Boston to New York? Damon shares wisdom for Verdugo

February 15th, 2024

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.

The sight of a clean-shaven taking batting practice swings with a bright red bat on the back fields of the Yankees’ spring complex proved a bit jarring this week, almost appearing out of place within his hitting group of Oswaldo Cabrera, DJ LeMahieu, Anthony Rizzo and Anthony Volpe.

But that was indeed Verdugo, having shed the trademark facial scruff that seemingly came factory-issued with his Red Sox uniform. As someone who made a similar transition years ago, has a bit of advice for Verdugo: just be yourself.

“I was a fan favorite up in Boston. Coming to New York, it’s tough, but I’m sure he’ll be fine,” Damon said. “Just don’t pay attention to anything. I always like to tell people, ‘I’ve been loved and hated everywhere I’ve been.’ I’m doing OK right now. It took years, but I’m doing OK now.”

In December, the Yankees acquired Verdugo from Boston, parting with three pitchers: Richard Fitts, Nicholas Judice and Greg Weissert.

Verdugo, who turns 28 in May, is coming off a 2023 season in which he batted .264/.324/.421 (100 OPS+) with 37 doubles, five triples, 13 home runs and 54 RBIs in 142 games.

He also had a pair of run-ins with manager Alex Cora concerning lack of hustle and reporting late to a game.

Verdugo said that after initially being “mad” that the Red Sox had traded him to a rival, he soon recognized the opportunity that would await in New York.

“Having [Aaron] Judge, [Giancarlo] Stanton, Gerrit [Cole] and Rizzo reach out, welcoming me to the team, it got me excited,” Verdugo said.

Damon looks back fondly on his move from Boston to New York, having signed with the Yankees as a free agent before the 2006 season. A self-described “caveman” and “idiot” during his years with Boston, Damon seemed an odd fit given the Yanks’ traditional and buttoned-up attitudes, but he quickly found it to be a fine match.

“The hardest part was the difference of your day-to-day schedule,” Damon said. “In Boston, I was so used to bringing my kids to the ballpark and hanging out, and it was a lot more family-oriented. My first two years in New York, not so much.

“But when [manager Joe] Girardi got here, he made it incredible for us, saying that winning or losing a baseball game should not dictate how you treat your kids. So kids were allowed in the locker room, and I was very happy about it.”

The highlight of Damon’s Bronx tenure was the 2009 World Series, during which his daring Game 4 double steal helped propel the Yanks past the Phillies.

“We had to win that year,” Damon said. “If we didn’t win that year, it was my last year there, so making that move from Boston would not have been the right one. So I’m glad we got those big free agents [CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett] to help us.”