FORT MYERS, Fla. – You could tell it was a proud moment for Carl Yastrzemski.
His grandson Michael, an outfielder, was on the Orioles roster for a game against the Red Sox at JetBlue Park on Sunday. Carl and Mike exchanged a hug and conversed for a while behind the batting cage.
“It means a lot,” the elder Yaz said of his grandson, with whom he shared a special bond and taught him hitting on Sunday afternoons at the batting cage in North Andover.
Michael Yastrzemski had a stellar career at Vanderbilt University after deciding not to sign with the Red Sox out of high school. He was drafted by the Orioles and signed, and spent last season at Class-A Aberdeen. The right fielder was thrilled to be able to play for the Orioles against his hometown team and the team that made his grandfather so famous.
“I knew even before I was coming to spring training that he was going to be down here,” Mike Yastrzemski said. “We had conversations about who was coming down and he said he’d be down on the 1st or 2nd, so I figured he’d be here.”
Mike said it would be special to be playing in front of his grandfather, with whom he said he had a “normal grandfather-grandson relationship. We talk about a lot of other stuff. Fishing, baseball, golf. It’s all good.”
The elder Yaz made it to Vandy on a couple of occasions to watch him play.
“He didn’t make it to Aberdeen, but when he came down to Vandy a couple of times, we had a good time,” Mike said.
Carl said he never wanted to overwhelm his grandson with his hitting knowledge or what he thought he should be doing. Yaz said he started working with him seriously when Mike was a freshman in high school, but he would also bring former Red Sox hitting coach Walt Hriniak along.
He said his personal clinics with him got a little too intense, so he backed off.
The biggest advice Yaz gave him?
“Just to be myself. Have fun and do what I can to play at my best level,” Mike said.
As he looked around JetBlue Park, Mike said he was hoping he would get into the game.
“It would be great,” Mike said. “To be able to play at a replica Fenway in spring training, first time being at a big-league camp, it would be real special.”
“it just proves that a lot of hard work take you a long way. Put the time in,” Carl said.
Carl also felt it was best that his grandson didn’t sign with the Red Sox.
“Without a doubt. I think if he had signed, there would have been a lot of pressure. He likes Baltimore and he’s with a great organization. We also have one of our former Red Sox Triple A managers – RJ (Ron Johnson) taking care of him,” Carl said.
Mike, who earned his bachelor’s degree at Vanderbilt, has made a seamless transition from aluminum bat to wooden bat. At Aberdeen last season playing right field, he hit .273 with three homers and 25 RBI. A lefthanded hitter, he hit lefties at a .367 clip with a 1.051 OPS.
It will be interesting to see how far he gets.
“I think he has a shot because he has the desire and determination and that can take you a long way,” Carl said.
Carl had a distinctive stance, and said while his grandson doesn’t quite hold the bat the same way, there are similarities.
“A little bit (the same) when he lets go of the bat,” said Carl, referring to the Hriniak influence. “We were talking about that a little while ago. Make sure you hold on. Don’t take it off too early. A lot of people thought I was way up here. I was always top hand near my ear. So many hitters held the bat lower – that’s why I stood out – but guys now hold it much higher.
While Yaz said he hadn’t gone to the minor league camp yet, he loves what he sees from Will Middlebrooks.
“I like the way Middlebrooks is swinging. He’s thinking up the middle. He’s got a quick bat; no reason not to hit .300. I told (Dustin) Pedroia he got taller. He was hitting them out of here. I liked looking at (Grady) Sizemore. Liked him over the years. He had some good years in Cleveland,” Carl said.
Asked about his other passion – fishing – and the time spent with Michael doing that, Carl said, “he’s a better fisherman than me.”