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Yankees Magazine: A Different Sort of Happiness

Chien-Ming Wang arrived in the Bronx as a supernova before a freak injury changed everything. An intimate new documentary examines the highs and lows of his brief yet remarkable career
Yankees Magazine

When Chien-Ming Wang debuted with the New York Yankees in 2005, becoming the first Taiwan-born ballplayer to wear the pinstripes, Frank W. Chen was a graduate student studying architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design. A Taiwan native who immigrated to Canada at the age of 13, Chen grew up watching the Chinese Professional Baseball League and started following Major League Baseball upon arriving at the University of Toronto in the late 1990s.

Although Taiwan is a baseball-crazed island nation -- its success in the Little League World Series attests to that -- of more than 23 million people, no Taiwanese player competed in MLB until Chin-Feng Chen joined the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2002. But the outfielder would appear in just 19 games, hitting .091 (2-for-22) over four seasons. Wang, on the other hand, was a sensation from the moment he took the Yankee Stadium mound for the first time on April 30, 2005.

When Chien-Ming Wang debuted with the New York Yankees in 2005, becoming the first Taiwan-born ballplayer to wear the pinstripes, Frank W. Chen was a graduate student studying architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design. A Taiwan native who immigrated to Canada at the age of 13, Chen grew up watching the Chinese Professional Baseball League and started following Major League Baseball upon arriving at the University of Toronto in the late 1990s.

Although Taiwan is a baseball-crazed island nation -- its success in the Little League World Series attests to that -- of more than 23 million people, no Taiwanese player competed in MLB until Chin-Feng Chen joined the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2002. But the outfielder would appear in just 19 games, hitting .091 (2-for-22) over four seasons. Wang, on the other hand, was a sensation from the moment he took the Yankee Stadium mound for the first time on April 30, 2005.

A 25-year-old right-handed starter with a hard sinker, Wang stifled the Toronto Blue Jays that afternoon, yielding two earned runs while inducing 15 ground ball outs over seven innings. Chen soon made the pilgrimage to Yankee Stadium to watch Wang throw a baseball. "A Taiwanese guy starting for the New York Yankees? I was blown away," he says. "I got a little emotional. Even just thinking about it now is emotional. Seeing one of my own standing on the pitcher's mound at Yankee Stadium, elevated, almost dictating the game, was unbelievable."

Chen eventually met his favorite athlete, although under much different circumstances. Following a handful of injury- plagued seasons, Wang was no longer an ace -- no longer a big leaguer, in fact. He was a 33-year-old journeyman pitching for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, the Yankees' Triple-A affiliate. The gaggle of reporters who once shadowed him from Taipei to the Bronx had migrated to another beat. Wang was on his fifth attempt at a comeback, diminished to the point where it wasn't noteworthy for him to be dining at a Ruby Tuesday in Northeast Pennsylvania with a fan and the mutual friend who introduced them on a random night in May 2013.

Wang was reticent during the meal, limiting the conversation to the recent World Baseball Classic. In person, Chen thought, Wang resembled the hurler on the mound: stoic and reserved. It was a fairly innocuous celebrity encounter. But an image from that night stuck with Chen: Wang squeezing his 6-foot-3 frame into a tiny rental car and driving into the Pennsylvania night.

"The distance between the two moments -- Yankee Stadium in 2005 and Scranton in 2013 -- was just … I couldn't believe it," Chen says. "I remember telling a friend afterward that I had just seen a side of a ballplayer that most people hadn't seen. I then said, 'Do you think it could be a film?'"

***

Chien-Ming Wang's story is not a tragedy. He accomplished more than almost anyone could have imagined. Made millions. Earned respect. Carved a spot in Yankees history despite his brief tenure. That he is now the subject of a documentary is testament to both his impact and the unusual circumstances that triggered his decline.

From 2005 to 2008, Wang started 95 games and went 54-20 with a 3.79 ERA; in Yankees history, only Ron Guidry reached 50 victories in fewer starts (82). Wang won 19 games in 2006, finishing second in the American League Cy Young Award voting, and equaled that win total the following season. He was the ace of the staff and started Game 1 of the ALDS in both 2006 and 2007. He was an even larger presence off the field.

Dubbed "The Pride and Glory of Taiwan," Wang achieved the sort of suffocating fame that quickly became a burden. "He was," Chen says, "the most famous person in the country." He was even named to the "Time 100" in 2007 -- the magazine's annual listing of "the 100 men and women whose power, talent or moral example is transforming the world" -- appearing in the section titled "Heroes & Pioneers." But it all came to a halt when Wang suffered a freak accident running the bases in June 2008.

And here he is now, nearly a decade later, at a Starbucks in an affluent suburb of Orlando, Florida, sipping a black coffee. Wang looks the part of a middle-aged athlete. Now 38, he still maintains his impressive tussock of hair and athletic build. He has wispy sideburns, arched eyebrows, and the same blank gaze he flashed when staring down opposing batters. On this steamy April afternoon, he sports an untucked white button-down shirt with gray pinstripes that he wears with the top two buttons undone, fitted black pants and black slip-on sneakers. A silver necklace, matching bracelet and muted, elegant watch complete the look.

Wang is sitting alongside Frank Chen to discuss Late Life: The Chien-Ming Wang Story, a moody, intimate film directed by Chen that premiered last month at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. Following the 2013 meeting in Pennsylvania, Chen contacted Wang's longtime agent, Alan Chang, to discuss the project. Chang, who first met Wang in 1997, gave his blessing, but cautioned the filmmaker: "You know him, right? He's a tough cookie. He doesn't let out a lot of his emotions."

Wang initially declined to participate in the film. He argued that his story -- that of a ballplayer clawing his way back to the big leagues -- wasn't interesting. But he soon relented and allowed Chen and his cameras to follow him to 21 cities and three countries. "My agent told me that I could show the younger generation what I've been through," Wang whispers in Mandarin, his voice barely registering on a nearby digital recorder. "It could serve as an inspiration."

Chang was prescient: The film is an inspiration. With his career at a crossroads, "The Pride and Glory of Taiwan" lived up to his lofty moniker, battling through injuries to -- spoiler alert! -- once again make a big league roster. But with his goals accomplished, Wang now faces a different dilemma: Where does he go from here?

***

Wang grew up in Tainan City, the oldest city in Taiwan. A tall kid, basketball was his first love, but he discovered baseball in fourth grade. The road to the Bronx was a lonely one for Wang. He left home at 14 to attend an elite high school baseball program in Taipei, a four-hour train ride north from Tainan City.

Wang wasn't a top prospect at first. He had trouble transitioning from the soft baseball used in elementary school to regulation balls. But by the time he enrolled at the Taipei Physical Education College in 1998, he was fixated on going pro. "I didn't have a backup plan," Wang says. "In Taiwan, if you were a ballplayer growing up, you would miss out on a lot of school. Baseball was the only thing on my mind."

Wang caught the attention of Major League scouts, with the Yankees and Mariners showing the most interest. Seattle had reportedly offered Wang a $1 million contract, but an impressive performance at a 2000 tournament in Taipei pushed the Yankees to enter into a bidding war. Yankees scout John Cox noticed that Wang's velocity increased as the game progressed, and that his demeanor hardened with runners in scoring position. On May 5, 2000, the Yankees signed Wang for $1.9 million.

He reported to Staten Island, where he posted a 2.48 ERA in 14 starts for the short-season A-ball team before suffering a torn labrum. After missing the 2001 season, Wang dominated upon his return, going 6-1 with a 1.72 ERA in 13 starts. He then climbed the Minor League system, reaching Triple-A Columbus in the summer of 2004.

Wang threw six pitches at the time, with a 96 mph four-seam fastball his primary weapon. But Columbus pitching coach Neil Allen decided Wang needed another pitch. Allen then demonstrated the sinker grip -- he clutched the ball with his index and middle fingers along the seams and instructed Wang to put more pressure on his index finger on the release. After refining the sinker in bullpen sessions, Wang utilized the pitch in real competitions. In six games for Columbus, Wang went 5-1 with a 2.01 ERA.

Wang entered the 2005 season as the fourth-highest-rated pitcher in the Yankees' organization, according to Baseball America, and was promoted when Jaret Wright went on the disabled list in late April. Wang took the subway to Yankee Stadium on his first day in the big leagues. He wasn't recognized on the train or at the Yankee Stadium security desk. The nerves crept in when he saw guys such as Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada patrolling the Yankees' clubhouse. Once he settled in though, all Wang did was help save the Yankees' season.

***

At the time of Wang's debut, the Yankees had a 9-14 record and were 6 1/2 games back in the AL East. Two rookies then provided lightning in a bottle. Wang debuted on April 30. Less than a week later, Robinson Cano was promoted and usurped Tony Womack as the everyday second baseman. With Cano's bat and Wang stabilizing the rotation, the Yankees won 16 out of 18 games during one stretch in May and were en route to their eighth consecutive division title.

The big right-hander had two marked characteristics: his calm demeanor and his sinker, a pitch that would start thigh-high before suddenly dipping seven to eight inches and out of the strike zone. Thrown in the low- to mid-90s and with very little spin, hitters were powerless. "It was filthy hard," says Guidry, the Yankees' pitching coach in 2006 and '07. "It wasn't like those guys who throw those little-bitty sinkers. This thing was heavy. When you hit it, it felt like you were hitting a bowling ball."

Unlike most hurlers today, Wang pitched to contact. In 2006, his best season, hitters put the ball in play in 84.2 percent of their plate appearances against him, highest among starters. He also averaged a major-league low 3.14 strikeouts per nine innings. The numbers, however, didn't tell the whole story. Wang's sinker, when sharp, produced weak contact and flurries of ground ball outs.

Posada estimates that Wang threw the pitch about 80 percent of the time. "When in doubt, I would call the sinker," the former catcher says. "It made my job a lot easier." He also notes that Wang didn't watch much tape of his opponents. He didn't have to adjust to hitters; hitters had to react to him.

All the while, he was a cipher on the mound, masking his emotions regardless of the game situation. "I'm like that outside of the ballpark, too," he says. "I don't show a lot of emotion." He still maintained his sense of humor.

Guidry remembers the time he visited his ace on the mound after Wang put the tying runners on. "I looked at him and he looked at me, and he was waiting for me to say something," Guidry says. "Finally I said, 'You know you are making this game interesting.' He goes, 'How so?' 'Well, a minute ago you had a two-run lead, but now it's in jeopardy because you put two guys on. If you give up a home run, we're losing.' He looks at me and says, 'Oh, I better start pitching then.'"

During this time, Wang became an icon in his home country. According to a 2008 Sports Illustrated article, six Taiwanese TV networks, four newspapers and a wire service sent reporters to the U.S. to cover him. He was also an in-demand pitchman, endorsing McDonald's, Ford, E.Sun Bank, and the computer maker Acer, which claimed that Wang increased its sales by 10 percent. It was good to be in the Chien-Ming Wang business. Taiwan's major newspapers reportedly charged higher advertising rates for the day of and day after his starts. The country's largest daily claimed that it sold as many as 300,000 extra newspapers on the day after his starts.

An entire nation was fixated on No. 40 in pinstripes. And although he maintained his poise, he felt suffocated at times. "Every move I made both on and off the mound was being watched and scrutinized, and I knew that," Wang says. "It made me more cautious. I did feel the burden."

Yet it didn't affect his performance. After back-to-back 19-win seasons, Wang rebounded from a disappointing performance in the 2007 ALDS to win six of his first seven starts in 2008. He kept winning games, continued throwing that medicine ball sinker, until one wrong step changed everything.

***

Disregard the debate about the designated hitter rule -- Chien-Ming Wang should have never been running the bases. He should not have even been on second base when Jeter lined a single to right in the sixth inning of the Yankees' June 15, 2008, game against the Houston Astros.

With runners on first and second and one out, Wang laid down a bunt that Astros starter Roy Oswalt fielded. He forced a runner at third, putting Wang at first with two outs. Johnny Damon then bounced a ball to shortstop, which should have ended the threat, but a Miguel Tejada error prolonged the inning. Jeter then singled to right. Wang took off from second but felt pain in his foot rounding third, and although he eventually scored, he was helped to the dugout. The diagnosis was a sprained Lisfranc ligament and a torn peroneal longus muscle in his right foot. Initial reports suggested Wang could return that season, but they would turn out to be wrong.

Eight months of rehab didn't heal the injury. Wang insists he wasn't healthy in Spring Training that next season, citing discomfort he felt when pushing off the rubber; to this day, he says, the foot still tingles. Without his legs, his velocity declined, and when he tried throwing harder, he overcompensated with his upper body. His mechanics changed. His performance suffered.

"He wasn't as sharp in 2009," Posada remembers. "The ball wasn't moving as much. It was just 2 or 3 mph slower. The balls were up in the zone. He didn't have that crisp sinker -- it was more like a lazy runner."

Wang's last pitch of his annus horribilis was an 86 mph sinker that prompted Posada to call for trainer Gene Monahan. Wang could no longer hide his emotions and appeared on the verge of tears as he exited the game. He had suffered a torn shoulder capsule. And while he was in the dugout when the Yankees won the World Series later that year, it was a bittersweet moment for him. Having gone 1-6 with a 9.64 ERA -- the highest in team history for a pitcher with at least 40 innings -- Wang felt he hadn't earned his 2009 World Series ring, which he has never worn.

Wang signed with the Washington Nationals in the offseason, beginning a six-year odyssey through eight organizations and countless Minor League towns. Syracuse. Harrisburg. Potomac. Hagerstown. "I would wake up and not know where I am," Wang says in Late Life. Buffalo. Charlotte. He struggled with consistency and lost velocity from outing to outing. Still it was on to Tacoma, Gwinnett County, Southern Maryland.

During that stretch, he signed with the New York Yankees following his impressive performance at the 2013 World Baseball Classic. And although he never made it back to Yankee Stadium despite a 2.33 ERA in nine Triple-A starts, he did meet an aspiring filmmaker who eventually became a friend and collaborator.

Video: KC@NYY: Wang returns to Yankee Stadium as a Royal

***

After graduating from RISD in 2008, Chen worked at a corporate architecture firm in New York City. It was creative work, but he fell in love with the filmmaking process while designing sets for comedy films in 2011. He then directed a short indie rock documentary, which was his only time behind the camera until Late Life: The Chien-Ming Wang Story.

Chen wasn't worried about his lack of experience. He was convinced that documentaries hinged on the connection between the filmmaker and the subject. Once Wang allowed Chen into his life, the young director focused on building a relationship with the fallen star. It was an itinerant life bouncing between Minor League towns with Wang, but a friendship grew through countless postgame dinners. The result is evident in the film.

Wang granted Chen almost unfettered access, allowing cameras to film moments both mundane (Wang stretching his shoulder in a motel room while watching the local news) and life-altering. When the Atlanta Braves cut Wang from their Triple-A team in June 2015, "I tried to keep a distance," Chen says. "But I told him it was an important part of the process." Chen then followed Wang from Gwinnett County, Georgia, to the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of the independent Atlantic League. He was still in the same time zone as Yankee Stadium, but about as far away as a baseball player can get on a metaphysical level.

