There has not been much to cheer about at the friendly confines of Fenway Park this season, with elimination from playoff contention looming ever closer.
However, this past Tuesday night brought something truly unique and special to Fenway Park. The Red Sox faced off against the San Francisco Giants in an interleague match-up which featured the Fenway Park debut of one Mike Yastrzemski. Mike is the grandson of Carl Yastrzemski, a Major League Baseball Hall-of-Famer, as well as Red Sox legend, and the significance of the moment was not lost on the Red Sox’ faithful.
As great as that moment was, it did not hold a candle to what happened when Mike came up to bat in the 4th inning.
A Fenway audience had not seen a Yastrzemski hit a home run since 1983, which was the last of Carl Yastrzemski’s 23 seasons with the Red Sox.
The moment certainly was not lost on Mike either, as he reflected on his grandfather’s incredible and long career manning left field for the Boston Red Sox.
“When I turned 23, that was kind of the big, shocking moment — that for my entire life he had shown up at Fenway Park every day,” Mike Yastrzemski said. “That kind of blew my mind — I can’t picture 23 years’ worth of Major League Baseball experience. That’s when that really set in, when I started to see the magnitude of his effect on this city.”
Carl Yastrzemski was a key member of the 1967 Red Sox, a year that is still referred to as “The Impossible Dream” in Red Sox lore. That team, famously or infamously depending on how one looks at it, fell short of winning the World Series after finally making it there for the first time since 1946.
For Carl, watching his grandson play the game he loved in the same ballpark he loved for 23 years of his life was just as special as The Impossible Dream.
“The only way I can compare it to anything would be if I compare it to the ’67 season,” he said of seeing his grandson at Fenway. “That’s what it means to me, him being here.”
The journey to the big leagues has not been a smooth one for Mike, as is proven by the fact that he is a 29-year-old rookie.
Following a trip to the College World Series, Mike was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the 30th round of the 2012 MLB draft and was given a generous offer of $300,000 from the team. He turned down the offer in order to fulfill the promise he made to his late father to earn his college degree.
After completing his senior year at Vanderbilt, Mike was selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the 14th round of the MLB draft, and he decided to sign with the team and enter into their system.
From 2013-2018 Mike toiled away in Baltimore’s farm system, mostly splitting time between the club’s Double-A and Triple-A affiliates. He never put up remarkable numbers through his minor league career, but it was clear that Mike had the talent to warrant a spot on a big league roster.
Luckily for him, that opportunity would come in March of this year when Mike was traded to the San Francisco Giants. He played just 40 games for the Giants’ Triple-A affiliate in Sacramento, batting .316 and smacking 12 home runs during that short span. On May 25th, Mike was called up to the majors by the Giants and was immediately given the opportunity to start and show exactly what he is made of.
Mike has made the most of the opportunity, batting .266 with 20 home runs so far through the first 97 games of his major league career. Yastrzemski has turned a lot of heads this season, including that of his own teammate, Tyler Beede, who speaks highly of his former college roommate and the way he is approaching the game since being called up to the big leagues.
“Those pitches where he’s doing damage now, before he was just trying to hit liners in the gap or make solid contact,” said Giants pitcher Tyler Beede, who roomed with Yastrzemski at Vanderbilt. “Now he’s trying to actually do damage and drive the ball out of the ballpark. I’m sure he’s adapted his swing and tried to add a little launch angle to it, too.
“But I tell you what, he’s also one of the most sound defenders you’ll ever see. There will be fly balls hit to him and I know it’s going to be a difficult play, but sometimes I don’t even turn around because I know he’s going to catch it.”
Mike’s home run at Fenway Park on Tuesday night was so much bigger than just a great baseball moment, it was a great moment in life for the 29-year-old outfielder. He has, unfortunately, experienced a lot of hardship throughout his life. His parents divorced when he was just six years old, and his father passed away unexpectedly due to a blood clot that developed following a hip surgery. His father, Michael, reportedly used Carl’s name in order to obtain credit cards and run up thousands of dollars worth of debt. Michael Yastrzemski, who went by Carl Jr. through most of his life, passed away at the age of 44 due to a blood clot that developed following a hip surgery.
The one phrase that we will hear a lot now that Mike is in the big leagues is, “He has a long way to go to catch what his grandfather did”, but he doesn’t have to. Mike has carved out his own path to Major League Baseball and now it looks like he is here to stay and leave a legacy of his own.