Vernon Wells loving life in South Bronx
ARLINGTON, Texas -- While some lamented the New York Yankees acquiring Vernon Wells from Toronto during the offseason, Yankee manager Joe Girardi feels that Wells, 34, who continues to call Arlington home during the winter, has been a great addition to his club.
"Started off really well, he went through some tough times. He seems to be back. Tremendous guy to have in the clubhouse, player that is very, very well liked, even keeled, has a sense of humor," Girardi said. "It's good to have him around. I've enjoyed having him on our team. It's nice to see him swinging the bat well again too."
Wells has done a little bit of everything for the Yanks so far in 2013, playing in left field, right field, at Designated Hitter and has even played one game at second base and another at third base earlier this year, a career-first since he went fifth overall by Toronto in the June 1997 First-Year Player Draft.
"It's fun. It brings you back to being a kid again, going out and playing the game. I take ground balls all the time in the infield just in case," he said. "I never knew if that time was going to come but to get an opportunity to play third base and play behind Mariano Rivera, it was special."
Through 90 games, he is hitting .239 with 10 HR and 37 RBI and while some might view his numbers as disappointing, he has clearly helped New York with his versatility and also by bringing another veteran presence to the room, something which can't be overstated in the wake of the absence of franchise icon Derek Jeter for most of this season.
Wells currently has 945 career RBI, which leaves him within striking distance of reaching 1,000 RBI sometime in the near future, one of several benchmark offensive numbers in Major League Baseball. And while some players might brush off any discussion about getting close to such a milestone, this DFW product does just the opposite.
"When you get done with your career, you pay attention to things like that but once you start getting around numbers [you think about it]. In this game, any time you can get to numbers like that it means you've been around and have done some things in this game. That's what it's all about," he said. "Unfortunately, we have so much going on outside the game now that people get away from people who have tried to do things the right way and go about things the right way."
Of course, he is no stranger to the visitor clubhouse at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, having made countless trips back to Tarrant County during his time with the Blue Jays and Angels. But he admits his first trip back in the famed Yankee pinstripes was different at least in one sense.
"Yeah, I think it's pretty much the same thing. You go from a team that was a rival within the division to a team that's a rival outside of the division. Obviously, when this team travels there's a following. Whether they're hated or loved, they come from both directions and it's that way no matter where we are. That's the fun thing about being in this uniform," Wells said.
And being a die-hard fan of the Dallas Cowboys, he has the unique perspective of being a fan of one of the most recognizable brands in sports while playing for the only other franchise whose notoriety and sizeable fan base can be discussed in similar terms in the Yankees.
So, it's pretty cool to hear him talk about being a Yankee from that perspective.
"They're both at the top of the food chain when it comes to their respective sports. The national brands of the two organizations are not only known nationally but worldwide. They're two of the biggest and two of the best," Wells said. "I just think what separates this organization from the Cowboys is the number of championships. That's something this organization has done for years on end and what I'm hoping the Cowboys get back to soon."
Since making his big-league debut in Sept. 1999 with Toronto, he has played for his share of different managers, eight to be exact. But exactly one half of those skippers have been former big-league catchers, a group including Buck Martinez, who he played for briefly with the Blue Jays, current Toronto skipper John Gibbons as well as Angels manager Mike Scioscia.
Girardi also fits the bill as a former catcher who has made the successful transition to managing and for Wells, the reason why so many ex-backstops make great skippers is pretty simple.
"Well, I think from a managerial standpoint, catchers seem to be able to manage games earlier on. You see catchers get an opportunity to manage earlier on in their careers because for the most part their careers are managing games," Wells said. "You get to see different perspectives of managers. It's interesting how that works out. They're into the game. They're into situations. They're into pitches. They're into the offensive side of things, so they're kind of dialed into all of it. It's fun for me, just being a student of the game and kind of getting a chance to learn that side of it."