And there lies the main takeaway of the film: Wang's resolve to return to the Majors. Other options were present during this time, including a seven-figure offer to pitch in Japan, but Wang had a singular goal. "He's very stubborn," says his agent, Alan Chang. "He's got a quiet stubbornness and determination, and he doesn't vocalize it."

The climax of the film is Wang's visit to the Florida outpost of Ron Wolforth's Pitching Ranch in a last-ditch effort to restore his velocity. Wang is skeptical of Wolforth's unconventional training methods, but he sticks to the plan. At this point, Late Life morphs from a meditative character study into a pulsating sports film complete with a Rocky-like training montage of Wang doing Russian twists, lat pulldowns, plyo pushups and sprints.

The hard work pays off. Wang eventually cracks 90 mph on the radar gun and signs with the Kansas City Royals in January 2016. When he makes the team out of Spring Training with his sinker hitting the mid-90s, his story is complete. Wang would go 6-0 with a 4.22 ERA in 38 relief appearances for the defending World Series champs that season, but the stats are irrelevant. Wang, once again, was a big leaguer.

The film ends on an ambiguous note. The Royals released Wang in September after a bout of biceps tendinitis, and although he hasn't signed with another organization, Wang refuses to announce his retirement. "It's still a slow process," Wang says, taking a sip from his coffee. "I understand that being this age and being a reliever, it's tough to make a comeback. But it's tougher to make the transition from player to having the mindset of a retired pitcher. I am still going through that process and want to give myself more time to see if I can still respond to workouts."

Does he still throw? "Once in a while," he says, switching to English. "A lot of workouts, though."

He doesn't watch much baseball these days. If he did, he says, he wouldn't be able to resist the temptation of another comeback. He misses his teammates the most, the camaraderie that blossoms when 25 players work together. Like most retired -- ahem, inactive -- athletes, Wang has struggled to fill the void that baseball once occupied. He spent part of the winter in Taiwan speaking to young pitchers and was then a guest instructor at Spring Training for the Yankees. He is slowly beginning to grasp that his future lies in coaching, not on the mound. "When the time comes," says Chang, his agent, "I think his heart will be at peace."

It would be a stretch to say that Wang emerged from the documentary a changed man. He's still the same stubborn guy, a jock at heart despite his calm disposition. But he says that participating in the film made him a better communicator. He's also now obsessed with photography, a direct result of Chen hounding him with his camera for nearly three years.

Most of Wang's days are now spent with his wife and two young sons. "It's a different type of happiness," he says, cracking a rare smile. "Before, my kids and family would have to visit me during the season. Now that I'm a full-time dad, I'm able to do more activities with them and can have a different sort of happiness."

And just as Wang is adjusting to his new role, his kids are learning more and more about dad. Eight-year-old Justin, his oldest son, always questioned his family's double life, why their stable, suburban existence in Orlando turned into a media frenzy in Taiwan. He recently learned the truth. "Now that he's grown older, he understands that I was a baseball player," Wang says. "And that I was pretty popular in Taiwan."

Thomas Golianopoulos is the associate editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the June 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at yankees.com/publications.

New York Yankees, Chien-Ming Wang

Yankees Magazine: Passing the Torch

For some Yankees veterans, leaving a legacy off the field is just as important as on-field success -- and the younger guys are taking notice
Yankees Magazine

To be an athlete is to live in a bubble, one filled with stats, practice and training. It's about games most every night, as well as chartered flights, hotel rooms and meal allowances. There are hardships, sure -- changing time zones, red-eye flights, time away from family. There are questions that need to be answered, such as how will the pitcher approach the opposing slugger? Will the star break out of his slump? Who will win and who will lose?

It's definitely not easy, and very few people are capable of handling that particular job. But that's life inside one of the world's most exclusive vacuums.

To be an athlete is to live in a bubble, one filled with stats, practice and training. It's about games most every night, as well as chartered flights, hotel rooms and meal allowances. There are hardships, sure -- changing time zones, red-eye flights, time away from family. There are questions that need to be answered, such as how will the pitcher approach the opposing slugger? Will the star break out of his slump? Who will win and who will lose?

It's definitely not easy, and very few people are capable of handling that particular job. But that's life inside one of the world's most exclusive vacuums.

Outside that bubble, though, is the real world. And in the real world, bigger questions loom. How will impoverished kids find a lifeboat? Who will help in the face of a natural disaster? How can we bring aid to those in need?

Those questions find their way into clubhouses more often than you might think. For many Yankees players, there is a need to reach out and do something more. Professional athletes can't be expected to have all the answers to such vexing questions, but because of the success they have inside the bubble, they can do things to help outside of it. Good play can lead to money and notoriety. More than that, though, it allows athletes the chance to do good. They can affect the world in even more significant ways than just having an impressive line on a box score. And many of the guys in the Yankees' orbit have taken that opportunity and done incredible things with it - setting an example that younger players are eager to follow.

***

For CC Sabathia, it was obvious from the beginning that there was more to life than baseball. Growing up in Vallejo, California, Sabathia spent much of his youth at the Boys & Girls Club in his hometown. It was a haven for him while his mother worked late shifts, and it was where he met his favorite player, Oakland A's pitcher Dave Stewart.

Sabathia always wanted to make it to the big leagues, but the meeting with Stewart taught him about the importance of prioritizing -- and opened his eyes to a world of possibilities.

"I think I've always wanted to give back," Sabathia says. "I've always had that drive. Meeting Dave Stewart, and the impact that he had on me, was the reason I wanted to start giving back and try to do that for kids."

In 2008, Sabathia and his wife, Amber, founded the PitCCh In Foundation to give back to children in need. The Sabathias wanted to provide kids with school supplies, opportunities, immaculate ball fields and more.

"You want kids to have stuff that you didn't have," the southpaw says. "I was in the same situation where it was tough getting school supplies and getting prepared for school. You want to get kids off on the right foot because I remember how good it felt when you got your backpack and your binders and things like that, and you were just ready for school. We wanted to have kids feel good about going to class."

Through PitCCh In, the Sabathias have renovated Little League fields in New York and California, handed out more than 36,000 backpacks stuffed with school supplies and helped impact the lives of thousands of kids across the country, many of whom reunite with the couple every year at the annual holiday party the Sabathias host at the Madison Square Boys & Girls Club in the Bronx.

"It's great to see the field renovations and see the kids play on the field and make sure we're creating a safe place for kids," says Amber Sabathia, who earned a certificate in fundraising and philanthropy from NYU and serves as PitCCh In's vice president. "But I think what moves me and pushes me to go harder is that interaction with the kids -- watching them grow, seeing them grow into great young adults and knowing that I had something to do with that."

For the Sabathias, the desire to give back stems from life experiences that have helped shape who they are today. And just like Stewart did for him, Sabathia makes sure that he sets an example that younger folks would be wise to follow.

Sabathia was in his eighth year as a big leaguer when he started his foundation. Luis Severino is only in his fourth, but he has been working to create a foundation of his own for nearly two years. Severino grew up in the Dominican Republic, where, according to statistics from the World Bank, 30 percent of the population lived in poverty in 2016. When the young pitcher was just a child, he and his family scraped by. Now that he has found success in baseball, Severino wants to do everything he can to help the kids in his homeland succeed, too.

"My wife and I had the idea of giving back to the community, so we started working on a foundation for education in the Dominican because I think that's an important part of becoming somebody," Severino says. "I've seen a lot of Dominican players and a lot of players who come here but don't know anything about the culture, don't know how to write, don't speak English, and that's important to me."

The pitcher and his wife, Rosmaly, have followed the Sabathias' lead, stockpiling backpacks, school supplies and even toys and delivering them to kids of all ages in the Dominican Republic. The couple hopes to move the operation to the New York area next, helping to impact the community they live in half of the year.

Severino says he draws a lot of inspiration from Sabathia, but also from players such as Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran, who have made it a priority to bring opportunities to kids who grew up struggling with the same challenges they had when they entered the professional world.

"For me it was Pedro Martinez," Severino says of his mentor, who has also helped the pitcher hone his mechanics on the mound. "You see him giving back to the community and you think, 'That's great.' I've been through a lot of stuff, you know? I've been to school with only one book. I know how hard it is to be in that situation, and that's why I want to help everybody."

***

Video: Sabathia on his 'PitCCh In' Foundation bowling event

Finding where and how you can have the most impact is one of the biggest challenges players face. With so much need in the world, how do you prioritize?

"It's figuring out what areas are really important to you," says Candy Crary, who has been doing nonprofit work for about 15 years and currently serves as the program director of the PitCCh In Foundation. "I think it's easy to say, 'Oh, I want to do a clinic or do something with youth.' But sometimes that's not really something a player might be passionate about. So I think it's understanding that there are so many areas to support and to give back, whether it's hunger issues, youth development, homelessness, advocacy, animal welfare -- the list is endless."

Unfortunately, those calls to action often stem from tragedy, such as in 2011, when a tornado devastated Alabama. Watching the news and seeing how homes throughout the state were leveled, Tuscaloosa native David Robertson knew that he had to do something to help out his hometown.

Robertson and his wife, Erin, formed High Socks For Hope with the idea of simply giving back in small ways -- helping charities on the ground here and there. From when the tornado hit in late April through June of that year, the foundation donated money and basic necessities to Alabama families in need. By July, the Robertsons were partially or completely refurnishing homes. And over the next few years, they partnered with Habitat for Humanity to completely rebuild residences.

For those placed back into their homes, the impact the Robertsons have is immediate and personal. But the impact that the pitcher has because he is a professional athlete means that his reach goes even further than just those individual lives.

"I'm a regular person, and I know a good amount of people in Tuscaloosa, but my platform is maybe a few thousand people," says Ellen Potts, the executive director of Habitat for Humanity Tuscaloosa. "When you have somebody with a large platform who can reach hundreds of thousands of people saying, 'Join me in helping these people who have been devastated,' it's a whole other ballgame. People want to be a part of something larger than themselves, and when you have somebody famous who has influence, who is pushing that or inviting people to participate, it speaks to people and resonates more.

"[The Robertsons] have raised the standard of generosity to an amazing degree. We live in a generous community and have wonderful people who live here, but it makes everybody want to step up their game, especially the people who have the capacity to give in a larger way. I hate to say it, but they want to keep up with the Robertsons, and we just love that. It makes people think about generosity on a larger scale and the difference that one person can have."

Today, High Socks For Hope is still helping families in Alabama, but the foundation has also shifted its focus to helping veterans and providing aid to other victims of both personal and natural disasters, such as Hurricanes Harvey and Maria last year.

"I think it's amazing that athletes are using the position that they have because with that position comes the money to be able to do stuff like this and to buy things that people need," says Rachel Saines-Day, whose family received aid from High Socks For Hope when their home in Galveston County, Texas, was damaged by Hurricane Harvey. "Having nothing in the blink of an eye, it's really nice to have people that have the ability and the means to kind of pour that into other people. When athletes turn it around and pour their money into foundations that then pour into the community, people are really helped and helped in a way that they really need."

For Robertson, it is a labor of love -- one that was unexpected but is now forever a part of his family's life.

"When we first got started, we met a family in Tuscaloosa that had lost everything and had fallen on really hard times," he says. "Moving them back in, and seeing tears coming down their eyes when they met us and were thanking us for getting these funds together and getting them a house to live in, it just changed my whole view and it made us work even harder.

"It just brings joy to me, and I am going to continue to do it as long as I can and as long as we have the funds to keep High Socks For Hope going. Even though we're super small and it's just me, my wife, our managing director and the handful of volunteers we get, it's something we're going to continue to do and something we take pride in."

Helping those in need is the main goal for Brett Gardner, too, who tries to remain private about the work he and his wife, Jessica, do for the community where they make their home in South Carolina, as well as in New York.

Gardner's work off the field is extensive, and includes a partnership with New Balance for youth outreach; auctioning off his game-worn gear for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month; working with veterans in Charleston, South Carolina; and being a spokesperson for the Taylor Hooton Foundation, which advocates against the use of performance-enhancing drugs. In recognition of those efforts, Gardner was the Yankees' nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award in 2016 and 2017. The award honors a player from each Major League club who best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field. And while he prefers to deflect attention away from himself, Gardner nevertheless is adamant about how vital it is to help others.

"I think it's important to use the platform that we've been given to try and give back," the outfielder says. "I think that being with the Yankees for so long, there's a lot of things that you can do to use the platform we've been given, and the image that we have, to try and give back to help people in need that may be less fortunate than us. It's always something that I enjoy doing, putting a smile on somebody's face."

***

In 2007, the University of Colorado released a study stating that the average length of a Major League playing career was 5.6 years. Of course, that means there are many who have played longer than that, and some who ended their careers before that 5.6-year mile marker, but the point remains; professional baseball is a temporary gig.

And so, a playing career in baseball, or any sport really, should only be a drop in the bucket of a person's life. It's a brief window of time in which a person's exploits on the field are thoroughly dissected. Every pitch, every throw, every win, every loss is analyzed as if it's the most important thing that's ever happened - until the next day when it happens again.

Severino is still young, and the burgeoning ace can feel pretty comfortable about his future. Robertson has eclipsed the decade mark in the big-league bubble, and he remains a stalwart in the Yankees' bullpen. Gardner is still setting the table at the top of the Yankees' lineup.

But Sabathia is in his 18th big-league season. The end is near for him, and that's OK, because he has seen and done so much in his career. So what happens when he stops being a baseball player and starts being just a husband and father? That's what he and Amber have discussed, and it's why their foundation is so important to them.

"My biggest fear is when CC retires, the foundation retires," Amber Sabathia says.

To fight against that, the couple has taken their foundation in a new direction - they're bringing things full circle. This year, the PitCCh In Foundation is starting an ambassador program that will partner with many of the names Yankees fans are familiar with - guys who want to give back, but, unlike Severino, may not be ready to start their own foundations.

In May, Dellin Betances worked with PitCCh In to put on a free baseball clinic for kids at his old high school in Brooklyn. It was then announced that Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks would be coming on board as the faces of a new backpack program in New York. And on June 28, Giancarlo Stanton will be one of many athletes and famous faces involved in the Sabathias' celebrity softball game at Yankee Stadium, a major PitCCh In Foundation fundraiser. Passing the torch happens naturally in baseball. And the Sabathias are trying to make sure it can be just as natural in philanthropy.

"When I first came to CC last year with this idea, he was more excited than I was," Amber says. "He was like, 'Amber, this is amazing because not only can I sit with Aaron Hicks and Didi [at dinner] and talk to them about on-the-field stuff, I'm now also able to show them what to do off the field.'

"When we were deciding who should be the face of our backpack program in the Bronx, CC said, 'Aaron Hicks. It's time for him to do something in the community.' It gives me chills because CC as a leader, as a veteran, it's not only on the field and in the clubhouse. He's saying, 'Guys, let me show you what you can do outside. Let me help you do this.'"

"Being able to join in on what he's doing with kids is going to be awesome," Hicks says. "CC is a great person, and he has definitely helped me a lot since I've been here, and the fact that he does things off the field shows what a great person he is. It's going to be awesome for me and also for the kids."

How long Sabathia's proteges will play baseball is anyone's guess. Their future could include a Hall of Fame induction or it could be 5.6 years of just putting on a uniform. It'll be fun -- it already has been. Life as a ballplayer is great. But life as a human is greater, and more important. No one will ever be able to take away Sabathia's championship ring, or Robertson's or Gardner's. The glory of those victories will always be sweet. But so much of the pursuit of baseball success is fleeting.

