in March, I wanted to be ready in two weeks,” Volpe said. “I never stopped training because I didn’t know what was going to happen. From the time I was a little kid, it was always just me and my dad in the backyard. I never had any hitting gurus, special hitting coaches or anything like that. But for one reason or another, it just ran its course at that time. We were getting frustrated with each other.”
Much of the frustration he felt was brought on by the fact that he could not prove himself on the baseball diamond during that time.
“We were still training for the season that we thought we were going to have, but that was the first time that I started watching a lot of video, breaking down my swing and comparing myself to every big leaguer,” he said. “I realized that there were things that I wasn’t doing. I wasn’t confident enough to feel that, although I wasn’t doing things the same way as so many Major Leaguers do, that I was still good enough. I never felt like I was an outlier. I just felt like I had to work it out with my dad.”
Among the players who Volpe began to study that summer was Mookie Betts, who had been traded to the Dodgers during the offseason. Betts is listed at 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, and Volpe stands 5-foot-11 and carries a similar weight.
“In a traditional weight-room sense, I may be stronger than him, but he hits the baseball 450 feet, and I was hitting it 350 feet,” Volpe said. “I felt like what was holding me back was that I wasn’t using my strength to my maximum potential. That gets frustrating; you feel like you are doing everything you can, but you’re not getting the results you want. I watched video of myself and Mookie Betts, and things didn’t look the same.”
When the 2020 season got canceled for all Minor League teams, naturally, Volpe’s frustrations became even more difficult to deal with, and his “obsession” with his swing created even more angst.
“Not playing in 2020 was exponentially harder for me than hitting .215 in Pulaski,” he said. “The pandemic was obviously hard for everyone, and I had it a lot easier than so many others. But I grew up playing baseball, and I grew up wanting to play for the Yankees. For the first time, I wasn’t able to play baseball, and that came after losing time in 2019 with mono. There were some tough nights; I think that during the pandemic, I lost sight of things for the first time. I felt like I always had that big-picture, end-of-the-road perspective, but when you don’t really know where the end of the tunnel is from a short-term perspective, and you don’t know when you’re going to play again, it’s tough to keep working. It’s tough to not set yourself back and get discouraged.
“I fell into a trap of overanalyzing myself,” he continued. “I would always be that guy who just went out and played. I just went out and competed, rather than analyzing my swing.”
At the beginning of August, Volpe read Swing Kings: The Inside Story of Baseball’s Home Run Revolution by The Wall Street Journal’s Jared Diamond, and it proved to be exactly what he needed. In the book, several Major League hitters -- and the changes they made at the plate -- are depicted. Volpe quickly felt optimistic again, especially when reading about Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez, whose home run production jumped dramatically when he found the right coach to change his bat path.
“I was like ‘Oh my God, this is exactly what I need to do,’” Volpe said. “J.D. Martinez had the same aha! moment that I did. He wasn’t doing something that all of the big leaguers were doing, and he wanted to fix it.”
Eager to work with Robert Van Scoyoc, one of the California-based coaches who helped rebuild Martinez’s swing, Volpe implored his agent to make the connection.
“I told my agent that I wanted to go out there to work with the same guy,” Volpe said. “He made a few calls to get some information, but he basically told me to chill for a little while because we were still in the middle of the pandemic.”
Fortunately for Volpe, his agent found Jason Lefkowitz, an independent hitting coach in Westchester County, New York, who had worked with Van Scoyoc (now the Dodgers hitting coach) and who teaches much of the same philosophy. From early August through February 2021, Volpe worked with the former Major League scout and college coach five days a week from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. When those hitting sessions ended, Volpe crossed back over the Hudson River and worked out at a gym near his home in New Jersey each afternoon.
“When I started working with Jason, I wasn’t afraid of him telling me that I had a lot to work on,” Volpe said. “That was OK with me; it was exactly what I wanted to hear. I feel like I will look back on 2020 a few years from now and be thankful that I had the time to really change my swing. If it was a normal season, I would never have had that time to build a foundation. Jim Hendry told me the night that we were eating here that if you want to be the best player you can be, you have to be your own best coach. That’s what I did.”
