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Sheffield at home in spotlight
10/15/2004 8:25 PM ET
BOSTON -- No matter how good a player has been elsewhere, there is always the question about how he will handle playing in New York, for the Yankees, under baseball's biggest spotlight.

In the case of Gary Sheffield, the issue was settled early and decisively. Sheffield put up an MVP-caliber season in 2004 for the Yanks, and he did so while playing with the nagging pain of a separated shoulder. Where others might have sought surgery, Sheffield just looked for more pitches to drive.

So with it settled that he's a New York kind of guy, we move on to the next level of difficulty. How will the player, new to the Yankees, handle the heat of playing in the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, particularly in the postseason?

It's early, but in the first two games of the American League Championship Series, Sheffield had five hits, including two doubles, and scored four runs. So it looks like he's going to be just fine at this level, too,

Sheffield didn't get any more hits Friday night, but then again, neither did anybody else. Game 3 of the ALCS was postponed by rain, a lot of rain. The precipitation in Boston was persistent. The fog was thicker than chowder. If the weather had been like this when the Pilgrims hit Plymouth Rock they would have made a quick left and not stopped again until roughly Daytona Beach.

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On the plus side, the postponement gave us time to ask Gary Sheffield about his Yankees experience and about the New York vs. Boston experience as well. His production and his willingness to play through pain -- and play well through pain -- has quickly made him a fan favorite in the Bronx.

"It makes me feel good, no doubt about it," Sheffield said Friday. "This is something I always wanted. I mean, I wanted the same appreciation that they showed my uncle (Dwight Gooden). Those are things that stick out in my mind, how they treated him. They're a major reason why I wanted to come here."

Sheffield also understands the flip side. When you're playing in New York and you're performing poorly there is no place to hide.

"If you like a pat on the back all the time, then this ain't the place to come," Sheffield said with a smile. "But I knew that coming in.

"It's one of those things where you've got to take the good with the bad. You can't just think that it's going to be all good and everybody is always going to praise you. I'm the type of player, my Dad always raised me to play hard, no matter what, even if nobody is patting you on the back or thanking you for what you've done, just continue to do it."

Even a team of thorough professionals such as the Yankees can use an occasional adjustment to the overall team blend. What the Yankees got with Sheffield was professionalism with an edge.

"I think he's added toughness and attitude," said Yankees bench coach Willie Randolph. "To me, Gary is an old-school, National League, in-your-face type. We kind of needed that. There's a certain edge that he brings -- a competitive edge. It's not something we lacked, but it's something we needed a little bit. We've got professionals, great guys that play the game right. But they're not mean guys. Gary's mean, but in the right way.

"Thanks to him, I had my best year ever. I hit .326 in 1991 (for the Milwaukee Brewers), and it was because Gary unfortunately broke his wrist in Spring Training. I went from a platoon player to an everyday player, and I had the opportunity to hit. Thanks, Gary. I remember him when he was a baby back then, so it's good to see that he's still playing and still one of the best players in the game."

And now "one of the best players in the game" steps smack into the center of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.

Sheffield has been around the block a few times. When he first reached the big leagues in 1988, he was a teenager. He has played with a World Series winner, the 1997 Florida Marlins. But this experience is outside his previous experience.

"It's everything everybody said it was," he said. "You really can't explain the intensity of this. I've tried to sum it up to my father and my mother. They asked me what it's like and how I feel and you just can't put it into words. I've played in front of almost 70,000 people at Joe Robbie Stadium. It's a football stadium and it holds more people. And playing at Yankee Stadium in a playoff atmosphere against Boston, that's the loudest I've ever heard it. I mean, you just feel closed in. It's like: 'Man, this place is going to fall down.' It overwhelms you at times.

"Yeah, this is what the fans want to see, but we want to give the fans what they want to see. I know everybody wants to see Boston and New York play, especially with A-Rod on the team, one of the greatest players ever to play the game, and [Derek] Jeter and [Jorge] Posada and these guys, and then to see [Curt] Schilling face these guys. That's what it's all about and I'm just glad to be a part of it."

You suggest to Gary Sheffield that he is more than just "a part" of it. He has become a large and very significant part of it.

"Thank you," he says.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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