Sealed with a kiss (and a steal!), Volpe's debut stuff of dreams

March 30th, 2023

NEW YORK – The roars were jet-engine loud as Anthony Volpe jogged to the first-base line at 12:51 p.m. on Thursday, resplendent in a crisp, white uniform. Underneath those pinstripes, his heart thumped rapidly; not as much as earlier in the week, when his future dangled in the balance of a visit to the manager’s office, but close.

And as Volpe heard his name announced over the Yankee Stadium public-address system and he bumped fists with his new teammates, any evidence of overwhelming nerves seemed to vanish. Volpe’s young face melted into a sweet, easy grin, the one that has become a trademark throughout each stop of his brief professional career. The kid was ready for this.

“It was probably the most fun day of my entire life,” Volpe said after the Yankees’ 5-0 victory over the Giants. “I probably had goosebumps the whole day.”

Volpe’s big league debut included a six-pitch walk, a stolen base and a few nice plays in the field, representing a warm-and-fuzzy sidebar to a contest in which Aaron Judge hit the Majors’ first homer of 2023, Gleyber Torres cracked a two-run shot and Gerrit Cole struck out 11 batters over six scoreless innings.

The 21-year-old – rated as the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect and the No. 5 prospect in all of baseball by MLB Pipeline – visited Yankee Stadium on Wednesday afternoon for a brief workout, as much to get acclimated as to build muscles. He snapped photos of the ballpark’s exterior, texting them to his parents, Michael and Isabelle.

He also chatted via telephone with Brett Gardner, seeking the former Yankee’s blessing to switch from his spring-issued No. 77 to uniform No. 11.

“I really appreciate him taking the time,” Volpe said. “Most of the conversation wasn’t even about No. 11; I mean, his impact on the clubhouse to this day is ginormous. I think he played a huge role in making those players leaders and taking them under their wings, the same way those guys are now taking me under their wings. I couldn’t thank him enough.”

In the training area, Volpe encountered Aaron Judge. They shared a breezy conversation in which Judge suggested that Volpe should think about the "Roll Call." His name would be chanted during the first inning – “VOL-pe! VOL-pe!” – and it would be bad form not to offer some theatrics.

“I was kind of ragging on him a little bit,” Judge said. “I said, ‘I know you’re a big Yankee fan. You’ve got to have something special for the Bleacher Creatures if you’re going to be the shortstop for the New York Yankees.’”

So when the time came in the first inning, as the Giants’ Michael Conforto whacked a Cole pitch foul past third base, Volpe reached for the interlocking "NY" on his chest and kissed it. It was an homage to Judge’s move from last year’s postseason, when he’d claimed to have been watching too much Premier League soccer, but he was really leaving bread crumbs for the fan base.

“I kind of just thought of it, right on the spot,” Volpe said.

Volpe’s first at-bat came in the third inning, accompanied by cheers that prompted Judge to joke, “It almost felt like he was chasing 62.” Volpe saw six pitches from the Giants’ Logan Webb, four out of the strike zone, and his speedy reputation seemed to be in the right-hander’s head; Webb used one of his valuable pickoff throws as Volpe’s foot remained anchored on first base.

Soon he was off and running, displaying the basestealing acumen that produced 50 steals in the Minors last season, darting into second base ahead of the throw from catcher Roberto Pérez.

“That’s who he is,” manager Aaron Boone said. “To do it Opening Day with the team you grew up watching and now you’re the shortstop, he was impressive early.”

Volpe handled his first defensive play in the fourth inning, his throw wide of first base, saved of an error by Anthony Rizzo’s sprawling snag. Volpe was cleaner in the sixth, starting a 6-4-3 double play on a Wilmer Flores grounder. He grounded out in his second turn at bat and sniffed an RBI opportunity in the seventh, coming up to face John Brebbia with runners at the corners and one out.

Volpe swung big but missed, waving at a couple of fastballs for a strikeout. No matter: DJ LeMahieu and Judge brought the runs home with back-to-back singles. About a half-hour later, Volpe was standing outside the Yankees’ clubhouse on the stadium’s basement level, hugging his parents and posing for a photograph that he said would be the enduring memento of his day.

“Ever since I can remember, grade school, what I wanted to be when I grew up – it was a New York Yankee,” Volpe said. “It’s a dream come true.”