As autumn turned to winter in 2020, Volpe felt as if the work was paying off. “When we started working together, I wasn’t doing the right thing, but I didn’t know any better,” Volpe said. “The second step in the process was that I still wasn’t doing the right thing, but I could feel that I wasn’t doing the right thing. The third step was when I started doing the right thing consistently. I was lucky that I had so much time to work at the process slowly.”
Volpe’s 2021 season began in Low-A Tampa, and from Opening Day, everything felt different than it had in 2019. Volpe registered seven hits and seven walks in his first four games, and he continued to play well through the first three months of season. In 54 games with the Tarpons, Volpe put up a .302 average with 12 home runs and 49 RBI, earning a mid-July promotion to Hudson Valley.
“I was confident in everything,” he said. “I felt like a new player, and everything was backing that up: the data, the video, everything. I got really confident in spring training. What I had worked on beginning in August 2020 was working right off the bat. I didn’t have to second guess myself at all.”
With the Renegades, Volpe batted .286 in 55 games, and he paced the team with 15 home runs in just over two months.
“The power I was able to generate had to do with the offseason work, along with just the process of maturing,” Volpe said. “I wasn’t trying to hit home runs; I was just trying to take good swings at good pitches. In the past, I would hit singles and doubles, and in 2021, they just happened to go over the fence more.”
Volpe’s performance in 2021 also catapulted him to the top spot among all Yankees prospects -- and No. 8 league-wide -- on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100.
During the most recent offseason, Volpe’s regimen was much like it had been a year prior. He worked with Lefkowitz five days a week but started earlier in the morning and was able to spend his afternoons working out in New Jersey. With Major League players locked out of team facilities, Volpe and other Minor Leaguers headed to Tampa in mid-January, where they got a full two months of work before spring training began. From a mental standpoint, Volpe was in a different place than he had been a year earlier.
“I’m able to build on the foundation that we built last year,” he said. “I can analyze what I need to work on from last year and attack it more than I did last offseason. I was really confident going into the 2021 season, but I still had some fear of the unknown. I didn’t know how my body was going to hold up because I had never played in more than 100 games before. But it was a really great season from all aspects.”
Volpe’s performance and work ethic impressed Yankees brass enough to garner him some playing time in big-league spring training games, including some action in the team’s Grapefruit League opener against Pittsburgh. Volpe came into that game as a pinch-runner in the fifth inning, and he made a difficult play on a slow-rolling
chopper at shortstop in the seventh. An inning later, Volpe, who would play in five spring training games with the big club, started a 6-4-3 double play.
“I wouldn’t say that I was nervous that day,” Volpe said in March from Tampa. “I would describe it as nervous excitement. In all of the games I was subbed into, I had a ball hit to me on either the first play or the first inning. It felt great to get the nerves out and just make a play and be part of the game.”
When Volpe spoke about his hopes for the 2022 season back in November, the conversation began with a specific goal.
“I want to play in Somerset, next to home,” he said.
When spring training came to an end, he got his wish. Volpe was assigned to the Yankees’ Double-A affiliate, located less than 30 minutes from his home in New Jersey -- and about 90 miles from his grandfather’s home on Long Island.
And, so, with the elder Anthony Volpe -- along with quite a few other family members -- consistently on hand, shortstop Anthony Volpe continues to evolve with the Somerset Patriots. As the case was a few years ago, Volpe is slowly navigating his way through another level of the sport -- as of mid-May, he was batting .176 with four home runs -- but true to form, he had a sound perspective on his season thus far.
“Pitchers have made adjustments toward me, and I’m still adjusting to them,” Volpe said in late April before a game at TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater, New Jersey. “It’s early in the season, so I think everything gets magnified, whether you are playing well or not playing as well as you would like to be. But, for me, it’s just about sticking to my routine and doing what I have to do every day.”
Volpe celebrated his 21st birthday with four RBI during an April 28 rout of the Portland Sea Dogs. When he was asked what he would remember from that night, Volpe didn’t hesitate.
“Getting to share that experience with my family,” he said. “It was a great game, but it was the people I got to share it with that meant the most. That’s what will stay with me.”