Brett Gardner goes to the New York Yankees’ spring training camp in Tampa, Fla., on Saturday, hoping to bounce back from the most difficult of his five major league seasons. The former College of Charleston outfielder in 2012 was limited to 31 regular season games by an elbow injury on his left (non-throwing) arm.
Gardner was eager Tuesday, even knowing the Yankees were strangely quiet in the offseason as American League East rivals Toronto and Boston added talent.
“You don’t like seeing everybody else get better, but I feel we’re every bit as good as we were (last season) or better,” Gardner said at MUSC Children’s Hospital, where he had a blast visiting kids Tuesday afternoon. “Going into every year we have one goal: to win the World Series. In order to do that, we have to win the AL East, which we were barely able to do last year. But it will be a lot of fun.”
Gardner, 29, has hit .266 over five years with the Yankees. He signed a one-year contract in December for $2.85 million, plus an extra $150,000 in incentives.
The best part of 2012 for Gardner was battling back to start two games against Detroit in the American League Championship Series after the Yankees got by upstart Baltimore in a Division Series.
“It was satisfying,” Gardner said, “not only to ease my competitive spirit — I wanted so badly to be out there to help the team — but it was good just to give me a peace of mind going into the offseason. It was good just to be healthy.”
In New York and from his offseason home in Summerville, Gardner said he follows College of Charleston baseball. The Cougars, picked by Baseball America on Tuesday to win the Southern Conference title, are leaving the SoCon after this season to join the Colonial Athletic Association.
“I don’t know a lot of details of it that but I know it’s obviously requiring them to travel a lot more,” said Gardner, who came to the College of Charleston from Holly Hill Academy. “I was fortunate when we were in the SoCon, we didn’t have to make too many long trips. We went to Georgia Southern and Furman and Wofford and stayed around here mostly. It’s going to be different for them; it’s going to be a tough challenge. But I know they’re up for challenges and I know (head coach) Monte (Lee) has done a real good job of continuing to move forward with the program.”
Once at spring training, Gardner knows the Yankees will get many questions about injured Alex Rodriguez and fresh reports from Miami linking the star third baseman to performance-enhancing drugs.
“I’m sure it’s something that’s going to bug us the first couple days, but hopefully after that we can put it behind us and look forward to putting a good spring training in,” Gardner said. “Hopefully, for Alex’s sake, this whole thing comes and goes and he can get back healthy and helping us win ballgames.”
Grins said Gardner enjoyed his time with the kids at MUSC. He wore a 2009 Yankees home jersey, complete with World Series patch on the shoulder. He played video games and signed the autographed photos he brought.
Gardner is married with two boys, ages 2 and 4.
“I’m fortunate that they’ve been healthy for the most part,” Gardner said. “You come here and you see these kids and it kind of puts things in perspective just how fortunate I am to be in the position I’m in. It’s good to be able to use the whole baseball/Yankees platform to come in here and maybe put a smile on a kid that’s not having such a good day.”
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.