Sitting inside Yankee Stadium last week, Jerry Gardner got nervous every time his son, Brett Gardner, stepped up to bat.
That hasn't changed, even after 12 seasons that have included a World Series championship, an All-Star nod, and plenty of home runs and stolen bases.
“I’m still at the edge of my seat, and I’m either gonna wish for a different outcome or be proud as a peacock,” he said. “But no matter what, Brett’s mother and I can’t be happy enough with what he’s done for himself.”
Now the most tenured player in pinstripes, Brett Gardner is having another great postseason. In New York's three-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins, the speedy outfielder hit .250 with a homer and three RBIs.
New York is headed to the American League Championship Series for a chance to go to the World Series. Gardner’s a huge reason for that, logging 141 games this season, with stellar defense and power along the way.
But his high level of production wasn’t the plan heading into the season.
The crowded New York outfield already included sluggers Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks, who each hit at least 27 homers last year. Earlier this season, the Yankees acquired Edwin Encarnacion, who was leading the American League in homers at the time of the trade.
Gardner, who turned 36 in August, was viewed as the odd man out at the time. He was expected to take a backseat to the younger stars.
He went on to set career highs with 28 home runs and 78 RBIs this season.
“I’ve had more fun playing baseball this year than I ever have,” the South Carolina native recently told Elite Sports New York. “Just been a lot of fun to be part of a special team.”
That’s a far cry from where he was a year ago. Last October he told the New York Post that he would be ready “for whatever role they possibly could use me for.”
In the Yankees' sweep of the Twins in the American League Division Series, Gardner was batting third in the lineup, sandwiched between Judge and Encarnacion.
Scott Foxhall, an assistant coach at College of Charleston when Gardner was there, remembers watching him play at Holly Hill Academy. At that time, not even the Cougars recognized his potential and didn't offer a scholarship. Gardner joined the team as a walk-on.
His senior year with the Cougars, Gardner hit .447 and stole 38 bases. That led to New York taking him in the third round of the 2005 draft.
“With him, you just see the ultimate form of believing in yourself,” Foxhall said. “He overachieved every step of the way. So seeing him now, it’s just really special for all of us.”
Jerry Gardner isn’t surprised by his son’s success this season, and said he's just happy that his boy is still having fun.
“He’s still playing the game he loves and he’s been able to help a lot of people along the way,” Jerry Gardner said, referencing his son’s involvement with the MUSC Children’s Hospital and the Ronald McDonald House.
No one knows what will happen after this season, when Gardner's one-year contract with New York comes to an end.
"Whatever happens, Brett has had a career he can be proud of," he said.
For now, there's plenty of baseball to be played, beginning Saturday with the start of the American League Championship Series.