The New York Yankees have returned to their familiar status as a formidable opponent amid an exciting race for a postseason berth in the American League. Their success in the second half of the season begins with consistency but is ultimately defined by chemistry and a vibrant energy surrounding the ball club. After the trading deadline acquisitions of pitcher Andrew Heaney, outfielder Joey Gallo and first baseman Anthony Rizzo, it appeared as if good old fashioned "New York Groove" was quickly restored to the Yankees. The resurgence of Luke Voit and Giancarlo Stanton regularly playing the outfield have also contributed to a lineup that is now predicated on balance and flexibility.
Amid a multitude of injuries to key ball players, the Yankees have witnessed the emergence of unlikely heroes. Pitcher Nestor Cortes, Jr. has been a revelation. The crafty left-hander has been a model of consistency with his five-pitch arsenal even though his average four-seam fastball barely touches 90 miles per hour. Contributors such as Tyler Wade and Rougned Odor have provided manager Aaron Boone with both confidence and versatility in the absence of injured shortstop Gleyber Torres and third baseman Gio Urshela.
Andrew Velazquez has been the latest unlikely ball player to step up and help the Yankees continue their winning ways in the month of August. His background immediately resonates with everyone, especially those who grew up playing baseball in the Bronx and dreaming of one day wearing the pinstripes. Velazquez is born and raised in the borough in which the Yankees call home. His adolescence was spent in Morris Park, a neighborhood which is approximately six miles from Yankee Stadium and inhabited by families with a strong allegiance to the Bronx Bombers. Even though Velazquez lived in the shadows of the venerable ballpark, it took him nearly a decade to be welcomed as a major league ball player.
Velazquez achieved tremendous success as a standout high school center fielder and shortstop at Fordham Preparatory School. He was named The New York Post’s 2012 All-City Baseball Player of the Year while being held in the highest of regards as a five-tool ball player by his coach Pat Deane and opponents throughout the Catholic High School Athletic Association. Instead of embarking upon a collegiate baseball career at Virginia Tech, Velazquez decided to sign for a reported $200,000 with the Arizona Diamondbacks after being selected in the seventh round (243rd overall pick) of the 2012 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. According to Baseball-Reference, Velazquez was the first-ever baseball player drafted out of Fordham Preparatory School.
Anyone who is drafted by a major league ball club possesses impressive skills and abilities as a baseball player. However, it takes something extra to persevere throughout various levels of minor league baseball while regularly confronting failure, disappointment, and economic hardship all while chasing an impossible dream. Whether it is a two-decade career playing for the Yankees or one at bat at the major league level, both accomplishments are extraordinary in nature given the tremendous odds against success.
Velazquez’s professional baseball odyssey began at 17 years old when he signed with the Diamondbacks, and it has taken him to five different levels of minor league baseball for five major league organizations. He has even played for two ball clubs in the Puerto Rican Winter League on three different occasions. Velazquez has experienced nearly every type of unpleasant baseball transaction: traded, selected off waivers, granted free agency, released, optioned, recalled, designated for assignment and a non-roster spring training invitation. It has been an emotional rollercoaster that has tested Velazquez’s fortitude and worth remembering every time he appears in a ball game for the Yankees.
At 24 years old, Velazquez finally made his major league debut in September 2018 as a member of the Baltimore Orioles. In total, he had only played in 68 ball games at the major league level prior to the Yankees purchasing his contract from the Scranton/Wilkes Barre RailRiders on Aug. 9. Velazquez’s brief time with the Yankees has felt like a homecoming. You get the sense that every time he steps onto the field, nothing is taken for granted because Velazquez knows time is precious as Torres and Urshela will soon return to the active roster. According to FanGraphs, Velazquez still possesses two minor league options.
Velazquez’s first major league home run on Aug. 21 was hit at a time where the Yankees had a very comfortable 6-1 lead over the Minnesota Twins in the bottom of the eighth inning. Bronxites felt a sense of pride for Velazquez. He accomplished a goal many had dreamed about from the time they started playing baseball in communities such as Castle Hill, Morris Park, Parkchester, Pelham Parkway, Riverdale, and Throgs Neck. Just for a moment, an entire borough lived vicariously through Velazquez and celebrated in the pure joy of his accomplishment.
Two unforgettable images define Velazquez’s first major league home run. The first is him running around the bases. As he rounded first base, Velazquez appeared to exhale as if a weight was finally taken off his shoulders. Once he approached third base, a boyish smile was evident as he hopped in the air with third base coach Phil Nevin waiting to greet him.
The second is the presence of his family. Their reaction to Velazquez’s home run was priceless because it was a combination of euphoria and gratitude. The arduous journey to Yankee Stadium had its share of setbacks, but a strong family foundation provided Velazquez with two important attributes: resiliency and tenacity.
Winning has defined the New York Yankees’ culture for a century. However, success has not always been driven by superstars. Unlikely heroes and role players have been instrumental in every championship season for the Yankees. Andrew Velazquez has provided the Yankees with a boost of energy at a critical point in the season while actively contributing to the winning culture of the ball club. Regardless of what happens in the coming days with the return of Gleyber Torres and Gio Urshela, Velazquez has already made a positive impression on the Yankees, and they have discovered a ball player with a diverse set of skills who can be an asset in the hunt for a postseason berth.