New York Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner returns to Charleston
Itís been seven years since the New York Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner stepped onto the outfield at Riley Park.
There were times Friday night when it seemed like it was only yesterday when Gardner, the former College of Charleston standout, had been battling The Citadel and playing in Southern Conference baseball tournaments. And then there were moments for the Holly Hill native when those days seemed like an eternity ago and a million miles away from Yankee Stadium.
Gardner singled, going one for three at the plate, had a stolen base and scored a run to help lead Charleston past Savannah, 5-1, before 5,393 at Riley Park.
Gardner, the Yankees every day outfielder for the last three years, returned to Charleston on a minor league rehab assignment. This was the first live pitching since April 19 for Gardner, who has been on the disabled list since April 19 with a strained right elbow.
For Gardner, a former walk-on at the College of Charleston, it was an excuse to come home and play in front of plenty of familiar faces.
ďIt was exciting to come back to Charleston and play in front of the hometown crowd,Ē Gardner said after the game. ďItís been seven years since Iíve played here and it doesnít seem like itís been that long, but it has. Iíve played a lot of baseball and made a lot of stops since I played here, and that seems like such a long time ago.Ē
One of the first people Gardner saw when he walked onto the field was former Cougars teammate Chris Campbell. Campbell was one of a handful of former teammates that were on hand to watch Gardner play.
ďIt was great to see Chris and some of the other guys,Ē Gardner said. ďI still keep in touch with some of those guys. Itís been a while since we played together. Weíve gone our separate ways, but Iíve tried to keep up with as many of them as I can. Itís great to catch up with those guys.Ē
While Gardner figures he has played in more than 20 games at Riley Park during his college career, this was his first as a professional player. A third-round pick by the Yankees in the 2005 major league draft, Gardner skipped over the RiverDogs and went straight to New Yorkís High-A Tampa Bay affiliate.
As many as 30 family and friends from Holly Hill made the hour-long drive to Charleston for the game. The group of family included his grandmother, who had never seen him play a professional game until Friday night.
ďItís not Yankee Stadium, but its close enough for her, and it was special to have her out there,Ē Gardner said.
Gardner, who spends his offseason in the Lowcountry, said heíll stay in his Summerville house as long as heís in town.
ďI donít get to stay in my house during the summer time very often, so itíll be nice to sleep in a familiar bed,Ē Gardner said.
Originally, Gardner was supposed to finish his rehab in Florida and play a couple of games in Tampa before rejoining to the Yankees early next week. But torrential rains in the Tampa area forced him to return to the Lowcountry. Another major leaguer might have been upset with the change in plans and trip to a Low-A minor league city, but Gardner couldnít have been happier about returning to Charleston.
ďItís not the way we planned it, but this was a great consolation prize for me,Ē Gardner said. ďThis made the most sense to everyone. They didnít have to twist my arm at all to get me back here.Ē
The only drawback was getting up at 4 a.m. to make the flight into town.
ďThereís just no direct flights to Charleston,Ē Gardner said.
Gardner struck out looking in his first at-bat, reached on an error and stole second in the third inning, before slapping a single past shortstop TJ Rivera and scoring on Cito Culverís three-run blast in the fifth. Gardner didnít have to make a play in the field in five innings.
Gardner was pleased with his performance and is expected to be back in the lineup tonight.
ďEverything felt pretty good with the elbow,Ē Gardner said. ďI havenít really hit much lately, and I havenít been in a lot of game situations. I needed this. I needed to swing and miss, I needed to foul some pitches off and make solid contact and have a good work load and see where Iím at.Ē
ďAll in all I felt pretty good. Iím excited to see how I progress from here. Iím hoping to get in seven or eight innings and maybe four or five at bats (today).Ē