Andrew Velazquez attended countless Yankee games as a kid, but he couldn’t recall attending a game against the team’s most bitter rivals.
“Those tickets were probably too expensive for me,” Velazquez, a Bronx resident, said Wednesday when asked if he had ever seen the Red Sox visit Yankee Stadium.
Velazquez, 27, spoke wearing a fitted Yankees cap backwards and a gray Yankees hoodie. Hardly unique clothing choices in Velazquez’s hometown, if not for the wrestling-style championship belt draped over his left shoulder.
Velazquez had one of the best seats for the Yankees’ Boston three-game sweep this week. Better yet, he played an instrumental role in the leaderboard-shifting series. With family members in the Yankee Stadium crowd, Velazquez hit 3 for 7 at the plate, batted in four runs and stole a base. His two-day RBI total surpassed the number he had amassed in his entire career earlier this week.
While he’s long since left his childhood hero with Derek Jeter-esque jump throws, Velazquez also showed a dazzling defense at shortstop. That included a sliding, backhanded, game-ending play on Thursday (he got help from Anthony Rizzo on a slightly erring pitch).
Minutes after Thursday’s win, Velazquez gave a speech to his Yankees teammates, a ritual that comes with the wrestling belt for the player of the game. He compared the series to ‘The Twilight Zone’.
“I wish I wrote it down,” Velazquez said of his speech. “It sounded pretty good coming out of my mouth. It just came from the heart. I’m honored to be here in that locker room with those guys. I’ve dreamed of doing what we just did. In real life it was much better.”
Velazquez’s outburst of productivity against Boston came as a surprise and the hot streak continued on Thursday when he went 2 for 3 with a triple and a stolen base in a 7-5 win over the Minnesota Twins.
Velazquez, who had played short stints in the majors for other teams in the past three seasons, was called up by the Yankees for a road trip that began on August 9. backyard.
His performance against Boston caught the attention of everyone from Bronx-born comedian Desus Nice to Police Commissioner Dermot Shea. Velazquez’s father, Kenny, was a detective at the 42nd Precinct near Yankee Stadium; Velazquez wears a replica of his father’s golden shield on a chain during games.
Despite being the toast of the town, Velazquez has kept himself going by staying with his parents.
“It’s much closer than staying in Manhattan,” he said of his less than 30-minute commute to work. “It’s also cheaper.”
Velazquez has had moments that he could only fantasize about as a child. But he didn’t get here without “a lot of hard times in baseball,” he said.
Velazquez, a Fordham Prep product, was drafted in the seventh round by the Diamondbacks in 2012. A trade to the Rays organization followed in 2014. He was drafted by Tampa Bay in 2018, but another trade sent him to the Rays organization in July 2019. cleveland. a utility man, he had two hits in 23 at bats between the two clubs that year.
Baltimore claimed Velazquez from waivers in February 2020. The suppressed, rebuilding Orioles offered him his greatest feat of Major League action yet. Velazquez made 40 appearances during the 60-game season, but he struggled and hit .159 in 63 at bats. He was released in November 2020.
At that point, Velazquez had only three RBI’s to his name, but the Yankees saw that clay could be formed. Velazquez took the opportunity to play for his home team, an organization that has helped batters with similar resumes in recent years.
“We have a lot of information when we acquire these guys, and that information is communicated across the board,” said Casey Dykes, the Yankees batting coach at Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. “So we have an idea of why a guy like Andrew is extremely interesting and wanted in this organization, and then we have a plan of action for the future of what we’re going to tackle to try and help him become the best version of himself as player.”
Switch-hitting Velazquez made some mechanical adjustments to his swing after joining the Yankees, but Dykes said the organization’s blueprint revolved around refining his approach. Dykes wanted Velazquez to be more of a ‘penalty tactician’, someone who understood how pitchers would attack him and could control the zone. Those skills would lead to better contact, bringing Velazquez to the base. That would give him the opportunity to “wreak havoc” with his speed.
It was a good plan.
According to Aaron Boone, Velazquez immediately endeared himself to the Yankees coaching staff during spring training, setting strong numbers at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre led by Dykes. After batting .283 with a .838 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, seven homeruns, 43 RBI and 26 stolen bases in Class AAA, Velazquez was called up to the Yankees when Gleyber Torres came down with a thumb injury.
“It was clear when he first got there that this guy would have the opportunity to really make an impact on this roster this year,” Dykes said. “Nobody really knew when that would be, but now he’s got that chance and he’s doing a great job.”
But Velazquez doesn’t think about that. How could he if he’s fulfilling his wildest dreams?
“We are here now,” Velazquez said on Tuesday. “It’s a beautiful thing.”