There’s a certain amount of irony to a Yastrzemski being given a slap of reality by a player’s name.
But Mike Yastrzemski is not his grandfather. What he is, he’s trying to prove, is a major league outfielder. When Game 9 of that quest arrived, he saw 6-feet, 6-inches of blonde flamethrower. And it hit him.
“Looking in the face of [Noah] Syndergaard was the first time that happened for me — realizing like, all right, this is real,” the Giants corner outfielder told KNBR on Tuesday, remembering a June 4 night he went 0-for-4 against the Mets starter. “But I’m here for the same reason. You got to convince yourself of that and stay in your mindset. That whole experience was something I never really had click until I got [to the majors].”
It’s a lesson he learned quickly, even if nothing in this journey has been quick. The former Vanderbilt stud was a 14th-round draft pick of the Orioles in 2013, and he crushed Single-A ball the following year. He stalled at Double-A, though, and visions of Carl Yastrzemski’s grandson roaming a Northeast outfield started to grow distant.
He bounced between Double- and Triple-A from 2015-18, playing in 663 games in the Orioles farm system before he got the call. But not the call he thought he’d be getting.
The Giants traded for Yastrzemski in late March, another intriguing option for a team looking toward the future. Yastrzemski’s future started on May 25, and in Tuesday’s game, he’ll get his 100th big-league plate appearance.
He’s shown the Giants enough to now be at the top of the order, slashing .244/.296/.456 entering the Oracle Park matchup against the Rockies. He’s shown them enough to earn another 100 appearances.
“I hope so,” said Yastrzemski, 28 and no longer a kid. “Just trying to still settle in. There’s a lot of guys around the league I haven’t faced, a lot of pitchers. Trying to learn how they like to work guys and pitch in certain situations. There’s still a learning curve. But I feel like it’s heading in the right direction.”
The numbers support that. The lefty has gone 10-for-34 (.294) with four home runs in his past 11 games.
The Giants have churned through outfielder after outfielder this season, and after eight-plus years in the minors, he’s had enough of a taste of the major league life to want more.
“You have great clubhouses, great food, the ability to play in front of 30,000 people,” Yastrzemski said. “The games just seem to mean more. It’s a fun atmosphere and one you want to stay in as long as possible.”
With Steven Duggar out, at-bats have been easier to come by. But the discovery of Alex Dickerson could be a blow, another lefty corner outfielder who’s flashing out of the gate. There’s only so many at-bats to go around with Kevin Pillar, Tyler Austin and Brandon Belt also in the mix.
“He’s done a nice job,” Bruce Bochy said of Yastrzemski. “… Doesn’t seem fazed at all or anything. He swings with authority, can do some damage.”
Yastrzemski, who’s either led off or batted second his past five games, was quick to note he didn’t care where he appeared in the lineup — just getting penciled in was enough. But the placement did encourage him that maybe this stint will last.
He learned to survive in the minors. He’s learning to survive in the majors.
“You need to stay in the moment. There’s so much here that can distract you if you want it to,” he said. “In terms of numbers, analytics or the crowd or just seeing someone with a big name across their back on the other side.”
He hopes the Giants have one of those, too.