So when the shine of a playing career wears off, when the reporters are no longer peppering you with questions every day about the minutiae of life in the bubble, what remains is the world outside and your contributions to it. Athletes, celebrities, and every other person walking on this planet have the chance to leave an impact. When the choice is made to give back, responsibilities follow - but so does love. And maybe even a legacy that will endure.

"We all do different things," Sabathia says, "but big or small, I think it all makes a difference."

Hilary Giorgi is the senior editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the June 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at yankees.com/publications.

New York Yankees

Yankees Magazine: Memories and Dreams

In an exclusive in-depth Q&A, Gleyber Torres reflects on his journey from Caracas to the Bronx
Yankees Magazine

Search the web for Gleyber Torres, and you will find no shortage of glowing articles about the Yankees' phenom. Since signing with the Cubs at age 16, the Venezuela native has been the darling of baseball writers who have projected big things for the multi-tooled infielder. His rise has been so steady that the media has struggled at times to keep up; Baseball America's Minor League preview issue featuring Torres on the cover was still on newsstands when the Yankees called him up to the Bigs in April.

But while the press mainly focused on Torres' supernatural abilities on the field, there has been scant coverage of the young man himself. Even the personal section of his bio in the Yankees media guide comprises fewer than 10 words: Full name is Gleyber David Torres Castro ("GLAY-burr").

Search the web for Gleyber Torres, and you will find no shortage of glowing articles about the Yankees' phenom. Since signing with the Cubs at age 16, the Venezuela native has been the darling of baseball writers who have projected big things for the multi-tooled infielder. His rise has been so steady that the media has struggled at times to keep up; Baseball America's Minor League preview issue featuring Torres on the cover was still on newsstands when the Yankees called him up to the Bigs in April.

But while the press mainly focused on Torres' supernatural abilities on the field, there has been scant coverage of the young man himself. Even the personal section of his bio in the Yankees media guide comprises fewer than 10 words: Full name is Gleyber David Torres Castro ("GLAY-burr").

Enter Yankees Magazine.

Yankees fans like to get to know the players in pinstripes, especially ones as exciting as Torres. So on a Tuesday afternoon following a well-deserved off-day in May -- Torres ended the game on Sunday with a three-run homer -- we sat down with the 21-year-old second baseman in the Yankees' dugout for an in-depth conversation about his family, his childhood, his journey to the Majors and his hopes for the future. Speaking for nearly a half-hour in his native Spanish -- the interview was later translated by Yankees manager of multicultural affairs Lina Cruz -- Torres provided an intimate look into how he became the player and, more importantly, the person he is today.

Where did your love of baseball first begin?

Well, I started playing at four years old when my parents took me to a baseball stadium. From there I started little by little. First I started playing outfield, then when I was about 10 years old I got switched to the shortstop position, and since then I just started playing baseball as a shortstop. I was always in Caracas; I practiced in Caracas. When I was 14 years old, I moved to Maracay to an academy that could help me see if I could play professionally. There they helped me, and I was able to sign as a professional.

Tell us about your background -- do you come from a large family?

My father's name is Eusebio Torres, and my mother's name is Ibelise Castro. They are from the city; they always lived in Caracas, and they met in Caracas. We are not a very big family. I don't know the exact number, but I have a lot of uncles; I have like five cousins; I have a nephew, who is like my son; and myself. We really are not a big family, but we are very close.

Looking back on your childhood, was it a happy time, or did you face hardships along the way?

I would say that my childhood was a very happy one. My family and I weren't millionaires, but we were always at a level that I had everything I needed. My house was very humble, but it was nice. I believe that I never missed anything. I always enjoyed everything; I shared time with my friends and family. My parents worked very hard to give me everything that I needed, and I always had everything I needed.

You are often smiling, and everyone we have spoken to who has met you has come away saying what a nice person you are. How much credit do your parents deserve for the man you have become?

I believe that my parents taught me everything since I was little. They always gave me all the support that I needed. They taught me how to treat a person, whether the person is older or younger. Everything that they taught me helped me very much. They are still helping me, giving me advice, teaching me how life is. The truth is that I'm very thankful to them. Everything that I am now and what I will be, I'm really grateful to them for. They helped me in everything, and I believe that everything I have done I owe to them.

Right now, much of what we see in the news about Venezuela focuses on the turmoil there. Tell us about the Venezuela we don't hear about as much.

The truth is that Venezuela has beautiful landscapes; the nature is incredible, the beaches. I believe that it is one of the prettiest places. And really, each city has its own typical dishes, its typical music; there is always something different in each city. The people are really nice. I'm from the city, I was raised in the city, and I have visited various places in Venezuela, and I was delighted. I believe that Venezuela has a lot of pretty things that people don't know about simply because people don't mention them, but the truth is that my country is very beautiful in everything that it has.

How often do you go back?

I always try to go in December to spend the holidays with my family, but the majority of the time I stay here in the United States training and doing a lot of things.

Are you able to stay in touch with your family regularly during the season?

Yes, of course. I'm always in communication with them. Every day I'm talking with my family, with my friends; we have good communication, and they are all aware of how I'm doing here.

How has the transition to life in New York City been for you?

Well, the first day was a little difficult because I didn't know the streets, the traffic. And the truth is that there are a lot of people in New York. But now I am getting accustomed every day, trying to enjoy all the lovely things this city has and exploring it little by little.

In April, you celebrated your first wedding anniversary. When did you meet your wife, and when did you know that she was the one?

I met Elizabeth about four years ago. We met in Caracas, and since I was in the Minor Leagues she has been with me, supporting me. We shared a lot, and there came a time that we felt it was necessary and had a desire to get married, and it was then when I started that love story with her. I briefly consulted with her, and I saw the opportunity [to propose] because she wanted to. I went to her house and in front of her parents I proposed to her.

How important has she been to your success?

She has been there with me through the worst moments of my career. Whenever I was negative, she was positive. She helped me in everything that I needed. She was always supporting me and still continues to do so in everything. She always gives me advice. In the bad moments that I have, she believes strongly in always being positive, and being with her has helped me a lot in my career.

Our research shows that you are the first player in Major League history named Gleyber. Is there a story as to how you got your name?

A lot of people have asked me the same question, and I have asked my parents, "Where did that name come from? Is it a combination or something that you invented?" My father was the one who gave me that name, and he just says that he liked it. He heard it and gave it to me. So, there is nothing special or any specific reason as to why he gave me that name.

Was baseball the only sport you played growing up?

I also played basketball in high school. Just a little, though, because my father wanted to keep me healthy and without any injuries [in order] to play baseball. I have a lot of memories of when I used to play baseball in little leagues; those were some of the best years that I played. I always had a lot of fun with my teammates, and those moments were my first steps as a baseball player.

In what part of Caracas did you grow up, and how was the competition level there?

Gamboa is where I grew up; San Bernardino, Gamboa. I believe that from where I lived, I am the only one that signed as a professional. A lot of my teammates now work, go to school, or are in other countries. But from where I lived, I am the only one who signed as a professional.

Outside of full nine-on-nine baseball games, what other games did you play to help develop your skills?

I still remember a few games. We played a traditional game in Venezuela that's called "chapitas." We played with the cap of a bottled beverage, and one person would pitch and the other would bat with a wooden stick. Not a bat; it was a finer stick, a broomstick to be exact. We would also play a game called "pared quemada" or "quemado" (burnt wall or burnt), which consisted of throwing a cap to the floor. Each one of us would write our name on the floor, and if the cap landed on your name you had to grab a ball and try to hit one of your friends with it.

What did you enjoy doing besides baseball? Were you an outdoorsy type?

I would spend a lot of time with my friends. We would play in the area where I lived, we would ride bicycles or we would go to the amusement parks. I was never a nature lover. But in my free time, I would always spend time with my friends. We didn't play video games back then because it wasn't the trend, but we just had fun playing like kids.

Was there someone -- whether it was your dad or a coach -- who was most instrumental in your development as a young player?

Well, my dad was always with me. When I was sleeping in bed, my dad would wake me up and take me to a batting cage to hit, or he would just take ground balls with me, play catch with me. He really helped me a lot when I was little; he always had that motivation to help me. Not because he had the mentality that I was going to play professionally or anything, but just because he wanted to have fun with me. My mom would also go with us. My parents just helped me in everything to be who I am right now.

Did you mind putting in work to improve, or did you just want to play games and have fun?

When I was little, you know, I was just a kid who only played for fun. But little by little when I was growing up, my parents told me that they saw something special in me. They could see that I was not simply just going to play as a kid, but that I could do something bigger. But my goal was always to have fun and enjoy every moment with my teammates and continue to grow. Little by little, things started changing. Academies wanted me to be with them and help me become a professional. My parents and I made the decision to give myself an opportunity to see if I had something special. And that's how I was able to go to an academy, which helped me get signed.

At what point did the dream of becoming a Big Leaguer first enter your mind?

I was like every other kid watching baseball games on TV -- I wanted to be like one of those players in the Big Leagues. However, when I was little I didn't have the mentality of playing in the Big Leagues; I was playing just for fun. It was later when I had the opportunity to sign that I saw I had the chance to play professionally and continue working little by little to make my dream [of playing in the Big Leagues] come true.

Video: HOU@NYY: Torres comes through with walk-off single

Did you have a favorite Major Leaguer growing up?

The truth is that I watched Omar Vizquel when I started playing shortstop, and my dad would talk to me a lot about Vizquel. And for everything that he did, all the Gold Gloves, he is really an idol in Venezuela, and I always followed him.

When you look around the Majors today and see so many fellow Venezuelans doing well, does it inspire you to work even harder?

Yes, I believe so. I am proud to see this many Venezuelans in the Major Leagues doing such outstanding work. Since I began playing in the Minors, I got even more inspired to work hard and be like them. Also, I want to highly represent the name of my country. It always helped me and inspired me to continue working and give it my best.

In your first 15 games after being called up on April 22, the Yankees won 14. Is this the most fun you've ever had playing baseball?

Well, the truth is that everybody likes to win -- that's obvious. Now that the team gave me the opportunity to be here, and I see the tremendous job that everyone has done -- the bullpen, the starting pitchers, all of the hitters have been united, and in my case, well, being able to contribute a bit -- I believe that it has been the most fun, these 15 days that I have been here.

What do you miss the least about being a Minor Leaguer? The bus rides? The food? The hotels?

The trips, that's one of the main things. They were 12 to 14 hours, and here that is a little easier. That's one of the things I don't miss from the Minor Leagues.

During batting practice, you often hit in Group 2 with Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez. What have you learned from being around those sluggers?

First of all, I am grateful for the opportunity that the team has given me to share with them. Obviously they are stars in the sport, and I try to learn a little bit from each one of them. Each one has their different things, their different routines. So talking to them, I ask them interesting things for me to also put in my game. That way we can help each other and help the team. And more than anything, I'm just gaining experience and trying to do things the right way.

You and shortstop Didi Gregorius have quickly formed a dynamic double-play combination. How would you describe Didi's impact on you as a ballplayer?

Since I met Didi, he always offered me that support, that trust. More than just a teammate, he always offered me his friendship. I have always been grateful to him for that, and I still am. And really, things that I needed in the infield that I am still learning, he has given me the support and has helped me very much. I really trust him a lot, on and off of the field. I really appreciate his help and friendship.

How has playing alongside Miguel Andujar, another young infielder looking to make his mark in the Big Leagues, benefited your development?

It has been fun and exciting to continue playing with "Migui." I have known him for about three or four years, and we have developed a great friendship. I feel really good with him; we really have a good friendship going on. I am very happy for both of us. We are here together and helping the team, which is the most amazing part.

How would you describe your comfort level so far in the Majors, and what has been the biggest challenge?

I believe that playing every day at this level helps a lot. I feel more comfortable every day; I learn every day about the game, about the sport. Being here and being able to help my team makes me really happy about being at this level. I believe that the hardest part is that all the pitchers at this level are the best in the world. The adjustments that they make -- every pitch, their mastery of every pitch -- for me, those are some of the hardest things in this sport.

What are your goals, not just for this season but beyond? What type of career do you hope to have?

My goal at the end of this year is to help the team win No. 28. That's what we are all working for right now; we want to win the World Series. I think it is too early to say what my goal is for the end of my career. What I want is to work hard every day, to help the team every time that I have the opportunity to be here, and later on I will be able to answer that question.

Nathan Maciborski is the executive editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the June 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at yankees.com/publications.

New York Yankees, Gleyber Torres

Yankees Magazine: Heat Check

Speed is king in today's game, and Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman still wears the crown
Yankees Magazine

Two outs, bottom of the ninth, Yankees leading, 2-1. Any protestations about baseball's pace get thrown out the window in these moments; what's unfolding is pure cuticle-destroying drama. The Angels have a man on first, and one of the best hitters in the game is on deck. This is it.

Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees' closer, offers a look toward Chris Young leading off first, then sets and delivers an 84 mph backdoor slider to Ian Kinsler. The pitch is a bit off the plate, but Chapman gets a generous strike call. Then he brings the heat. After a relatively pedestrian 99 mph fastball that gets fouled off, he fires four straight 101 mph missiles. Chapman, sweating but fully composed, throws each like it's nothing, and although the Yankees are in their road grays at Angel Stadium, there are plenty of pinstripe-clad fans on their feet cheering each delivery. Speed thrills.

Two outs, bottom of the ninth, Yankees leading, 2-1. Any protestations about baseball's pace get thrown out the window in these moments; what's unfolding is pure cuticle-destroying drama. The Angels have a man on first, and one of the best hitters in the game is on deck. This is it.

Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees' closer, offers a look toward Chris Young leading off first, then sets and delivers an 84 mph backdoor slider to Ian Kinsler. The pitch is a bit off the plate, but Chapman gets a generous strike call. Then he brings the heat. After a relatively pedestrian 99 mph fastball that gets fouled off, he fires four straight 101 mph missiles. Chapman, sweating but fully composed, throws each like it's nothing, and although the Yankees are in their road grays at Angel Stadium, there are plenty of pinstripe-clad fans on their feet cheering each delivery. Speed thrills.

But we'll get back to that at-bat in a bit. Back home at Yankee Stadium -- like in every ballpark -- some of the grandest fireworks explode hundreds of feet from the field, in the top-right corner of the center-field video board. It's a simple piece of electrical engineering -- a third digit on the radar gun. These days, that 100 mph heat has grown more common than ever, but it's no less exciting.

"Perhaps the most fascinating element in sports is speed," Dave Anderson wrote in The New York Times 40 years ago this month. And the players today are still amazed by the power arms. "You see that third digit," Tyler Austin says, "it's a whole different level there. It's pretty intimidating." But the first baseman stops himself. Is he willing to let pitchers know that their best fastball can get inside his head? "Oh, heck no! You just go up there and try to hit it. Go up there and compete."

Austin doesn't have to worry about facing baseball's most fearsome fire-breather. Across the clubhouse, hidden behind a large pillar, sits the hardest thrower in MLB history. For several years now, MLB.com's list of the fastest pitches of the season, as measured by Statcast™, has featured a Chapman Filter, which removes the southpaw's entries; without it, the chart had proven redundant and useless. This season, the Cardinals' Jordan Hicks has been throwing most of the fastest pitches, but Chapman still has history on his side.

