By David Willis
---- — Anne-Marie Yastrzemski remembers when her son Mike was just a little boy, playing in the backyard of the family’s Andover home.
Even at that young age, Mike always told his mother what he would become when he grew up.
“From the moment he could speak, he always said he was going to be a professional baseball player,” Anne-Marie Yastrzemski said.
“And Mike never ceases to amaze me. It is so amazing to see his dream come true.”
Mike Yastrzemski is now following his dream of reaching the major leagues as a minor leaguer in the Baltimore Orioles organization.
This week, his career took him just a short trip down Interstate 495 from his Andover home, when his Aberdeen IronBirds traveled to face the Lowell Spinners Monday through Wednesday.
It marked the first time Yastrzemski has played baseball so close to home since his days with the Andover Legion team, predating his years as a star for baseball powerhouse Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.
“It’s really exciting to be back,” Yastrzemski said. “I love this area. There is nothing like it. It’s been an amazing summer, but there is something really special about being close to home and playing in front of my family and friends.”
And there was a large contingent of Yastrzemski friends and relatives on hand to cheer on their favorite Baltimore Oriole in his local debut on Monday.
“I have no idea how many were there,” Yastrzemski said. “Aunts, uncles, cousins, former teammates, neighbors. And of course my mom. I hope they weren’t too loud.”
But they were quite loud cheering on young Yaz.
“This is so cool!” family friend Jen Grebe said. “I used to baby-sit him and change his diapers. Now he’s a professional baseball player.”
The 23-year-old Yastrzemski has given his family plenty to cheer about this season, his first in professional baseball after being picked in the 14th round by the Orioles in the 2013 draft.
Yastrzemski — the former St. John’s Prep standout — entered the week hitting an impressive .272 with three home runs and 18 RBIs for the summer.
He was named the Orioles’ minor league offensive player of the month for July, and was named a New York-Penn League All-Star. He has also opened eyes throughout the organization.
“He’s had an outstanding summer,” IronBirds manager Matt Merullo said. “He has a very good lefty swing, plays a very good center field and is just very steady. He may not be flashy, but I think he is the best all-around player on the team.”
One Red Sox employee was also wowed by his defense.
“He just glides like a major leaguer out there,” he said.
But while his mother and a few family members have traveled to watch Yastrzemski play, it was not until this week that the entire family and Andover clan could make the 11-mile trip to Lowell to watch him take the field in the minors.
“Today is a very, very proud moment,” Anne-Marie Yastrzemski said. “We have so many people here and we are trying to be as loud as possible. Nothing is better than to see your son happy.”
Mike was also plenty happy to have his cheering section, which saw him go 1 for 4 with an RBI single, a walk and a run scored and make two impressive catches in center field in the opener on Monday.
“This is something very few people have the chance to do,” he said. “Only a lucky few get to play professional baseball and I am happy and humbled to be here. I’ve been away for so long, I got used to being away from Massachusetts and the Red Sox. So it’s cool to be back. I had the chance to get home and I am seeing family. It’s great.”
But does it bother him that so many people pay attention to him because of his last name, which he shares with his grandfather — MLB Hall of Famer and Sox icon Carl Yastrzemski, whose No. 8 is retired at LeLacheur Park?
“Mike always says that the Yastrzemski name isn’t really extra pressure,” Anne-Marie Yastrzemski said, “because he’s never known another name. That’s Mike.”
Yastrzemski agreed that he does not sweat the attention, despite a large section of autograph seekers yelling his name before the game.
“The guys like to razz me about all the questions and attention I get because of my name,” Mike Yastrzemski said. “But I just brush it off. The hardest part about professional baseball is just finding that routine that works for you.”
He is, instead, embracing the important things, like his first professional home run.
“Now that was cool,” Yastrzemski said. “It was in the ninth inning against Hudson Valley. I was down 0 and 2 in the count and just wanted to make contact and ended up getting lucky.”
His mom is enjoying the ride, too.
“You wish you could be at every game, but you can’t,” she said. “So to have him close, and see so many of his friends, is amazing. He is just amazing. He just gets better and better.”Orioles' Yastrzemski embraced by family, friends during trip to Lowell