Gardner returns to Bronx to help out schools
Left fielder not upset about losing out to Gordon for Gold Glove
NEW YORK -- While others were debating whether he should have won an American League Gold Glove Award or were tossing his name around the Hot Stove rumor mill, Brett Gardner was back up from his small hometown in South Carolina for the day, and he was immersed in a book that he was reading to wide-eyed children.
This is what the Yankees' left fielder was concerned about on Tuesday, as he helped the nationwide Advil Congestion Relief Project get started near his summer home. The first project was cutting the ribbon on a library renovation at PS 130 in the South Bronx, a school for pre-K through fifth grades. The father of boys ages 3 and 1 was introduced by a student named Miguel.
"I'm definitely proud to call this borough, the Bronx, my baseball home," Gardner, who hails from Holly Hill, S.C., told the kids in the library. "I don't live here in the offseason, but I live here seven or eight months out of the year. It's a real special place to come to. I come from a small town [population 1,281] in South Carolina. You guys don't know where I'm from, but it's a lot different than this.
"I have two little boys, and I know that the quality of education in this community and throughout the nation is very, very important to our future."
The last time Gardner was seen in his No. 11 uniform, it was a pretty important situation: Game 5 of the AL Division Series against the Tigers at Yankee Stadium. He singled off Joaquin Benoit with two outs in the eighth, but there was no rally as Derek Jeter flied out, followed by a 1-2-3 ninth for Detroit closer Jose Valverde. Gardner was 7-for-17 in the ALDS, but that game was the end of the Yankees' season.
"It was obviously disappointing," Gardner said after more than a month off to contemplate. "The regular season went great. We won close to 100 games. We had the best record in the American League. We couldn't have asked to put ourselves in a better position heading into October baseball. But we didn't play our best baseball. Detroit was playing great. They were a good team.
"We lost in Game 5. It came right down to the wire. We just came up a little short. Obviously it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. You go home unexpectedly and you're disappointed. You learn from it and try to prepare for next year. That's all you can do.
"Postseason baseball is all about getting hot. If you look at the last two years, the World Series winners were teams that barely made it in -- the Giants [in 2010], then the Cardinals this year. Those were two teams that, Sept. 15 or 20, you probably didn't even think would be in the playoffs, then they ended up winning it all. Your hat's got to go off to those guys -- the players, managers and the coaching staff. It's all about getting hot at the right time, being able to maintain that."
The Gold Glove announcement raised eyebrows among more than just Yankees fans, as Royals left fielder Alex Gordon won the AL Gold Glove in left field, but not Gardner.
"He had a great year," Gardner said of Gordon. "I think he had close to 20 assists. He had an unbelievable year. Obviously he's done a great job of making the transition from third base to the outfield. It's an award that is voted on by coaches around the league, so there's nobody better to vote on somebody than that. I'm definitely happy for him.
"For myself, I take a lot of pride in my defense, and even being mentioned for a Gold Glove is an honor for me. It's something I've worked really hard on, and I'll try and be even better next year."
Not even a little bit disappointed? After all of those highlight catches in 2011?
"Not necessarily," Gardner said. "I've never been one to get too hung up on personal awards and accolades. ... I've heard of the zone ratings, whatever the different numbers are. I don't really look too closely at them or worry about them. [I] just go out there and play ball and try to cover as much ground as I can -- keep the ball in front of me and get it back in as quickly as I can."
Gardner enters his first year of arbitration eligibility coming off a season during which he stole more bases (49, up from 47 in 2010) but dropped from .277 to .259 at the plate. He was a microcosm of the Yankees' season that included a rugged start for many key offensive threats.
Gardner said he was glad that CC Sabathia signed a contract extension, and indifferent about Jonathan Papelbon leaving the rival Red Sox for the Phillies. When asked if he feels locked in with Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher in the starting outfield, or whether he braces for the great unknown this winter, Gardner said: "You never know what to expect." He deemed his own performance in 2011 as "inconsistent."
"I've had people call me, and I've heard my name tossed around in the past about this and that," he said. "Last year, it was the possibility of the Yankees signing Carl Crawford. Obviously we already had Swish and Grandy. They might sign Carl Crawford and I would get traded.
"You know, I try not to worry about it. It is what it is. There's no better place to play than right here in the Bronx for the Yankees. We have an unbelievable fan base, and I've been very blessed to have gotten drafted by them and made it up and be here as long as I have. We'll see what happens. Hopefully I'll be here for a while. It's a beautiful place to play and I love it."
Gardner said he is eating his way back to fighting weight (he loses six to eight pounds a season), and he said he will start hitting again right after Thanksgiving. He plans to do some work with hitting coach Kevin Long around January, tinkering with mechanics, including his setup, base, balance and finish.
"Either I'll go out to Arizona or he'll come to South Carolina, or I might meet him in Miami and work out with him and Alex [Rodriguez] and a couple other guys," Gardner said.
"I think as the season went on, as you continue to play and you get older, you try and learn things, you try to put the pieces of the puzzle together. I'm really trying to make more of a focus this next year of always being on time, having better timing. It's obviously easier said than done, but without good timing, you don't really have anything. It doesn't matter how good your mechanics are.
"I got off to a rough start [in 2011], and from there, [I] just had some ups and some downs. That's the thing I've learned the last couple of years in this game, being able to play alongside all these guys who are such special players, is you learn that the guys who are so successful at this game are the ones who are able to be the most consistent."
The Advil Congestion Relief Project overlaps, naturally, with cold-and-flu season, and their novel approach is decongesting important aspects of society -- like an overcrowded elementary school, for starters. Next up will be Chicago. Those who go to CongestionReliefProject.com can enter for a chance to win a prize worth up to $30,000 for their community.
"Brett Gardner is a star in his own right here in the Bronx, and to bring him here and have him help us kick this project off, we're very proud to have him as part of this event," said Melissa Thul, senior brand manager for the project. "We are so proud to be part of decongesting this space, where we have been able to donate over 30 laptops, so the students have their own space to learn in and not sharing over a certain amount of computers. We've also donated over 1,500 books ... so the space can breathe differently."
"Before this library was renovated," Gardner added, "maybe there weren't enough books to read, not enough room, not enough computers, people waiting in line. Now they have the resources they need to hopefully reach their potential and make the most of their time here in school."