He is the Cuban Missile, the Sultan of Swift, the Viceroy of Velocity, but Chapman's left arm is merely one divine instrument in a sport obsessed with speed. And it's not just fastball readings. So much of what happens during the course of a big league game is about demonstrating -- and in turn, attempting to neutralize -- the sport's speediest specimens.

***

In the beginning, there was a car, parked on a baseball field, aiming a policeman's radar gun at a speeding fastball. Former National League outfielder Danny Litwhiler -- a renowned innovator who in 1942 was the first player to string together the fingers of his glove, resulting in the first error-free season by a full-time big leaguer -- had gotten the idea in the early 1970s while coaching at Michigan State. Seeing campus police pull cars over for speeding, Litwhiler wondered what would happen if he pointed the same radar guns at pitched baseballs. The devices, though, were powered through cars' cigarette lighters, so in order to test his theory, Litwhiler couldn't just sit behind the plate with a gun in hand. Hence the car on the field.

In truth, though, enterprising baseball minds had, for years, been trying to get a handle on the question of speed. There was the test conducted using the Remington Arms Company's machinery back in 1912, in which the ace hurler Walter Johnson fired a baseball into a machine used to track the speed of actual bullets. Similar tests through the years tracked fastballs using motorcycles, ballistic pendulums and slow-motion cameras, but nothing could offer the instantaneous and scalable utility of the police radar gun, which had been invented in 1954 to track speed using the Doppler effect.

Once Litwhiler's testing proved viable, he contacted JUGS Sports, which had been known for its pitching machines, and within several months, the coach had a battery-operated, portable prototype. Very quickly, the sport fell deep into a breathless state of radar love.

We now understand the science behind fastballs better than ever. In the 2016 documentary Fastball, Timothy Verstynen, a scientist at Carnegie Mellon, explains that a 90 mph fastball takes about 450 milliseconds to reach the plate. A 100 mph pitch gets there in 396 milliseconds. "That 50 some odd milliseconds is crucial brain time," he says. "Fifty milliseconds is an eternity in this kind of process. If you, as a rough estimate, assume that every snap to connection takes about two milliseconds, an extra 50 milliseconds or so gives you about 25 times the number of computations. So you get about 25 times the information just because you have that extra 50 milliseconds."

That's fine. But bear in mind that those 396 milliseconds are about equal to the time it takes you to blink. Batters have to rely on an optical illusion to have even a chance at connecting with a top-flight fastball. As demonstrated in a 2013 study at the University of California, Berkeley, the brain creates a simulation of where the ball will go, rather than identifying and capturing its present position. It "'pushes' forward moving objects so we perceive them as further along in their trajectory than the eye can see," wrote the study's researchers.

The study shines a light on a sport that's nearly perfect, and not in a campy, emotional sense. Truly, baseball players have, at this point, essentially mastered the art of controlling balls and bats, of positioning and directing throws, of cutting the quickest paths around the bases. We understand lineup construction better than we ever have before, and while fans and salty old-timers bemoan pitch counts and the like, we have nonetheless learned how to extend pitchers' careers. When it comes to baseball, there's little new under the sun, so the tweaks have to come around the margins, with measurements by the thousandth of a second.

Forty-five years after Litwhiler sparked our infatuation with metrics, baseball fans can now easily track every movement on the field. With dozens of cameras and sensors collecting data throughout the ballparks, there is barely any measurement out of reach. We know how far the balls travel, how fast they leave the bat, how much they spin out of the pitcher's hands. It's as if we've ditched the bunny ears and are finally seeing the game in high definition.

And different pitchers respond in different ways. Chad Green likes to look back every few pitches or so, to make sure that his fastball is around the speed he wants it to be - and he's usually even more interested in checking the velocity of his breaking pitches. Luis Severino tries not to look because he doesn't want to be discouraged by the number, or perhaps resort to overthrowing. And CC Sabathia, whose fastball barely flirts with 90 mph after it routinely reached speeds in the upper 90s when he was young? He has learned how to work the edges of the strike zone to generate soft contact, and so he insists that he never looks at the radar gun, and didn't even when he was throwing hard. But when he's a spectator, watching his teammates? Forget it. "Yeah," he acknowledges. "Every time."

And he's clearly not alone.

***

MLB has data for every pitch dating back to 2008, when the PITCHf/x system - the precursor to today's Statcast™ - became standard in all 30 parks. You can scour the lists to find the fastest deliveries since the tracking began, or you can just catch a glimpse at the underside of Chapman's left wrist, where "105.1 mph" is tattooed below a flame-tailed baseball. The closer has reached that mark twice in his big-league career: in 2010, as a member of the Cincinnati Reds, and with the Yankees on July 18, 2016, when he scaled that insane height against the Orioles' J.J. Hardy. "You can kind of tell when you're pitching," Chapman says, assisted by Yankees bilingual media relations coordinator Marlon Abreu. "It has a certain feel to it, when it feels like it's going faster."

It's hard to conceive just how fast 105.1 is. Big-league hitters can easily separate a 90 mph fastball from one coming in around 97. "Anything over 97, it's just fast," says Yankees catcher Austin Romine. "When you get over 101, that goes into WOW range." But that doesn't mean every 100 mph fastball is the same. "Different guys," says Aaron Judge, "have different spin rates on the ball. So for certain guys, 97 can play up and look like 100, 101. Pretty hard. And other guys, 97 will play down."

Video: HOU@NYY: Chapman hurls 102-mph pitch, earns 12th save

Beyond spin rate, though, there are any number of ways that a fastball can deceive. Maybe the hurler delivers with a smooth, fluid wind-up, giving the hitter a clear view of the ball the whole way. Another pitcher, though, might effectively hide a ball out of view, cutting down on the batter's time to identify the offering. All the while, the guys on the mound are actively working to disrupt the hitters, adding a mile here or subtracting one there, to say nothing of simple timing changes and unconventional pitch selection. They have no choice; as pitchers' velocities have been on the rise, the batters are adjusting. "We see so much stupid fast now, as far as numbers go," Greg Bird says, and Aaron Hicks suggests that he likes fastballs to come in as fast as possible.

At the plate, the batters engage in a delicate dance of timing and reacting. They need to have their bodies - and their brains - ready to connect to a ball they can barely see. "At 100 mph," Verstynen says in the documentary, "you're given almost no time to make a decision, and it's getting close to the range of where it's physiologically impossible to actually plan the voluntary action based off the information of the ball."

The velocity doesn't allow hitters to adjust to a fastball on the fly, so they must be ready for the fastest pitch they can imagine, and then react to anything offspeed. "He throws 95 to 97? Then I'm getting ready for 97 to 98, right down the middle, every single pitch," Judge says. "So my timing and my load is going to be ready, synced up. That pitch is going to be 97 right down the middle until it's not."

It's effective, then, to combat hitters' timing by throwing different looks at them. "We're not seven of the same exact guys," reliever Adam Warren says of his bullpen mates. "I'm throwing four different pitches at any time for strikes, whereas Dellin [Betances] is throwing 98 with a big hammer. Chappy is throwing a bunch of 105 mph heaters with a wipeout slider. It's so different, so hitters can't think, 'Oh, he's very similar to this guy.' You almost have to change your approach with each guy."

But when it's going well, all roads lead to Chapman delivering his otherworldly heat in the ninth inning. Since becoming a closer in 2012, he has recorded four seasons that rank in the top 10 all time for strikeouts per nine innings by a reliever. Nearly 40 percent of his pitches last year came in above 100 mph, and his average fastball velocity - an even 100.0 - ranked first in all of baseball. "It's all fast," Romine says of catching Chapman's heat. "If he's ahead in the count, it's going to be a little bit harder. If he's trying to punch someone out, it's probably going to be the best one he's got. If he's behind, he's probably just going to try to throw one in there 98. … If it's 0-2, 1-2, 2-2 and we've got a heater coming, he's trying to punch him out. And it's going to be hard.

"You can feel it. You can feel the difference."

***

As a catcher, Romine knows full well how big a role speed plays in the game -- and not just in the fastballs that explode into his glove. Once a runner gets on first, his whole mentality changes. "Guys that are fast, you have to be on your toes and ready to go, and you might have to sacrifice better receiving for being able to be ready to anticipate throwing and stuff like that," he says. "It's hard to be ready to throw him out and still be in a good position to steal a strike."

Like any good receiver, Romine can quote all the numbers that allow teams to control the running game. He knows that if the pitcher takes more than 1.5 seconds from the time he releases the ball to its contact with the catcher's mitt, then it will be almost impossible to cut down any potential base stealers. With elite runners able to swipe second in approximately 3 seconds, it would require a catcher to have a "pop time" - the duration between the "pops" of the catcher's and middle infielder's mitts - of 1.5 seconds. Yankees starting catcher Gary Sanchez is one of the best in the league at controlling the running game; last year, he finished third in the Majors with an average pop time of 1.93 seconds. You can see the problem.

But it's also up to the catcher to help keep the pitcher's focus on the batter, which is easier said than done when there's a speedy runner on first. "It almost adds a little bit of panic to you, just knowing that you've got a guy that might steal a base," Warren says. "You've got to focus more on the runner, which means less focus on the hitter." When the bases are empty or clogged by a slow runner, Warren adds, "You don't have to think about varying your looks, varying your times, picking off over there. You can just worry about executing your pitch and getting guys out."

Or, as Green puts it, when there's a runner on, "Everything is about trying to keep that guy on first base. It's definitely frustrating."

And elsewhere around the diamond? Outfielders need to know who's running, resetting the situation between every pitch. On a ball in the gap, their mental clock starts ticking right away, guiding their pacing and relay throws. First basemen need to hold runners on, be ready for pickoff throws from a pitcher or catcher, and still be in position to field batted balls.

Middle infielders might have the most going on, their roles constantly changing. "You assess the situation," Neil Walker says, describing his own series of mental calisthenics. "What inning, count, score? And then you assess who's running and who's hitting. Is it a possible hit-and-run situation? Is it a straight steal situation? And if it's a hit-and-run situation, and a fastball is thrown, and it's a right-handed hitter, you may switch the coverage. So you're looking at the signs because the signs will dictate who's covering. And once that responsibility is taken care of, then, out of the corner of your eye, you're keeping watch on the guy on first base to see if he takes off."

As with all defensive adjustments, there are trade-offs. Double-play depth sounds great when it leads to an easy twin-killing; when a hitter can deposit a ball in the enlarged hole between first and second base, though, the benefits aren't as apparent. So Bird prioritizes being ready to field his position at first base. With right-handed pitchers, who are less likely to pick runners off, he'll hold the guy on, but instead of straddling the base, he'll position himself a bit in front. "I always think, what would [the pitcher] rather have?" Bird says. "A 1 percent greater chance of picking a guy off? Or a double play? They want the double play. They want the [extra] out. For me, I'm there to catch the ball and tag the guy, but really, I'm there to play defense. Especially with a left-handed hitter up, I'm ready to go."

It's an on-field ballet, ever changing, ever determined to cut down the game's most frustrating and impressive characteristic: speed.

***

Video: Hurler of May: Aroldis Chapman

Way back in 1956, Lou "The Clocker" Miller charted the sport's fastest runners from home to first in an article for The Sporting News. At the time, Mickey Mantle was widely and correctly believed to be the Yankees' fastest player. "Right from my earliest boyhood," he once said, "I could run like a jackrabbit, and when I had most of my growth, about age 14, there was not a boy or man in town, and not too many rabbits, who could outrun me." Miller clocked the switch-hitting Mantle at 3.3 seconds from the left-hand side and 3.4 from the right. But Yogi Berra - nobody's idea of a speedster - measured in at 3.8, less than half a second slower. It's almost comical to try to process how fast the game moves.

Berra's assessment that "90 percent of the game is half mental" is regarded as a classic Yogi-ism, but what if he was right? What if the parts of the game that seem so purely athletic -- the speed, and the subsequent counters to it -- are actually as much mental as physical? Would it be wrong to suggest that the balance could occupy as much as 90 percent of the game?

Flash back to that showdown between Chapman and Kinsler. Even Chapman, the fastest pitcher in Major League history, knows that he can't get by on speed alone. "Depending on the pitch, depending on the batter, depending on the count, as a pitcher, you want to be able to mix in certain situations," he says. "You can't use the same pitch, same location, same velocity all the time. You've got to be able to mix it. And that mix, it includes location, velocity, type of pitch, sequence and so on and so on."

As Kinsler stands in the box that night in Anaheim, with the tying run on second base and a 1-2 count, he is finishing up a month that has seen him make contact on just a tick under 95 percent of his swings -- one of the highest contact rates of any hitter in the league with at least 70 at-bats. He has just seen four straight 101 mph pitches. So what does the velocity king, baseball's ultimate speed demon, do next?

Chapman reaches back and flings an 87 mph slider, directly over the middle of the plate, dead-center in the strike zone. Unlike his superhuman heater, it is a pitch any ordinary big leaguer can throw. Kinsler swings through it, helplessly. The Yankees win, running their win streak to nine in a row.

The fastest fastball? Chapman's got that. But to make it work, he still needs to win the game that's usually at least half mental.

Jon Schwartz is the deputy editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the June 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at yankees.com/publications.

New York Yankees, Aroldis Chapman

Yankees Magazine: Live From New York

For David Wells, perfection in 1998 was not limited to one afternoon
Yankees Magazine

Of all of the personalities on the 1998 Yankees, none was as outspoken as David "Boomer" Wells. And just about every time Wells took the field that season, he backed up his words.

En route to an 18-4 record in the regular season, Wells authored one of the greatest days in Yankees lore, retiring all 27 batters he faced on May 17 at the old Yankee Stadium. During the first regular season perfect game in team history, Wells struck out 11 Minnesota Twins and was carried off the field by his teammates after the final out.

Of all of the personalities on the 1998 Yankees, none was as outspoken as David "Boomer" Wells. And just about every time Wells took the field that season, he backed up his words.

En route to an 18-4 record in the regular season, Wells authored one of the greatest days in Yankees lore, retiring all 27 batters he faced on May 17 at the old Yankee Stadium. During the first regular season perfect game in team history, Wells struck out 11 Minnesota Twins and was carried off the field by his teammates after the final out.

That October, Wells -- who is one of three Yankees pitchers, along with Don Larsen and David Cone, to toss perfect games -- earned wins in each of his four postseason starts. Wells took home American League Championship Series MVP honors after defeating the Cleveland Indians in Games 1 and 5. He then emerged victorious in the 1998 World Series opener, giving the Yankees seven innings of work.

Wells was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays the next year but would return to the Yankees in 2002 for two more seasons in the Bronx. The lovable lefty, who finished his Major League pitching career in 2007 with 239 regular season wins, spoke with Yankees Magazine editor-in-chief Alfred Santasiere III from his home in San Diego, California.

Going into the 1998 season, how good did you think that Yankees team could be?

Well, I knew how good we were in 1997. I wanted to pitch against Cleveland twice in the 1997 American League Division Series, which we lost. I wanted to get two shots at them in the '97 ALDS. It didn't work out that way, but I really think if it had, we would have won that series and then won the whole thing. Going into the 1998 season, I felt like if we didn't win the World Series, it would have been a fluke. The lineup and pitching staff that we had on that team was crazy.

