When Bronxville, N.Y., native Harrison Bader got traded from the St. Louis Cardinals to the New York Yankees on Aug. 2, he immediately returned to some of his favorite eateries: Caridad Express, a Dominican restaurant in the Bronx; Best Pizza on 1st; the local deli where in high school he would routinely grab a bacon, egg and cheese on a blueberry bagel in the morning. That’s right, blueberry.
New Yorkers take their bagels seriously—after all, it’s a decades-old debate across the five boroughs as to how the starchy breakfast item should be prepared—so the new Yankee centerfielder’s rather unconventional sweet and salty preference raised a few eyebrows when it crept into the world of social media.
And last month, in the pressure crucible of October baseball, Bader, having barely played for New York in the regular season thanks to a nagging right foot injury, started doing something else rather unexpected: hit home runs. Five of them, in fact, over the course of nine postseason games, making him only the fifth player in Yankee history with five or more long balls in a single postseason.
With only 52 homers to his name entering the playoffs, a power surge from the kid who grew up eleven miles north of Yankee Stadium idolizing Derek Jeter came out of nowhere.
“Yeah, it [Bader’s impact] has been great,” said Yankees left-handed starter Nestor Cortes before Game 3 of the ALCS, a series his team ultimately lost to the eventual world champion Houston Astros in four games. “Obviously, we got him over here and he was hurt. We didn’t know what to expect from him. But he’s definitely turned it on. He’s definitely been somebody for us that’s been great in every situation of the playoffs so far. He’s a great clubhouse guy. He’s really good people. He cares about all the guys in there, and that’s what makes him great too.
“He adjusted to what we were doing here, the philosophy we had, and he gelled right with us. So, for him to come out and do that with us and to perform how he’s been performing, it’s been great.”
Added Yankees manager Aaron Boone, “He’s had an outstanding postseason. Hitting the ball out of the ballpark … I feel like he’s putting together a lot of big at-bats.”
Yankee fans across the Tri-State Region were initially underwhelmed with the August 2 swap that sent starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery to the St. Louis Cardinals for Bader, a 28 year-old centerfielder hobbling around in a walking boot. Said pessimism, however, quickly subsided on the evening of Oct. 11 during New York’s ALDS opener against the Cleveland Guardians when Bader, who will be representing Israel in this spring’s World Baseball Classic by virtue of his father, Louis, being a practicing Jew (a fascinating story in its own right as Bronxville used to have a reputation of not welcoming members of the Jewish community along with other minorities), cleared the fences in the bottom of the third inning. In doing so, he became the only Yankee to hit his first homer for the franchise in the postseason.
In attendance were over 100 friends and relatives including Louis, a retired tax attorney who spent so many summer evenings hitting grounders to his little boy on New York City’s rocky sandlot fields that Harrison (not to be confused with his grandfather “Harry”) ultimately gave up shortstop for center field. Which meant that years later, as a Yankee, he would patrol the same spot in Yankee Stadium that his father’s hero, Mickey Mantle, did 60 years ago.
“You know, I focus solely on the things I can control day in and day out,” said Bader, when asked how the childhood fantasy of starring for the Yanks compares to actually living it. “One of those things that is not in my control is how I’m moved as a piece especially at this level. I just view being traded here very serendipitously, and I just look to take advantage of it every single day.
“It’s definitely sweet, but, you know, again I’m here to play ball. I’m here to win. But to be able to do it in a Yankees uniform is definitely sweet, no doubt about it. That wouldn’t change regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the uniform.”
Bader’s colorful persona within the confines of the Yankee clubhouse—he sports vibrant graphic T-shirts and Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Dunky sneakers—belies his often emotionless, business-like demeanor in public as evidenced by such comments. Undoubtedly, he comes across as a thoughtful, yet serious young man who, unlike some of his twenty-something contemporaries across Major League Baseball, has no use for histrionics or showboating.
When asked during the ALCS if this has been a dream—slamming a tone-setting homer in Game 1 of the ALDS at Yankee Stadium, where he watched the 2009 Yankees capture the World Series, enroute to carrying New York to the ALCS—Bader, ever-cognizant of staying in the moment, responded, that, quite simply, “It’s a dream to be in a big-league uniform. I’ve always wanted to win a World Series and we’re a series away from it. But just being in a big-league uniform has always been my dream.”
It would have been easy to get swept up in the moment this October. But clearly, it wouldn’t have been conducive to posting a .333 average and 1.262 OPS to go along with the historic five homers.
“Remaining as emotionless as possible and just taking care of the baseball on all sides is my singular focus.”
Though the Yankees, of course, did not stay true to their singular focus—snapping their thirteen-year World Series drought—the offensive tear from Bader, a 2021 Gold Glove winner who has one year left on his current contract, bodes well for a now heavily-maligned franchise that may be losing its cornerstone player in Aaron Judge to free agency this offseason.