07/12/2004 9:56 PM ET
New Yanks form star trio
Rodriguez, Sheffield, Vazquez all thrive in spotlight
By Mark Feinsand / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield and Javier Vazquez each came to the Yankees under different circumstances, with different questions surrounding their arrival in the Bronx.
|Javier Vazquez is 10-5 with a 3.56 ERA this season. (Linda Kaye/AP)
For Rodriguez, the question was whether or not the league's biggest star would be able to co-exist with fellow superstar Derek Jeter.
For Sheffield, it was whether he could survive in the Yankees' team-first, professional atmosphere without saying the wrong thing.
For Vazquez, people wondered whether this small-market hurler could thrive under the big lights of Yankee Stadium after pitching in Montreal for his entire career.
All three players answered the bell, each putting a together a solid first half, earning a trip to the All-Star Game.
"It's been an adjustment for all of us, and to make the All-Star Game in an adjustment year is pretty impressive," said Rodriguez. "I still think a lot of us are going to get better as the year goes on."
Rodriguez was elected to start at third base, while Sheffield and Vazquez were voted on to the team by their fellow players. This is the eighth All-Star appearance for both A-Rod and Sheffield, while Vazquez is making his All-Star debut. They are joined on the AL roster by five of their teammates, including Tom Gordon, another first-year Yankee.
"There are only so many positions to fill up," Sheffield said. "To have this many guys form our team in one All-Star Game, I didn't think it could happen."
Sheffield hasn't encountered any of the problems in New York that he had in any of the other five cities in which he has played, as he has gotten along with teammates, front office and the media just swimmingly. Sheffield has now represented five organizations in the All-Star Game, the only player ever to do that.
"It just proves that I wasn't always to blame," Sheffield said with a smile. "I just keep coming out and playing the only way I know how to play."
That has been good for a .302 average, 16 homers and 59 RBIs, as Sheffield has been considered by many to be the team's first-half MVP. Having played in several other places, Sheffield wasn't worried about melting under the white-hot spotlight of the Big Apple.
"It's what you make it. A lot of people look at the situation as being bigger than it is," Sheffield said. "Yeah, there's pressure playing in New York, and we have a boss who is determined to win, who wants excellence. But if you start worrying about those things on the field, it will affect you. I just look at it like, 'I have a job to do.'"
That is the same approach that Vazquez has taken in his first season in pinstripes, simply doing the same things that he did while pitching for the Expos.
"It was never a question for me whether I could pitch in New York," Vazquez said. "Pitching in the American League was harder for me than adjusting to New York. Getting to know all of the hitters was the biggest challenge."
Vazquez, who was named as Tim Hudson's replacement on the AL team, is 10-5 with a 3.56 ERA in 18 starts this season.
"I am usually a slow starter, but I had a better first half this year than I did in the past. This offense doesn't hurt, either," Vazquez said. "I did a pretty good job in the first half, but I can still do a better job in the second half."
Like his teammates, A-Rod believes that while his first half was solid, there is room for improvement. Rodriguez, the 2003 AL MVP, is hitting .270 with 22 homers and 58 RBIs, and he has made a flawless transition from shortstop to third base. He is on pace for 41 homers, which would make him the first Yankee right-hander since Joe DiMaggio in 1937 to hit 40 in a season.
"I'm doing OK," Rodriguez said. "The Stadium is a great place to hit, and it's fair in terms of home runs. If you hit it well, it will go. I've always enjoyed hitting there, because it's the best background in baseball. It just has a good feel."
Sheffield, Rodriguez and Vazquez may be relative newcomers in the Yankee universe, but hearing them talk about this season, you'd think they had been born with pinstripes on.
"I haven't seen us play our best baseball yet," said Sheffield, disregarding New York's baseball-best 55-31 record. "I know we're seven games up, but one through nine, we're all capable of doing better. Once we play to our abilities, you'll see our true team."
"We have a very impressive team, but more importantly, a team filled with professionals who respect the game," Rodriguez added. "We're never satisfied, and we won't stop until our mission is over in October. There is still room for improvement."
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.