It was phenomenal. We were a tight-knit group. If there was any animosity, it was nipped right away. We all went out to dinner together on the road. That is what put us in a good frame of mind every time we got to the ballpark.

You led the league in win percentage during the regular season. Looking back on that season, what does it mean to have played such a prominent role on a team that won 114 regular season games?

I was just doing my job. I was only as good as the guys behind me. But as long as I went out there and did my job, I felt like we were going to win. I knew we were going to score runs. We had a great lineup, and a patient lineup. I felt like I had free will to pitch to my strength, which was attacking every hitter. I didn't care what my ERA was because our offense gave me the confidence to know that if I gave up a few runs, they would eventually come back and give me a lead.

You had eight complete games and five shutouts. What was your mentality when you got deep into games that season?

I wanted more complete games than I had. I hated to come out of games. My job was to go nine innings, but we had one of the greatest closers of all time on the team. He had to do his job, and he almost always did it. There were times when my pitch count got high or I was laboring too much, and the right thing to do was have Mariano [Rivera] bring it home. But in my mind, I never wanted to come out of the game. We won all of those games that season because in addition to Mariano, we had guys in the bullpen who could bridge the gap to Mariano. They all preserved so many good outings for me and the other starters.

The only time you struggled that season was in the days leading up to your May 17 perfect game. What was that time like for you?

About a week before the perfect game, things got heated between Joe [Torre] and me. David Cone stepped in and helped smooth things over a little, but things were still rocky. I was a team player, but I was a guy who marched to the beat of my own drum. When we got back home, it was just business as usual for me. I went to the ballpark every day, got my running and throwing in and watched the game. I would go out after every game with my teammates and have a few pops. I wasn't too worried that I wasn't pitching well.

What about the night before the perfect game?

I went to Saturday Night Live to watch the show. I figured I would get home at around 1 o'clock in the morning, but it didn't work out that way. I got home at 5:30 in the morning. So I felt like I had dug a hole for myself, and I would need to make my way out of it. I tried to stay away from everyone when I got to the Stadium on that Sunday morning. I wasn't in the best of shape physically or mentally. My bullpen session was a bust. Who would have thought that all of that would lead up to one of the greatest moments of my life?

At what point in the game did the thought of throwing a perfect game enter your mind?

When I walked into the clubhouse in the fifth inning. I could hear the radio broadcast in there, and they were talking about me throwing a perfect game. That was the last thing I wanted to hear. When I got back to the dugout and sat down on the bench, everyone got up and walked away. When you're throwing a perfect game, you're the loneliest man in the world. I started feeling the pressure an inning or two after that.

Was there anyone in the dugout who helped keep your nerves in check?

Yeah, David Cone started chirping at me late in the game. He was telling me to throw a knuckleball. And I kept saying, "What are you talking about? I don't throw a knuckleball." When I came to the dugout after that inning, he was on the top step of the dugout, screaming, "You've shown me nothing!" His vein was popping out of his forehead, like it always did when he got wound up. He was being a great teammate and friend. That totally got my mind off the pressure of trying to pitch a perfect game. He's one of my best friends, and I don't know how I would have reacted if someone else was saying that stuff, but David really settled my nerves.

When were you most nervous that day?

Whenever the ball was hit to [former second baseman] Chuck Knoblauch. He had a lot of problems fielding that season. Ron Coomer hit a bullet to Chuck, and he fielded it cleanly and threw a strike to Tino Martinez at first base. That was a big relief. I was also nervous when I faced Paul Molitor in the seventh inning, just because he was such a great hitter. And, of course, when I got down to the last out, I felt a lot of pressure. I kept telling myself, "If you don't make a mistake here, you're going to pitch a perfect game."

Video: MIN@NYY: Sterling calls final out of Wells' perfecto

What was it like to get carried off the field at the old Yankee Stadium after you had completed the perfect game?

It was really incredible. You have to be lucky to throw a perfect game, but to have that happen after all of the hype that built up during that game was the ultimate moment in my career. It was better than winning the World Series.

What was your conversation like with fellow perfect game pitcher Don Larsen after the game?

It was awesome to get a phone call from Don. I still can't believe that he and I both went to the same high school. We talked about that, and we compared our perfect game stories.

Speaking of perfection, you had a flawless record that postseason. After the disappointment of not getting to pitch as much as you wanted to in the 1997 postseason, how did it feel to pitch so well in 1998?

After I shut out Texas in the ALDS, I was thrilled that we were going to play the Indians. I knew I could beat them, and this time around I knew I would get to pitch against them twice. I was up for the challenge. I had confidence, and I had the ability to shut out those great teams. At that time, I didn't think there was a better pitcher in those situations than me. But I was just one of the players who came up big that postseason.

Were you excited about going back to San Diego -- where you grew up -- for the middle games of the World Series?

Well, it was bittersweet. I liked being back there, but I didn't like getting booed in my hometown. I went on Howard Stern's show before the World Series, and Howard tried to get me to predict how many games it would take us to beat the Padres. I didn't want to make a prediction. But he wouldn't stop pushing me to do so the whole time I was on the show. Finally, just to shut him up, I said, "If I was to make a prediction, I would have to say that we'll win it in five games, but I'm not predicting anything." The next day, the headline of the New York Post read, "Wells' bold forecast: Yanks In 5." The Padres hung that paper up in their clubhouse, and word about that got back to San Diego pretty quickly. I got booed like crazy out there.

All these years later, what are your thoughts on what World Series MVP Scott Brosius did in that Fall Classic?

It was fun to watch him in that Series. He was absolutely locked in. We all knew that (Hall of Fame closer) Trevor Hoffman had nasty stuff, but Scott was able to take him deep. Scott really carried the team in the World Series.

How special was it for you to celebrate that championship in San Diego after the four-game sweep of the Padres?

It was great. George Steinbrenner brought in Perrier-Jouët champagne, and it tasted a lot better than the Mumms that they had waiting for us in the clubhouse out there. During the celebration, I made a toast to Darryl Strawberry, who was dealing with cancer at that time. That was a special moment for everyone. After we left the stadium, we went back to our hotel downtown, and we had an epic celebration. All of our friends and families were there, and we enjoyed that night like no other.

What was it about Darryl that made him such an important part of that team?

He's a great guy and really humble. I remember seeing him in the back of the clubhouse, smoking a cigarette in between innings. He'd go out and hit a home run, and then go back and smoke another heater. He knew the game, and he was always prepared. He could beat you with one swing of the bat, and he always had our backs. No one took exception to the sucker punch of a pitch that (former Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher) Armando Benitez hit Tino [Martinez] with that May than Straw. Boy did he go after those guys that night. We loved having him on our team.

How would you describe the World Series parade?

It was the most incredible thing I have ever witnessed. It was awesome to have my family with me on the float and to feel the love that city gave us. I really understood why there is no better place to win than in New York.

What are you going to do to celebrate the 20th anniversary of your perfect game on May 17?

I'll be in New York, hosting a fundraising event. Proceeds from the dinner will benefit my Perfect 33 Foundation, which raises money for Navy SEALs and their families. We will also be raising funds that night for (perfect game catcher) Jorge Posada's Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief Fund. Jorge will be there, as will several of my other former teammates.

This interview is part of a season-long series of Q&A's remembering the 1998 Yankees and has been edited for clarity and length.

Alfred Santasiere III is the editor-in-chief of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the May 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at yankees.com/publications.

New York Yankees

Yankees Magazine: World Team

It's hard to appreciate how huge the Yankees are until you consider their global reach in places such as South Korea
Yankees Magazine

It's 4:25 in the morning, March 30, on my side of the planet, and I'm already working on my second cup of coffee as I wait for the YES Network intro to begin. I've been awake since 1 a.m., feeding off of caffeine and adrenaline. Another long winter without live, televised Yankees baseball is about to end. It's always harder than I expect, but I've survived.

Baseball's season is long, and it's involved, and it's tough to stay with it under the best of conditions. For me, following along from Seoul, South Korea, is just a bit harder. MLB.TV is a godsend, but there's a stark time difference separating my desk and the Bronx -- 13 hours, to be exact (14 hours when daylight saving time ends). I've somehow gotten used to it.

It's 4:25 in the morning, March 30, on my side of the planet, and I'm already working on my second cup of coffee as I wait for the YES Network intro to begin. I've been awake since 1 a.m., feeding off of caffeine and adrenaline. Another long winter without live, televised Yankees baseball is about to end. It's always harder than I expect, but I've survived.

Baseball's season is long, and it's involved, and it's tough to stay with it under the best of conditions. For me, following along from Seoul, South Korea, is just a bit harder. MLB.TV is a godsend, but there's a stark time difference separating my desk and the Bronx -- 13 hours, to be exact (14 hours when daylight saving time ends). I've somehow gotten used to it.

The first pitch comes in at 5:09 a.m. It's the first of many thousands of pitches I'll be watching throughout the 2018 Yankees season. I just have to manage my schedule a bit differently from most fans. But even though it's sometimes a lonely pursuit, I know I'm not alone. Sometimes, no matter how big you think the Yankees really are, you need to step back and check out the bird's-eye view from the opposite point on the globe to really understand it.

***

I was born in Seoul and lived in South Korea until sixth grade. In June 2002, my family moved to North Haven, Connecticut, which felt like being in the middle of a battlefield -- Red Sox to the north of me, Yankees to the south. I had to choose a side, and I handled it as scientifically as possible: More of my friends cheered for the Yankees than the Red Sox. Thus began a life writing about baseball -- primarily, the Yankees -- that I never really saw coming.

My love for the game -- and Major League Baseball in particular -- is not uncommon in Korea. When I was growing up, people paid attention to every Chan Ho Park start. As the number of Korean Major Leaguers increased -- Byung-Hyun Kim, Hee-Seop Choi, Jae-Weong Seo, to name a few -- so did MLB's presence in the Korean media. Seunghoon Han, a senior manager and former MLB editor at Naver (a Korean website akin to Yahoo!), says that the local players' success ignited MLB exposure in the Korean press and, thus, created a growing appetite for coverage.

"When we talk about the 1990s, I'd say it was the prime time for the newspaper companies," Han says. "Not only was the audience still buying their paper, but also players like Park and Kim were successful in the United States, which means they became national celebrities -- or even heroes -- in South Korea. That means, naturally, sending more correspondents to the States."

In the 2010s, a new wave of Korean athletes such as Hyun-Jin Ryu, Seung-Hwan Oh and Jae-Gyun Hwang have played in the Majors. Meanwhile, many of the same shifts in coverage familiar to fans in the United States have reached Korea, as well. There's more focus on internet writing, which can be disseminated more widely and quickly.

Park was the first Korean player to suit up for the Yankees, signing with the team after the Bombers' 2009 championship. Han says it was a very exciting moment in Korean baseball history. "It was something special for many fans here in South Korea," he says. "Park, a national hero, was entering his final chapter of his career, and joined the most well-known franchise in the history of baseball. So why wouldn't we be excited?"

Despite high anticipation, Park did not pull his weight in pinstripes. In 27 relief appearances, Park posted a 5.60 ERA and was designated for assignment by the end of July. He was picked up on waivers by the Pirates and finished his Major League career in Pittsburgh. Flash forward to 2015, when Korea-born Rob Refsnyder (birth name Jeong-Tae Kim) reached the Majors with the Yankees. Refsnyder -- who was adopted by American parents and eventually became a fifth-round pick by New York out of the University of Arizona in the 2012 MLB Draft - emerged as one of the system's top prospects, ranking fourth in MLB Pipeline's 2015 Yankees prospect list after hitting a combined .318/.387/.497 in Double-A and Triple-A in 2014. In 2017, he was joined by Ji-Man Choi, an Incheon native who appeared in 54 games for the Angels in 2016. Choi signed a Minor League contract with the Yankees before last season and reached the Majors in July when the team needed first base depth, homering in each of his first two games in pinstripes.

***

As Big League baseball was capturing the attention of new Korean fans, its fashion arm was seeing similar growth. Walk the streets today, and you'll see all sorts of MLB gear -- hats, backpacks, jackets, you name it.

Tamar Herman, a music columnist for Billboard and a Forbes contributor, said that MLB saw its profile raised in Korea when K-Pop acts started to model their threads. "They definitely saw a major boost in popularity and name recognition," Herman says. In 2015, a popular boy band EXO wore Yankees hats during promotion for its "Love Me Right Back" single. Herman points to that moment as a game-changer. "That seemed to be when a lot of people began wearing Major League Baseball gear in Korea," she says.

The Yankees have been entrenched at the forefront of the trend. Two of the biggest contemporary urban clothing brands in Korea -- New Era and MLB Korea -- feature the team's products heavily in their promotions and stores. In mid-April, MLB Korea listed 260 Yankees products on its "New Arrivals" page, pacing the field by a wide margin. The Los Angeles Dodgers, another team popular in Korea due to their connections with Chan Ho Park and Hyun-Jin Ryu, had 49 listed.

"When it comes to baseball hats, New York Yankees products make up more than half of our total sales," says New Era Korea's marketing manager, Seung-Eon Kim. "While the New York Yankees are a baseball club, the people here not only see it as one, but also as an essential fashion item and symbol. Everyone knows that it is a baseball team's logo but they also perceive it as something fashionable and cool, or something that is ingrained in the hip-hop culture. The younger audience seems to favor the Yankees logo over others. Not only is it a team with deep history, but also the logo itself is well known to people beyond baseball terms.

"Another big thing is that there are a lot of pictures out there of American celebrities wearing Yankees hats. That helped the team's image get introduced to Korea."

But it's not just Korea; the league has seen an upward trend in Asian sales for the past five years, which Noah Garden, MLB's executive vice president of commerce, largely attributes to "the investments and creativity of our local and worldwide licensing partners in Korea, China, Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong."

"MLB features some of the most recognizable sports teams in the world, including the Yankees," Garden adds. "Our brands transcend fan support and have become fashionable in many international markets, leaving increased exposure and recognition for all 30 MLB clubs across the multitude of consumer product categories."

And the league plans to continue stimulating its customers with an aggressive approach. "MLB's licensing success in Asia requires a continued focus on creating innovative products, designs and marketing activities," Garden says. "We will continue to increase exposure of our players, teams and games throughout the world, including Asia."

Video: TOR@NYY: Korean TV calls Choi's first HR with Yankees

***

The Yankees, of course, also have their footprints in current Korean baseball. The Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) has been experiencing an upward trend since the Korean national team enjoyed a series of international tournament successes. The squad reached the semifinals of the 2006 World Baseball Classic, won the gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and finished as the runner-up in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. According to data from the KBO website, overall attendance grew from 3.04 million in 2006 to 8.4 million in 2018, a 276 percent uptick that would make anyone working to develop the game swoon.

The KBO consists of 10 clubs, and each is allowed to have three foreign players. Among them this year are several players that played for the Yankees organization -- Jimmy Paredes (Doosan Bears), Hector Noesi (Kia Tigers), Adonis Garcia (LG Twins) and Esmil Rogers.

