By David Willis
---- — It may not have been a work of art, but for Mike Yastrzemski, it still went into the record books as his first hit in professional baseball.
“It was a 3-2 count and I was trying to stay in the at-bat,” Yastrzemski said. “I got jammed on a fastball inside and it broke my bat. But I managed to hit the ball up the middle into center field for a base hit.”
The Andover resident and former St. John’s Prep and Vanderbilt star kicked off his professional baseball career last Friday as a member of the Single-A Aberdeen IronBirds, the New York Penn League affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, who selected Yastrzemski in the 14th round of the 2013 MLB Draft.
“It’s amazing to have the chance to do something I have dreamed about my whole life,” said Yastrzemski by phone from Wappingers Falls, N.Y., where the IronBirds were playing the Hudson Valley Renegades. “It’s a very special opportunity to follow in the footsteps of my father and grandfather, and I am going to work as hard as I can to make the best of it.”
Yastrzemski made his first appearance on Friday, walking in his only at-bat. In his first start on Sunday, he notched that first single and added another walk.
“It’s a little weird getting my feet wet at a new level,” he said. “But it’s still baseball. It’s still 60 feet, 6 inches from the mound to home and 90 feet from home to first base.”
A former Andover Legion standout, Yastrzemski, wasn’t sitting around the TV with baited breath on draft day.
Instead, he was exactly where he wanted to be, preparing to play baseball as Vanderbilt was set to take on Louisville in the NCAA Super Regional.
“I was hoping I would be drafted but nothing was for sure,” he said. “I was getting ready to take batting practice. My cellphone was in my locker and someone grabbed me. It was Baltimore and they were calling to congratulate me.”
Baltimore Orioles general manager Dan Duquette recently expressed excitement about selecting Yastrzemski, the grandson of Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski.
“There is no scholarship to pro baseball,” Duquette, the former Red Sox GM, told the Andover Townsman’s Bill Burt. “We drafted Mike on his own merits. He deserves the opportunity to try and become a major leaguer. He has a passion for baseball.”
Mike Yastrzemski was honored to read compliments from his new boss.
“Coming from a person that has known my family for many years, he could have said anything,” Yastrzemski said. “But to negate that, push it aside and talk strictly about what I have done as a player means a lot to me.”
Yaz more than proved his talents as a player during his stellar career at Division 1 powerhouse Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn.
As a sophomore, he hit .298 with 42 RBIs and 60 runs, followed that by hitting .286 with six homers and 41 RBIs last season and this year finished with a .312 average with three homers and 43 RBIs.
But he very nearly wasn’t around to star for Vandy in 2013 or be selected by the O’s.
In 2012, he was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 30th round, and strongly considered signing a contract.
“They are a great organization and it was a very tough decision,” he said. “On the one hand, it was a chance to fulfil a dream, but on the other hand, I also wanted to finish my education. I was thankful for the opportunity, but I wanted to go back to school. I have no regrets. I am happy with the way it worked out. Playing in the SEC is a lot like playing in the minors, so that was the best preparation I could have received.
“Baltimore is a team that has a great track record, and also a great record for helping players improve and grow.”
Yastrzemski has also received valuable advice from his Hall of Fame grandfather.
“He told me to go out and give it everything I can because you only have one chance to do it,” he said. “It’s great to have someone that is so close to you that has been through it all. This is an opportunity that is very unique and I am blessed to have it.”
When Yastrzemski and the IronBirds took on the Renegades this week, a very familiar face was sitting in the opposing dugout, Yaz’s former Andover Legion teammate and Hudson Valley pitcher John Farrell.
“It’s pretty cool that we started out together and now we are here,” Yastrzemski said. “We have talked some and it’s great to talk to another person that is experiencing the same thing.”
Farrell, who has started three games for the Renegades, can’t wait to face his friend.
“We’ve been texting and exchanging stories,” Farrell said. “We play a bunch, so I’m hoping I get to face him at some point.”