In a city known for having high-profile players, making more money in a season than most will make in a lifetime, there are still players left that everyone can root for. Most people would rather cheer for a player making the league minimum, rather than someone making $20 million a year. Fans tend to adopt the gritty, hard-nosed, hustle players, as their fan favorites. Granted, these attributes that we all love, can only take you so far with the fans, if you don’t produce up to the cities standards, you will be booed right out-of-town. But, for the time being at least, these are some of the players Mets/Yankee fan’s should be pulling for.
Scott Rice (LHP) – Rice has one of the best stories going for all of New York baseball so far this season. He has spent the last 14 seasons in the minor league’s, playing for 18 different teams. His commitment to stick with the game for that long without ever seeing the big leagues, more than shows his love for the game. The 31-year-old reliever was able to win a spot in the bullpen this spring as the second lefty, beating out his younger counterparts and finally earning his way on a big league roster.
As if his story wasn’t good enough, Rice pitched the 9th inning on opening Day for the Mets, he struck out the first two batters he faced on his way to a 1-2-3 inning. When the game ended, he promptly took the game ball for safe keeping’s and found his father in the stands to celebrate his much awaited, major league debut. Rice has appeared in four games so far this season, allowing only one run. Yesterday, he earned his first major league victory, as the Mets won in come from behind fashion in the bottom of the ninth. I only hope he was able to retrieve the game ball to mark his first career victory as well.
Mike Baxter (OF) – Baxter is a local kid, born and raised in queens, which is enough to make him a player all Mets fan want to cheer for. But, being the “Pride of Whitestone” can only take you so far, it was his play on the field in 2012, that made him a fan favorite. The 28-year-old outfielder, became a pitch hitting specialist off the bench for the Mets last season, while starting sparingly in the outfield. He seemed to be constantly coming through with a key hit in late game situations or working his way on base with a walk, which he set a Mets record by walking five times in one game against the Padres last season. It’s patience like that at the plate that has helped give him a .360 career on-base percentage, which could be key to increasing his role with the Mets this season.
However, there is one moment from Baxter’s young career, that already will have him remembered forever in Mets history. In the 7th inning, of Johan Santana’s no-hitter last season, Baxter made a running catch, while running into the wall, that kept the no-hitter intact. It turned out to be the defensive play of the game. Ultimately, the catch cost Baxter, when he crashed into the wall, he bruised his left shoulder which sent him to the DL. This play will have him forever in the good graces of Mets fans as they root for him to progress this season.
Francisco Cervelli (C) – Cervelli has had extended stints with the Yankees in the 2009-2011 seasons. Then in 2012, with the signing of Russell Martin, the Yankees optioned Cervelli to AAA for just about the entire year. Despite his proven ability to be a more than serviceable back up big league catcher, The Yankees decided to let him get more playing time in the minors. To me, this move didn’t make much sense, despite hitting 21 home runs, Russell Martin only hit .211 on the year. Cervelli could have provided a proven bat to back him up on days off, giving them a contact hitter, at a notoriously low hitting position.
With the departure of Martin in the off-season, many expected the Yankees to go out and sign a catcher to come in a take the starting role. The Yankees decided to do otherwise, it seems they are willing to give Cervelli the opportunity to play everyday at the big league level and see if he can handle the load for an entire season. The 27-year-old catcher is a career .272 hitter, so far he is off to a good start, hitting .308 after the opening week of the season. This will be a make or break season for Cervelli with the Yankees, either he will prove himself that he can be a starter for them for years to come or he could falter to a back up catcher where many believe he ultimately will fall to. He has earned this shot at the starting position at the very least, now its time to run with the opportunity at hand.
Brett Gardner (OF) – Gardner is entering his sixth season with the Yankees, after being a key member of the Yankees outfield from 2009-2011, a right elbow injury cost him just about all of the 2012 season. Now with a roster depleted due to injuries to much of the Yankees roster, they will rely heavily on players such as Gardner to carry the load early on. The 29-year-old outfielder is known for his speed, stealing 40+ bases twice in his career and possesses a good range in the outfield. He is a career .264 hitter, but is well-known for making contact at the plate and seeing among the most pitches per at bat in the majors.
The Yankees are missing most of the power that their line up is traditionally made up of early on. They will look to play a form of small ball, relying on base hits and speed to score runs early on. This will make Gardner’s production a key to early offensive success, as these are the attributes he has become known for. He has struggled early in week one of the season, but look for Gardner to provide a spark for the Yankees lineup going forward. I have always wondered if Gardner is nothing more than a fourth outfielder, who can provide speed on the bases in late inning situations. He has produced enough thus far in his career to keep himself in a starting role, this could be a year that he solidifies himself as a mainstay in the Yankees outfield.