Rogers now pitches for the Nexen Heroes, a team that plays in Seoul's Gocheok Sky Dome. He first pitched in Korea in 2015 with the Hanwha Eagles, posting a 6-2 record with a 2.97 ERA, but an elbow injury in 2016 led to his release. Rogers came back to Korea for 2018 and impressed the Heroes enough to be their opening day starter. He says that people in Korea do take notice of his Yankees career.

"One of the first things that people ask me is how it felt to pitch at the Yankee Stadium," Rogers says. He always answers the same way: "It was great -- a really great experience."

Even nearly 7,000 miles away, Rogers keeps up with his former Yankees teammates such as Dellin Betances, Luis Severino and Gary Sanchez. He still roots for them. "I thank God for giving me the opportunity to play for the Yankees," he says, echoing the famous Joe DiMaggio quote. "Any player wants to play for this team, and I got to play there a couple years -- play with A-Rod, play with [Derek] Jeter. It was a great experience that I had with those guys, and I never forget it from my mind."

In Korea, Rogers plays the same game that he has played since he was a kid, but the KBO does require some adjustments. "They play a little bit different baseball here," he says. "You hear a lot of music when you're pitching, no matter what. They do a lot of cheering here -- cheerleaders and all that kind of stuff during the game -- and we don't do that in the U.S. The baseball in the United States is a little bit quieter and more focused. I think that's the difference."

Rogers isn't imagining things. Seunghoon Han, the former MLB editor, says that "when it comes to in-venue experiences, people look forward to the way of rooting for your team -- cheerleaders, giant amplifiers and so on." There are separate sections for home and visiting fans, and they have their own cheering sections to enjoy the game. The cheerleaders dance to the fight songs and offer custom chants for every hitter, making it a very fun atmosphere not only for fans, but also for the players. In a way, it's closer to the scene at a college football game in the States.

Foreigners such as Rogers receive much more attention from the Korean media and fans than they would as unheralded players in the U.S. And it's a preferred destination for a lot of players on the margins. The majority get paid more than the $555,000 Major League minimum, and the exotic locale can offer a fresh start. But the league's level of play is more advanced than one might think. Among the 30 foreign players signed to play in the KBO before the 2017 season, only 11 remained in Korea for 2018. Rogers, though, has proven to be a desired commodity.

***

Rogers couldn't be more fascinating to someone in my seat. We both straddle these two totally different worlds. For me, following both the local KBO and the far-off action in the United States is double duty, albeit a fun one. I wake up to watch MLB games, and I go to sleep after wrapping up KBO action. In between, I try to live a life and even, occasionally, sleep. It is not the easiest schedule to keep up with, but it's what I love to do. From thousands of miles away, I engage with and participate in the nonstop, intense Yankees community, particularly through my work for the website River Avenue Blues, which I began writing for in April 2015. I have struck up friendships with David Cone and Michael Kay over Twitter, and it paid off when I visited the YES Network booth during a trip to the United States last August. I was flabbergasted to meet people in person that I've "known" since before I even learned to speak English.

In the booth, all I could think of was how strange and unlikely the whole thing was. How did I get here? I'm just a writer from Korea who loves watching the Yankees.

But maybe I just never learned to be romantic enough about the whole endeavor. Maybe this is what it's all supposed to be about. Baseball is universal, and the Yankees especially. There's almost no way that someone 20 years ago could do what I do now. I'm lucky to be in the right time and the right place. I constantly think back to when I worked as an assistant producer for MLB Network during the 2017 World Baseball Classic and got the chance to chat with Didi Gregorius at Gocheok Sky Dome. The Yankees' shortstop was there as a member of the Netherlands squad that eventually made it to the semifinals of the tournament. I got to ask him about what he did in Korea ("I was just walking around. You've got to experience everything when you're in a different country."), if he ate any fried chicken ("Nah, that stuff's bad for you!"), and his goal for the season ("Win a ring -- That's it.").

When I wasn't talking to him or watching him play, I saw him signing autographs for fans, chatting with reporters from Korea, Netherlands, Taiwan and the United States, never turning down a request. It was quite a sight to see people from different cultures and backgrounds harmonize over one thing: baseball. Some 7,000 miles from his Major League home, which, itself, is 4,000 miles from his birthplace, Gregorius was living his everyday life.

The Yankees' mystique transcends the distance; somehow, it casts a shadow over the entire globe. I can understand why some American fans might think that it would be impossible for the Yankees to get any bigger than they are. This team is a monolith, beloved by many, hated by others. It lords over the league, and even sports in general.

The world, though, is a big place, and where I sit, it's already tomorrow. The Yankees are everywhere. And the possibilities are limitless.

This article appears in the May 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at yankees.com/publications.

New York Yankees

Yankees Magazine: Change Up

Ten years as a pro finally led to October baseball for Aaron Hicks. So what did he do differently to prepare for 2018? Nearly everything
Yankees Magazine

Aaron Hicks was in need of a comeback. A few miles from his home in Phoenix, the budding Yankees star -- and talented golfer -- took a break from his rigorous offseason conditioning program for a round of golf against his older brother.

Joe Hicks, who admittedly does not usually keep pace with the 28-year-old center fielder on the golf course, was actually leading his younger brother on this sunny mid-winter Arizona afternoon. On the first hole, the elder Hicks sunk a birdie putt, while Aaron followed with a bogey.

Aaron Hicks was in need of a comeback. A few miles from his home in Phoenix, the budding Yankees star -- and talented golfer -- took a break from his rigorous offseason conditioning program for a round of golf against his older brother.

Joe Hicks, who admittedly does not usually keep pace with the 28-year-old center fielder on the golf course, was actually leading his younger brother on this sunny mid-winter Arizona afternoon. On the first hole, the elder Hicks sunk a birdie putt, while Aaron followed with a bogey.

Things didn't get much better for Aaron on the second hole, where he was again outdone by Joe. This time, as Joe nailed a putt for par, the good-natured sibling rivalry began to take shape.

"You've got to bring the heat," Joe said. "I get it done when I have to."

While Joe's confidence was quickly increasing, Aaron honored his end of the bargain, dropping to the ground and doing 10 pushups for the second hole in a row.

As Joe walked to the third tee box at Wildfire Golf Club, a picturesque course ringed with mountains and filled with cacti and palm trees, he was suddenly reminded of the advantage he had over his brother.

"C'mon, Joe," yelled Abdul Sillah, a longtime trainer who Aaron recently hired to work with him throughout the offseason in an effort to help take his baseball game to the next level. "You're teeing off from the baby hole. You need to step up to the adult hole."

"Be quiet, Abdul," Joe responded through a laugh, as he got ready to unleash his fury on a golf ball from what was indeed a tee box for younger and more inexperienced golfers. "I'm going to crush this ball just like I did the last two."

Joe succeeded in hitting the ball a long way, but it didn't travel in the direction he wanted it to go and instead landed far to the right of the green. His next stroke sent the ball into a sand trap, while Aaron quickly got his second attempt onto the green.

With the tides turning in Aaron's favor, Joe provided the funniest moment of what was already a jovial afternoon. Aaron and Abdul stood in an area that seemed to be far enough from the green to ensure that they would be out of harm's way, but Joe shanked the ball, sending it screaming toward the two of them. As quickly as they dodged the ball, Aaron and Abdul began to laugh hysterically.

"There's the real Joe," Aaron said. "You finally showed up."

Although they only had time for a few more holes, Aaron, Joe and Abdul got about as much fun out of the hour they spent on the golf course as three guys could. The laughter never stopped. The good-natured jokes continued to roll, and the good and bad strokes also kept coming until the two brothers finished in a tie after nine holes.

"This was not my best day," Aaron said to his brother as the group walked to the parking lot. "And it was a career day for you."

"Whatever, Aaron," Joe responded. "Don't be a sore loser."

The two brothers are separated by 15 years in age but are rarely apart in the offseason or during the baseball season. The friendly round of golf -- a ritual that they take part in a few times a week -- was characteristic of the good times they've shared since Aaron was a child.

"When he was really young, I would come home to visit, and I was always shocked by how much better he got every few months," Joe said. "I would pitch to him when he was 10 or 12 years old, and he was already able to hit bombs off me. But as his older brother, it was always fun to strike him out."

In addition to having the support of his older brother, Aaron also benefited from the influence of his father, Joseph, who played in the Minors for seven seasons and also played professionally in Mexico for a year.

"My dad instilled a great work ethic in me, simply from watching him deal with the daily grind of baseball," Hicks said. "I feel like when I was in high school, I was approaching the game more like a professional athlete rather than just going out there and having fun. When I got drafted, nothing really changed for me."

Hicks' father, who resides in Southern California, also gave his son a directive that has had a lasting impact on his game.

"My dad didn't want me to play baseball," Hicks said. "I was winning a lot of golf tournaments when I was a kid, and he loved watching me play golf. But he told me that if I wanted to play baseball, I had to switch hit. He didn't think I would want to do that, but I did. Once I started to hit from the left side, I really caught on."

***

There's no doubt that the Hicks brothers had their share of fun this past offseason, but it was also a time when the Yankees center fielder buckled down and worked harder than at any other time since his professional debut.

Following the most productive season of Hicks' five-year Big League career, the 2008 first-round pick of the Minnesota Twins made the decision to hire a full-time trainer.

"After I came back from my second oblique injury last season, I realized that I needed a trainer in the offseason," Hicks said earlier that morning before a two-hour workout at a private Scottsdale gym. "I felt like I needed to be around someone who would really push me and guide me in the right direction. Essentially, it was all about getting the right person to train me the right way."

For all the excitement that 2017 and the Yankees' postseason run brought to Hicks, and for all that the outfielder meant to the Yankees during that time, the injuries that limited him to 88 regular season games were difficult to deal with -- especially considering all the other problems that he had dealt with in his career.

"I want to be able to be dependable," said Hicks, whose .266 batting average, 15 home runs and 52 RBI in 2017 were all career highs. "I don't want Aaron [Boone] to think that he needs to rest me in order to keep me healthy. I want to man center field."

The hiring process was far from a painstaking one for Hicks, who asked his brother to reach out to Sillah, an old friend. Hicks found out that Sillah -- who trained tennis icon Serena Williams for several years, and also 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens -- was interested in spending the offseason in Arizona and creating and instituting a diet and workout regimen for him to follow.

"I had met him plenty of times," Hicks said of the Northern California-based Sillah. "He's trained plenty of very successful athletes, like Serena and Sloane, during the prime of their careers. And he was friends with my brother, so I felt like he would fit in well with us."

The combination of Sillah's experience and Hicks' commitment made for a great partnership from the beginning.

"After speaking with Aaron, my goal for him was to get his first step faster and to get him stronger and leaner," Sillah said from the gym. "I believe the leaner he is, the more explosive he will be. His longevity for the season will be greatly improved.

"I had to figure out what type of program I should put him on to get him exactly where he needed to be," Sillah continued. "I felt that the nutritional program that I started many years ago for Serena, a shock meal program, would work best for Aaron. It basically shocks the system and teaches you how to put yourself on a feeding timeline, which most people don't have. We eat breakfast at 10 in the morning, and by 11:30, he has a snack. We have lunch at 1 o'clock, another snack at 2:30, dinner at 5 and another snack at 8. By eating this way, you're constantly maintaining rather than being at a deficit, and your energy level is always at its peak."

For Hicks, the timing of meals was easy to get used to in comparison to what was on the menu each day.

"When he wakes up, we have an apple for breakfast, three egg whites and a small bowl of plain steel-cut oatmeal, with four tomato slices on the side," Sillah said. "Then for a snack, we have half an apple and a teaspoon of plain yogurt. For lunch, he gets one baked chicken breast with Mrs. Dash seasoning on it, a half an apple and a serving of broccoli. For the mid-afternoon snack, he has the option between carrots or the other half of the apple. Then, for dinner, we repeat the same thing we had for lunch."

Sillah prefers to keep his athletes on the shock diet for up to two weeks, but he also understands the importance of tailoring the timetable for each individual.

"It was terrible when we were in the first part of the diet," Hicks said. "But it was literally life-changing. I feel a lot more energized from the minute I wake up in the morning. I feel better every day, and I don't have that fatigue I always had in the morning at all."

Even though Joe wasn't preparing for a Major League Baseball season, Sillah insisted that he partake in the diet along with his brother.

"I told him that if he's part of the team, he has to eat the same foods as Aaron and me," Sillah said. "I really have to watch him when he cooks for us, and I don't let him go to the store without me. You never know what kind of nonsense he's going to come home with."

"Abdul was like The Terminator when he got here," Joe said. "He came in and cleared out our refrigerator and everything in our pantry. There's no more soda, candy or chips in our house."

Due to the sacrifice that the diet entailed, Aaron lost 10 pounds during the "shock period."

"I took Aaron off of the shock diet after nine days," Sillah said. "He did really well, but it's too brutal to be on it for much longer than that. After we got through the shock period, I moderated his diet, and his body has slowly begun to accept what it needs.

"Now, we're able to actually get him to eat normal -- but not quite as normal as before. He's still shedding down weight and body fat while maintaining body mass at the same time."

***

Of course, in addition to the diet, Hicks' offseason workout regimen became more intense beginning with the November arrival of Sillah.

Hicks was at the gym six days a week prior to the start of Spring Training, and on the Wednesday morning prior to his half-round of golf, he began a long workout with three sets of curls, using 40-pound dumbbells.

Moments later, he took a seat on a bench-pressing station, and as quickly as he began to lift a few hundred pounds into the air, the intensity in the room heightened.

"This is when the real work begins," Hicks said in between three sets of five reps. "This is when we get after it."

From the bench press to a cable pull -- where Hicks worked to strengthen his triceps -- the morning workout moved along. After Hicks performed nearly an hour of exercises designed to strengthen his upper body, the center fielder walked to the opposite side of the gym, where there were no machines, just a large area of artificial grass and several medicine balls.

There, Hicks began a series of drills with the basketball-sized medicine ball. In one of the exercises, Hicks tossed the heavy ball against a concrete wall situated off to the side of him. He then changed direction and repeated the drill. This went on for several minutes before giving way to the next set of medicine ball exercises.

"I spend a lot of time strengthening my oblique muscles and improving my overall core strength," Hicks said. "I want to be a better player than I was last year, and to do that, I have to figure out how to stay healthy. I've been pushed a lot harder than I've ever been pushed in my life. I think this is something that I needed."

At the end of the grueling workout, Hicks grabbed a small snack while spending a few minutes with San Francisco 49ers tight end/long snapper Kyle Nelson, who also worked out at the gym last winter. From there, the trio of Aaron, Joe and Sillah took off for their next stop, Notre Dame Preparatory High School in nearby Scottsdale.

Within a few minutes of leaving the gym, the trio arrived at the sprawling and perfectly manicured campus where Hicks had been doing hitting and fielding work since he moved to Arizona from his native Southern California in January 2017.

"They have been great about letting me use the facilities here," said Hicks, who hit about six days a week in the offseason. "It's about as nice of a field as you could find."

As the group walked from a parking lot behind the outfield fence to the batting cages, it became obvious that Joe was already focused on the upcoming golf competition scheduled for later that afternoon.

"Hey, Aaron, today's going to be my day out there," Joe said. "You better be on your game today."

Unflinching, Hicks simply winked at Sillah and assured his brother that he would be ready.

