The winner takes it all? This is what Harrison Bader has been waiting for

WHEN HARRISON BADER discovered that his childhood dream was coming true, his first reaction was unexpected: disappointment.

St. Louis, where he had spent the last five and a half seasons as a member of the Cardinals, had become his home. The team drafted Bader from Florida in 2015, and when they called him up in 2017, he became a fan favorite. When told by the Cardinals’ owners and front office that he was at the core of their roster and the team’s future, Bader put down roots in the community. He was named King of St. Louis Mardi Gras. He befriended local politicians like Missouri State Senator Brian Williams and was working with him to bring a PGA golf event to St. Louis.

But on Aug. 2 of this season, when his phone rang four minutes before the trade deadline with a call from Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak, Bader knew his time in St. Louis was up.

“Say it ain’t so, Mo,” Bader told Mozeliak.

The exchange went to New York, 11 miles from where Bader grew up in Bronxville, New York. Bader had idolized Derek Jeter and the Core Four, attending the Yankees’ playoff run in 2009, and when the team lifted the World Series trophy that year, he figured he would one day do the same. When news of his new home leaked on Twitter, Bader’s phone was flooded with text messages from friends he graduated with from Horace Mann, a private school in the Bronx. To most of his high school friends, Bader expressed his excitement at playing for his hometown team again.

But to his best friend, Nick Wiener, whom he met in second grade, he expressed his frustration.

“I understand why they did it,” Bader told Wiener. “But I’m going to make them see that it was a bad decision.”

There were other factors complicating the situation. Before playing a game with the Yankees, Bader faced skepticism from the same fans he once cheered with, who wondered why the front office would trade lefty starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery for Bader, then on the injured list with fasciitis. plantar and using one foot. boot.

It didn’t help that the Yankees struggled after the deal, going 10-18 in August, hitting .221/.297/.354 in that span and seeing their division lead shrink from 15.5 games to four. Montgomery blossomed early for St. Louis, allowing just one run in his first 25⅔ innings, good for a 0.35 ERA in four starts.

In the meantime, all Bader could do was wait to heal and show up to play when it counted most, down the stretch and into October.

Has arrived. Since he made his debut on Sept. 20, Bader has won over skeptical Yankees fans, exhibiting a Gold Glove defense in center field. In a close ALDS going to a decisive Game 5 on Monday night in the Bronx, Bader has soloed in Game 1 and Game 3 against the Cleveland Guardians before hitting a two-run homer in Game 4, joining Bernie Williams and Mickey Mantle as the only Yankees center fielders with three home runs in a single postseason. They were also his first three home runs as a Yankee.

“Coming to New York,” Bader revealed, “I felt like I hit the reset button.”

HARRISON BADER REALLY loved her long hair. He initially grew his mane out in 2018, inspired by players he saw in the NHL, whose flow is visible under his helmet. He loved that his hair made him recognizable.

But playing for the Yankees means adhering to the franchise’s infamous grooming policy, which prohibits all male players, coaches and executives from displaying facial hair other than a mustache and growing hair below the collar.

For Bader, it was symbolic. Hitting the reset button meant getting a haircut.

“There wasn’t even a thought about it,” Bader said. “It was great, happy to do it. I had a great time on and off the field in St. Louis, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but in a lot of ways, this was emblematic of turning the page.”

But even after the haircut, it took Bader weeks to really process how his life had changed. He sold his house in St. Louis; his mom came and helped him pack up his life to go back north. He walked into the Yankees’ clubhouse for the first time, but Bader didn’t fully feel the weight of it all until he finally healed from his injury and returned to the field on September 20, the day Aaron Judge hit his 60th home run of the season. season. and the Yankees rallied from four runs down in the ninth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“I don’t think he really processed it until he started going to batting practice and putting on a Yankees uniform,” Wiener said. “He didn’t fully process it until he was out there and debuted.”

Postseason success has felt like validation for Bader, proof of why he deserves to wear the pinstripes, why the Yankees saw fit to trade him for him despite his injury. While Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told Bader that he expected the outfielder to be an impact player for New York, Bader knew fans had questions and they weren’t the only ones. Montgomery was popular in the Yankees’ clubhouse, and Bader knew it would take time for him to win over his new teammates, especially given his inability to join them on the field right away.

But Bader knew that focusing on things outside of his control would only hamper his ability to be successful on the field.

“You focus on the next thing, the next opportunity,” Bader said. “So, you get rid of all the other anxiety.”

IT’S HARD miss Bader in the clubhouse. He often dresses like another 20-something New Yorker walking the streets of SoHo, wearing bright graphic tees and touted sneakers such as the Nike Ben & Jerry collaboration Chunky Dunkys, which are resold on the secondary market for up to $5,000. Bader’s new teammates describe him as outgoing, someone who always greets the people around him.

Yankees ace Gerrit Cole noticed Bader’s presence immediately once he joined the team.

“It’s electric, really,” Cole said. “An electric player, an impact player. There are a lot of good things to say about that guy.”

When he joined the Yankees, he also made it a point to meet outfielder Aaron Judge. While the two needed to know each other to communicate while chasing fly balls, Bader also admired the way Judge carried himself on and off the field.

“Brother, not in a weird way, but I want to get close to him and do what he does,” Bader told Wiener. “I’m spending every minute I can next to that man.”

While Bader had a fierce approach to the game in St. Louis, he saw Judge’s calm, mature demeanor and wanted to adopt it for himself.

“I wanted to surround myself with him and his energy,” Bader said last week. “We move as a unit and he’s part of that. It was a conscious decision to be like, we’re going to work alongside each other, so let’s talk. Let’s see where we’re at and just be the best version of ourselves for this team.” .

He has also returned to New York life, returning to his high school routine of eating a blueberry muffin with bacon, egg and cheese in the morning, grabbing a slice from his favorite pizzeria (Best Pizza, at First) and attending to a friend’s wedding from high school. She returned to local favorites like Caridad Express, a Dominican restaurant in the Bronx where she goes with her off-season training partner, Andy Camilo.

Usually on the field, though, Bader tries to show as little emotion as possible, hoping that suppressing his feelings will prompt him to play better. But when his first home run as a Yankee went over the left-field fence in Game 1 of the ALDS, Bader couldn’t help but savor the moment, something he took to visualizing to prepare.

“You don’t want to detract from anything that may come later in the game, but it was really tough when everyone was cheering,” Bader noted. “It was a great moment. I enjoyed it, and again, as soon as it was over, it was safe again.”

Even as the Yankees face possible elimination in Game 5, Bader is reining in those emotions again. He doesn’t want to dwell on fulfilling his childhood fantasy for long.

“It’s a conscious decision every day not to go too high and not too low,” Bader said. “It’s all just the next opportunity. You have to be completely still and just relax and have no emotions for when the next opportunity comes,” he concluded.

For Bader and the Yankees, that opportunity is now.

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