"This is pretty much how I wanted the offseason to go," Hicks said. "I wanted it to be loose, but when we need to get work done, I wanted it to be intense. I wanted to enjoy the offseason while working my butt off."

When they got to an outdoor batting cage on the third-base side of the field, Hicks grabbed a bat from his bag and began to stretch. Joe got into the cage, emptied out a bucket of baseballs and took a seat on the bucket.

After taking a few dozen swings at soft-toss pitches, the real work began. Aaron got into the batter's box, and Joe fired pitch after pitch over the plate.

Aaron proceeded to drive just about every one of the pitches back toward his brother, and several ricocheted off of the protective screen set up to shield the pitcher.

Following the 40-minute hitting session, the group headed back to their home base in Phoenix.

***

Even before Aaron, Joe and Sillah arrived at the Hicks' house, the subject of lunch was discussed.

"I can run out to Chipotle and grab lunch," Joe said.

"No, you can't," Sillah responded. "Who knows what you'll come back with and what you'll eat while you're gone. I'll go with you."

And with that, Joe and Sillah headed for a local Chipotle, a spot they were at nearly every afternoon in the winter. When they got there, Sillah ordered three meals without hesitation. Three basic rice bowls, all with black beans, chicken and lettuce.

When Joe and Sillah got back to the house, the three men grabbed seats at the kitchen table along with their meals. Of course, just as they dug into their lunches, some more good-natured ribbing started up again.

"Joe and Abdul are so funny together," Hicks said. "I swear they could have their own TV show."

Soon, the conversation turned to the Yankees' 2017 season.

For Hicks, who spent five full seasons in the Minors before making his Big League debut in 2013 with the Twins and who Minnesota ultimately shipped to New York for reserve catcher John Ryan Murphy, finally having sustained success on the biggest stage was worth the wait.

"Being a part of what we were able to do last season -- especially in the American League Division Series -- was amazing," Hicks said. "Everything in those games felt magnified. Every pitch, every out and every game was important, and winning the one-game playoff against the Twins and then being in the same situation against Cleveland, where we had to win Game 5 in order to advance, made me a better player. It cemented the importance of winning in my mind. Regardless of what you do personally, winning is what matters most. Even though it was difficult to lose to Houston, that experience brought us closer together."

Although the 2017 season will always hold a special place for Hicks, his hope was that it will ultimately be the beginning of a long run of success.

"I hope 2018 is a big year for me and our team," Hicks said. "Beyond that, I want to make an impact on the game. I want to be a name that people can recognize and that people associate with playing the game the right way."

And when his baseball career comes to an end, Hicks has his sights set on playing another sport professionally.

"It would be a dream come true to be a pro golfer," Hicks said. "I know it will be a long road, but at the same time, it was a long road to make it to the Big Leagues and I did that."

Following his comments about his PGA aspirations, Sillah hit Aaron with a question he was not expecting.

"What about your brother," he asked. "Does he have a chance to make the PGA also?"

"My brother," Hicks responded through a laugh. "No."

"But if he wins today," Hicks said a few seconds later. "Then maybe I'll change my answer."

***

Video: Must C Combo: Hicks hits two home runs against Tigers

Following a successful spring, the injury bug came back to bite Hicks again in April. After playing in the Yankees' Opening Day win in Toronto, the center fielder was placed on the 10-day disabled list with strained intercostal muscles (located within the right side of his ribcage). Despite the setback, Hicks remained optimistic about the 2018 season.

"It was probably something that I could have played with," Hicks said from his locker at Yankee Stadium in mid-April. "But it was something that I wanted to take care of at the beginning of the season with rest and then put behind me. I feel great now, and I've got the whole season in front of me."

Hicks returned to the lineup on April 12 in Boston, going 0-for-4 in the designated hitter role. In just his second game back, Hicks was in center field and seemingly just as he had left off in 2017. In the Yankees' 8-6 win in Detroit, Hicks hit an inside-the-park home run and then, four innings later, hit one over the right-field wall. He became the first Yankees player to hit both an inside-the-park homer and an over-the-fence shot since Hank Bauer accomplished the feat in 1956.

"It felt great to help the team win that game," Hicks said. "It was awesome to do something that hadn't been done in the franchise for a long, long time. It was fun rounding third base and diving into home. I felt like I was back to where I wanted to be right away."

With a speedy return to health and a significant contribution under his belt, Hicks reaffirmed that he did not need to reassess his goals for the season.

"My goals have not changed a bit," he said. "Ultimately, I want to help this team win games throughout the entire season, and I want to get back to the postseason."

Alfred Santasiere III is the editor-in-chief of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the May 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at yankees.com/publications.

New York Yankees, Aaron Hicks

Yankees Magazine: Won't Back Down

Amid countless setbacks and free falls, Tyler Austin never stopped running down his dreams
Yankees Magazine

On Aug. 13, 2016, Aaron Judge walked up to the plate for the first time as a Major Leaguer and promptly launched a ball deep over the center-field wall.

He was the first player to homer in his first career plate appearance since … one batter before, when Tyler Austin did the same exact thing.

On Aug. 13, 2016, Aaron Judge walked up to the plate for the first time as a Major Leaguer and promptly launched a ball deep over the center-field wall.

He was the first player to homer in his first career plate appearance since … one batter before, when Tyler Austin did the same exact thing.

It's kind of a fitting story for Austin, who has somehow never been the star of the show. He's a guy next to the guy, or batting for the guy, or being sent down to the Minors to make room for the guy. Everyone involved with the Yankees seems to love him, but few outside the room really know him.

Since that debut in 2016 through mid-April of this year, Austin only had 161 Big League at-bats to his name. It's not enough to get a read on a player, or on a person. And that's partly to do with circumstance, sure, to injuries that have slowed the 26-year-old at various points in his professional career. There's also a guy by the name of Greg Bird who regularly occupies the top of the Yankees' depth chart at first base.

But circumstances can change in an instant -- you've got to take what life gives you and run with it. Austin knows that. It's been a constant his entire life.

***

At times it can feel positively unfair, how little of life you can control. Just look at Austin's history since becoming a pro. You'll find a lineup of crises, enough to fill a season's worth of episodes on some Netflix medical drama.

After his senior year at Heritage High School in Conyers, Georgia, the Yankees drafted Austin in the 13th round of the 2010 MLB Draft. Soon thereafter, a series of unfortunate events unfolded that would have seemed unbelievable to Lemony Snicket.

In one of his very first at-bats as a pro, Austin got hit with a ball and fractured a bone in his hand, washing out the rest of his 2010 season. But when he came back in 2011, he tore up the Minors for a few months, raking in the Gulf Coast League before a quick promotion to Short-Season A-ball in Staten Island.

Then the injury bug took another bite.

Ten days after his promotion to Staten Island, Austin was placed on the disabled list. He came back and finished the year strong, but the next four seasons were filled with seven more trips to the DL or the temporarily inactive list. For every high, there was inevitably a low.

"He has always been a quality hitter," says Yankees general manager Brian Cashman. "He started immediately in his pro career putting himself on our radar with some elite performance. Unfortunately he has had a history with injuries, but when he's healthy, he has always produced and he has always battled. He's a pro in the way he goes about his business the right way. Health has always been the thing that stood in his way."

Austin was selected to play in the 2012 All-Star Futures Game but then suffered a concussion and had to withdraw. He made it back on the field that year, though, and produced enough to win the Yankees' Minor League Player of the Year Award and find his name on the top prospects list put out by Baseball America.

In 2014 he impressed at Double-A despite yet another injury, then was selected to take part in the Arizona Fall League, where he would compete alongside the top Minor League talent in the country. While chasing a foul ball during a game in the desert, Austin, who was playing right field, collided with a teammate and suffered a knee injury that ended his AFL season early. The teammate he collided with, Greg Bird, was fine.

"I went to the fall league three times and was hurt twice," Austin says, shaking his head. "It's just part of the game. I think my injuries, some of them are fluke injuries and it's just something that I've had to overcome, battle through and continue to get better every day from it."

By 2015 Austin had made it to Triple-A, but his production began to wane and the injuries were still stacking up. His poor showing led to a demotion. Eventually, in September of that year, when the Yankees needed to make room on the 40-man roster for some call-ups, he was designated for assignment.

"That was probably the most difficult time in my career," Austin admits. "I knew that on my ride home [after the season], I had a choice to make. I wasn't going to let that moment end my career. So I went back to the house and basically started over. I just worked as hard as I possibly could."

Austin had been low before, but this felt like rock bottom. If there was a silver lining, it was more practical than anything else; once you're down on the ground, there's nowhere to go but up.

"I don't think he was going to walk away at that point," says Brandon Thomas, Austin's longtime friend and offseason trainer. "But I think he was thinking, 'Is this ever going to happen? Am I ever going to get there?' He had been in the league for five or six years and kept getting injured and hurt, and he just can't crack that door down. So I think after that 2015 year, those thoughts were starting to creep in a little bit more. I told him, 'Let's just go to work because all you can do is go to work.'"

***

Austin and Thomas worked together for two hours nearly every day, with Thomas using a yoga-based regimen to help the first baseman improve his strength, flexibility and range of motion.

The Yankees retained the rejuvenated Austin and assigned him to Double-A Trenton to start 2016. By the beginning of June, he was back in Triple-A. When the calendar flipped to August and the Yankees needed a first baseman -- not to mention an infusion of some young blood -- Austin, who was batting .323 for the RailRiders, was called up to the Bronx for the first time. He would dress in the home clubhouse and take the Yankee Stadium field on Aug. 13, 2016.

And maybe it was some well-learned knowledge that his biggest moments had long been followed by some of the most frustrating, but Austin was determined to make his mark. Quickly. He walked up to the plate for the first time as a Major Leaguer and launched the sixth pitch he saw down the line and into the right-field seats.

By the end of the season, he had picked up 20 hits in 31 games and mashed five home runs -- including a blast on his birthday and a walk-off on Sept. 8. When Spring Training rolled around the following February, questions swirled as to whether Bird -- who had impressed with the Big League club in the second half of 2015 -- would be able to come back from a shoulder injury that had kept him sidelined the entire 2016 season. "Tyler Austin's going to have a lot to say about that, I'm sure," Cashman said at the time.

The Yankees prepared to open camp with first base up for grabs -- and there was also a job to be had in right field, where Austin also had considerable playing time. He had climbed out of his rock bottom to this new high -- a true make-or-break moment with the odds actually in Austin's favor. Were things finally turning around?

Pitchers and catchers reported to Tampa, Florida, on Feb. 14, 2017, with the rest of the roster due to officially arrive on Feb. 18. But Austin, like many players, reported early, hoping to get a jump on his breakout season.

And then, on Feb. 17, news broke that Austin had fouled off a ball in the cage and fractured his left foot.

What is the opposite of serendipity? Why did these things keep happening? And how does one build enough mental fortitude to stick through it long enough to see himself become the Opening Day first baseman just one year later?

***

You never know what you can endure. Your threshold for pain -- both physical and mental -- is, perhaps mercifully, indecipherable. But everyone has a limit. So you have to wonder how Austin isn't way past his by now.

The truth is, all that has happened to Austin as a pro … well that's just kid stuff, a secondary piece in his life's narrative.

The real story began in high school, when Austin seemingly had the world at his fingertips. He was a highly-scouted catcher at Heritage High with a chance to get drafted by a Big League club. His dreams were all there for the taking.

"I look back at high school, and you look at the way high school went -- we all knew that Tyler Austin was going to be somebody in baseball," says Thomas, who was a teammate of Austin's on the Heritage squad. "A lot of kids at that high school age can get arrogant with it and cocky. But he was never that way. He's always been a warrior and very humble, and he just works."

But something was wrong. Austin just knew it. He was feeling pain -- catchers always feel pain -- but this was different. After a visit to the doctor, he received a shocking diagnosis: testicular cancer. They would have to operate immediately.

"As soon as I found out, obviously I was scared," Austin says. "It was not something that I would wish upon anybody."

Any cancer diagnosis is terrifying and overwhelming. And for a 17-year-old, it can inevitably have a sort of life-defining quality. The way a person responds can color every decision for the rest of his or her life. Squint, and you can see everything refracting off that one turning point.

"I wasn't going to let it beat me, that's the big thing," he says. "I just kept telling myself over and over again that I was going to be all right and that I wasn't going to let this beat me."

Austin didn't have a choice in the moment. He would get healthy and then he would get back -- fast. There wasn't a Plan B, and there wasn't a pity party; he barely felt the need to tell people. He just wanted to beat it and get back to playing baseball as quickly as his doctors would allow.

And he did.

A week after surgery to remove the tumor, Austin was back on the field. He played in the 2009 Aflac All-American Baseball Classic at Petco Park in San Diego, despite the sutures having been removed just one day before.

Austin grimaces at the memory, saying it was one of the most painful experiences ever -- especially when he was moved from third base to catcher in the game. What got him through it? "Just the will to play, I think," he says. "I think that was the big thing, just being out on the field and getting the opportunity to play just gets you through it."

See, when you battle cancer, when you stare it in the face and beat it, everything that comes after is water off your back. You've already gotten some of the worst news a person can get, and yet somehow you're still here.

Austin has made a career of somehow finding a way to stick around.

Video: MIN@NYY: Austin belts a homer, makes a stellar catch

And it's not dumb luck -- if anything, it feels like Austin has walked under every ladder, opened a million umbrellas indoors and shattered every mirror he has ever seen.

"The best word for me to describe him would be a warrior," Thomas says. "I think that just embodies who he is. If you look at his career with the Yankees, I think it probably didn't go right off the bat the way he envisioned, just battling a lot of injuries and stuff like that. But he always keeps knocking at that door. He's always going to come back. You're never going to knock him out.

"I think he's had a vision and dream of himself playing Major League Baseball since he was 5 years old. That's just been in his mind, that's what he wants to happen, so he's going to make it happen."

Austin is a product of that will to play. He's pure resilience mixed with natural ability, hard work and an unwavering dedication to a dream. There has never been a Plan B for him. There has only ever been Plan A: play for the New York Yankees.

***

With Spring Training just about over this March, the Yankees still had one man too many on their roster. Austin was the odd man out. He was told he'd be starting the season in Triple-A.

Then, Bird went down and underwent surgery on March 27. He was officially placed on the DL two days later -- Opening Day -- and Austin was added to the 25-man roster. He had learned the day before that he was going to be batting ninth and playing first in the Yankees' 2018 opener.

"I was optioned in Spring Training, so I thought the chances of that happening were done for this year," says Austin, who grew up watching Yankees games with his grandmother. "You never want to see anybody go down like Greg did, but it was a special day for me to get the chance to be on that field on Opening Day for the New York Yankees.

"Getting the chance to put this uniform on every day is what I love most about it. This uniform is special and to know the people who have put it on before myself, to know the history that comes with it, I think that's what I love most about it."

The dream had come true. But the story couldn't just end there. Life keeps going. Circumstances change, so you have to adapt. For Austin, that means proving he has what it takes to be more than just the guy replacing the guy.

In his second game of the year, he mashed two home runs against the Blue Jays. As his at-bats became more consistent, he began contributing more and more.

But Austin brings more than just a bat with pop to the lineup. Many in the Yankees' clubhouse have been with Austin throughout his journey, and his passion for the game, his relentless pursuit of excellence, and his sheer force of will have left deep impressions.

"I have a lot of respect for Tyler," says Bird, praise that resonates considering their intertwined fates. "I didn't know him in high school, obviously, but I know the story there. Anyone who has gone through that, especially at that age, I have the utmost respect for. And in his professional baseball career, I've gotten to see that more firsthand, and he's had some challenging times. So I'm happy with where he's at, and I want to see him keep doing what he's doing and get a good chance because he's a Big Leaguer. He deserves it."

For Judge, who has enjoyed a smoother ride since the day of their joint debuts, Austin's evolution -- the good and the bad -- has been a sight to see. "It's pretty cool to see the struggles, the ups and downs in the Minor Leagues and then to finally get the call-up and do what he did in his debut. The way he contributes to the team is incredible. I love playing with him. He'll take the shirt off his back for you. He'll run through a wall for you, which he's done multiple times. It's just amazing to be around.

"He's a fighter, that's the biggest thing. He may get knocked down a couple times, but he's always getting right back up. He's not going to sit there and mope about past things that have hurt him, or a bad game or if he didn't make a play. Just seeing that positivity reflects on the whole team. When you see a guy like that run through walls and getting right back up saying let's make another play, that just fires you up as a teammate."

Maybe you're thinking, this guy might want to stop running through walls -- figurative or literal. But if Austin has learned anything in life, it's that opportunity is fleeting. So while he has the chance, he's committed to making an impact the only way he has ever known how.

"Just by going out and playing as hard as I can every day," he says of his new Plan A, which sounds a lot like his old Plan A. "I think that's the way I was brought up. Play hard, and play every play until the end of it. That's what I'm going to continue to do every day and whatever happens, happens.

"I just think [everything I went through] helps me to not take anything for granted and to continue to work hard every single day no matter the circumstances or the situation. To just enjoy this game and enjoy life."

Austin says and does all the right things. He knows anything can happen because anything and everything already has. But he's here now. He's playing this game that he loves so much now. After everything he has been through, what else could he possibly do?

Hilary Giorgi is the senior editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the May 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at yankees.com/publications.

New York Yankees, Tyler Austin

Yankees Magazine: Last Point of Arrival

After years of Minor League success, top prospects Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar prepare to make their mark in the Bigs
Yankees Magazine

For a team with expectations as high as the 2018 New York Yankees', it's unusual when Spring Training arrives and 50 percent of the starting infield has yet to be determined. But that was the situation this past February after a series of offseason trades sent the Yankees' 2017 Opening Day starters at second base (Starlin Castro) and third (Chase Headley) to Miami and San Diego, respectively; the team also signaled that free agent Todd Frazier, who supplanted Headley at third following a July trade with the White Sox, was unlikely to be re-signed.

A good old-fashioned competition would take place in Spring Training with the winner earning a starting job on a World Series hopeful. The contenders arrived in Tampa, Florida, one by one: Danny Espinosa, Jace Peterson, Tyler Wade and Ronald Torreyes. But the spotlight was on the phenoms: Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres, two of the Yankees' top prospects, and, in the case of Torres, one of the top five prospects in baseball.

For a team with expectations as high as the 2018 New York Yankees', it's unusual when Spring Training arrives and 50 percent of the starting infield has yet to be determined. But that was the situation this past February after a series of offseason trades sent the Yankees' 2017 Opening Day starters at second base (Starlin Castro) and third (Chase Headley) to Miami and San Diego, respectively; the team also signaled that free agent Todd Frazier, who supplanted Headley at third following a July trade with the White Sox, was unlikely to be re-signed.

A good old-fashioned competition would take place in Spring Training with the winner earning a starting job on a World Series hopeful. The contenders arrived in Tampa, Florida, one by one: Danny Espinosa, Jace Peterson, Tyler Wade and Ronald Torreyes. But the spotlight was on the phenoms: Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres, two of the Yankees' top prospects, and, in the case of Torres, one of the top five prospects in baseball.

But there were late entries into the race, spoilers who would eventually snag both gigs. When the Yankees acquired Brandon Drury, a longtime target of the front office, in a three-way trade on Feb. 20, and then signed free agent Neil Walker, a veteran second baseman with pop, on March 12, it effectively ended the competition; the Yankees optioned Andujar and Torres to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, halting their Major League dreams just as they were within reach.

It's a funny thing, that last rung on the ladder. Once you've gotten that high, what's one more step? But the higher the climb, the more precarious the balance. It's understandable why many prospects find that last step to be the toughest. Triple-A has been conquered. Developmental time is over. With nothing left to prove, the wait can be maddening.

Torres and Andujar, who have accomplished so much, overcome so much, and reached such great heights already, have spent years learning baseball's most frustrating lesson: You can't control when your moment comes, but you'd better be ready to seize it when it does.

***

Torres has been earmarked for stardom since even before he signed with the Chicago Cubs for $1.7 million as a 16-year-old free agent in 2013. A sure-handed infielder who hits for power and average, he joined the Yankees organization in July 2016 as the centerpiece of a trade deadline deal that sent closer Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs, and he started his climb up the organizational ranks from the moment he was assigned to High-A Tampa.

A trip to the Arizona Fall League ended with Torres, the youngest prospect on the circuit, winning MVP honors. He was then invited to Big League Spring Training with the Yankees in 2017, where, once again, he was the youngest player in camp, and, once again, he dominated, hitting .448 (13-for-29) with nine extra-base hits. And when Didi Gregorius injured his shoulder while playing in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, Torres was the choice of then-Yankees manager Joe Girardi to replace the starting shortstop on Opening Day. But Yankees general manager Brian Cashman overruled that decision and optioned Torres to the Minors.

Playing at times alongside Andujar, the hard-hitting third base prospect who figured to join Torres in the Bronx infield before too long, the young Venezuelan shortstop clobbered Double-A and Triple-A pitching last spring and by mid-June appeared headed for the Majors until an awkward slide left him on Dr. David Altchek's operating table.

Torres was attempting to score from second on a scorcher into right field. Curving toward home, he schemed out a route past the catcher's tag. He attempted an unorthodox slide -- not truly headfirst, more like a hook slide with his left arm extending for the plate -- and was ruled out.

He writhed around on the dirt afterward, clutching his left arm before being helped into the RailRiders' dugout. The initial diagnosis was a hyperextended elbow. Two days later, he visited the Yankees' team doctor and received the bad news: a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his non-throwing elbow that would require season-ending Tommy John surgery.

"I felt like it almost took [away] my dream," Torres says, nearly 10 months later. "I cried for a couple of days."

He shunned baseball following the surgery, preferring to rest his mind along with his ailing body. He was then cleared to work out his legs in the weight room. Then he started running. Playing catch followed. The Yankees' postseason run dovetailed with his recovery, and Torres was soon watching October baseball while he rehabbed. Instead of fixating on hypotheticals -- the possibility that he might have tasted playoff baseball if not for his injury -- he focused on his health, and he was hitting off a tee before he knew it.

Now, he's finally healthy. But along with that license to play ball comes the hard part: reaching his potential. "I don't think anyone has higher expectations than he does," says Scranton/Wilkes-Barre skipper Bobby Mitchell, who nonetheless added a few words of caution for his shooting-star talent. "If he rushes, though, then those expectations can cause problems."

***

Spring Training arrived full of promise, as Torres was given the opportunity to win an everyday job this season. With the open competitions at both second and third base, a repeat of his 2017 performance might likely have been enough to propel the now-21-year-old into the Yankees' Opening Day starting lineup.

But the Feb. 28 matinee against the Detroit Tigers best illustrates Torres' spring, both the highs and the lows. In the top of the third inning, with runners on first and third and no outs, Torres made a diving stop of a line drive up the middle. He then glove-flipped the ball from his stomach, and the toss scuttled past Gregorius, who was covering second. The E4 turned costly when the next batter bashed a three-run home run, the margin of defeat in the Yankees' 9-6 loss.

"I remember that play," says Carlos Mendoza, the Yankees' infield coach. "As a coach, you go up to him and remind him. He knew. He saw me walking toward him, and he was like, 'I got it. I tried to be too quick.' What I liked about it was the way he responded afterward. And the way he responded was that he made two great plays the following inning."

There was little silver lining to be found in Torres' struggles at the plate, though, as he batted just .219 (7 for 32) in Grapefruit League play. Once Walker signed, the youngster's fate became clear. He was optioned to Triple-A the following day.

A month removed from his frustrating Spring Training, Torres offers a mature postmortem. "A little rust for sure," he says. "It's not that easy to come back after nine months and play baseball very well. I am human" (This is the point where we remind fans that Gary Sanchez was essentially gifted the backup catcher job prior to Spring Training in 2016, but hit just 2-for-22. Promoted for good in August, he hit 20 home runs in 52 games).

Video: MIN@NYY: Torres rips his first MLB double to left

Shortly after taking a mid-April round of batting practice, Torres sits in an area adjacent to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre home locker room inside PNC Field where coaches are crunching game film. For the next 30 minutes, Torres tells his story, from academies and showcases in his hometown of Caracas to his rise through both the Cubs' and Yankees' organizations. Like many Venezuela-born players, he deflects questions about the political and humanitarian crisis engulfing his country.

He speaks without the aid of an interpreter, a remarkable feat for someone who first started taking English classes in April 2015. "The motivation is that I like to explain myself. I like to explain how I feel or why I feel it," he says. "My English right now is not perfect, for sure, but I am working on it."

Upon request, he rolls up his sleeve to reveal the scar from his Tommy John surgery. "Right on my tattoo," he says. Torres sports a sleeve of ink on his left arm. "Believe" is inscribed on the outside of his left hand. He demurs when asked to explain the significance of each marking. "Sorry, every tattoo is personal."

Torres flourished at Triple-A this season. In 14 games for Scranton/Wilkes- Barre, the phenom hit .347 (17 for 49) and was named International League Player of the Week on April 16. And with the Yankees needing a spark in the lineup, Torres was called up to the Big Leagues on April 22.

A few hours prior to his Major League debut, Torres stood in front of his locker in the Yankees clubhouse -- situated between Sanchez's and Aaron Judge's lockers -- and fielded questions from reporters for 15 minutes. He said that the promotion surprised him and admitted that a combination of nerves and excitement limited him to three hours of sleep the night before. But when asked if he was ready, Torres smiled and said, "Yeah, I'm here, for sure. I just try to do my job and help my team."

***

"He was always a kid that had a smile on his face," Mendoza says when asked about his first impressions upon seeing Andujar -- the Yankees' starting third baseman as of mid-April -- when both were in the Minors. But something else stood out about the Dominican slugger when he was just a teenager playing Rookie Ball. "The way he prepared and the way he went about his business for a 17, 18 year old was really, really impressive. His work ethic was off the charts."

He steadily rose through the organization due to his bat. Andujar has a hard, violent swing, a vicious thwack reminiscent, in a way, of Gary Sheffield's, and he utilizes it effectively. A midseason Big League promotion in June of 2017 led to a record-setting debut, as Andujar collected three hits and four RBI in a win over the Chicago White Sox. Even still, Andujar was sent back down to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after the game, but he took the disappointment in stride. "An experience like last year makes you want to work harder," he says, assisted by Yankees bilingual media relations coordinator Marlon Abreu, "because there are always things you want to improve."

Video: MIA@NYY: Sterling calls Andujar's first career homer

Back in Scranton, he worked on his footwork at third base, particularly his leftward movements, and offered to take reps at first. Hitting was never a concern; Andujar batted above .300 and had 54 extra-base hits last season between Double-A and Triple-A. So after the Yankees decided not to retain their veteran third basemen this offseason, Andujar became a contender for the starting job at the hot corner -- not that he was gunning for it, or so he says.

"I never put that in mind. I never set that as a goal," Andujar says. "To me it was just a matter of working hard, continuing to do my job, continuing to perform, and that's what I like to focus on."

Unlike Torres, Andujar nearly captured the position this spring, clubbing four home runs including a walk-off, but Drury was named the starter. Andujar, in turn, was assigned to Triple-A. But he was called back to the majors before even playing a single 2018 game for the RailRiders, following a rash of injuries during the Yankees' opening series in Toronto. Eventually, as the still-falling dominoes sent Drury to the disabled list, Andujar became the Yankees' starting third baseman in April. And after a 3-for-28 start, Andujar strung together a 13-for-25 streak, lifting his batting average from .107 to .308, and smacked his first Big League home run.

"He is a special player, man," says Tyler Austin, another young Yankees player who stepped into a role vacated by an injured teammate this spring. "Watching him go about his business and play the way he does every day, he's going to be a really good player in the Big Leagues for a long time."

***

The Gleyber Torres Watch was officially on last month, with the New York tabloids and people on social media breathlessly following his exploits. When his name is absent from the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre lineup posted before the RailRiders' April 11 game against Lehigh Valley, Mitchell has to explain that his star infielder has a day off due to the brutally cold conditions. A former outfielder with the Dodgers and Twins, Mitchell has coached Minor Leaguers for more than 25 years, meaning he is not prone to hyperbole. He has seen top prospects both flourish and flame out. With that in mind, his scouting report on Torres comes across as particularly gushing.

"He can really hit," Mitchell begins. "He can play shortstop. He has really good hands. He can play second base and third base. I think the main thing is, for his age he is very mature in his preparation. He remembers pitchers really well. If he has faced them once, he can remember how they pitched him. He's very far advanced for his age in that area. He's unique in that way. He really is. It seems like he has been doing that for a long time. I don't think he writes anything down. He remembers it in his head, who he has faced and who he recognizes. It's going to be really beneficial when he gets to the Big League level."

Mitchell and Torres both know that a promotion is inevitable -- as long as he slides feet-first from now on. "He's very conscious of it," Mitchell says as he cracks a smile.

A few feet from Mitchell's office, Yankees special advisor Nick Swisher prepares to dive into more game film. This is his first time seeing Torres play competitively, and he is impressed. "He's 21 years old, and he's got game, bro," Swisher says. "The sky is the limit."

Swisher has unique perspective into what Torres, and Andujar to an extent, are experiencing at this stage of their careers. A first-round pick of the Oakland Athletics out of Ohio State, Swisher was one of the top prospects in baseball, landing at No. 24 in Baseball America's Top 100 prior to the 2005 season. And yet, he wasn't a household name to fans. "Back then, no one cared about prospects," he says. "Nowadays these prospects are on ESPN and Fox Sports, and sometimes you can get caught up in that hype."

Swisher finished sixth in the 2005 American League Rookie of the Year Award voting, but was traded to the White Sox following the 2007 season and then to the Yankees the following offseason. He departed the Bronx in 2012 as an All-Star and a World Series champion. He understands that a Big League promotion isn't the soft landing. It's the takeoff.

"Getting to the Big Leagues is not the ultimate goal -- getting to the Big Leagues and helping your team win a championship should be the ultimate goal," Swisher says. "Getting to the Big Leagues and sticking and making a name for yourself is the ultimate goal. It's not just getting there. Getting there? What? A lot of people just got there."

Miguel Andujar already got there. And Gleyber Torres has finally arrived, as well. But if they didn't know already, they will soon realize that just getting there is not enough.

Thomas Golianopoulos is the associate editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the May 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at yankees.com/publications.

New York Yankees, Miguel Andujar, Gleyber Torres

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