SARASOTA, Fla.—Mike Yastrzemski will always carry the famous name of his grandfather, Carl, but in his first Orioles camp, he knows he’s here on his merits, not his name.
A few years ago, the Carl and Mike connection was a thing, and the Orioles made certain to bring him to Fort Myers for a Grapefruit League game with the Boston Red Sox — the team on which Carl spent his 23-year Hall of Fame career, including a Triple Crown season in 1967. Mike’s famously press-shy grandfather was there that day, and he chatted about their relationship.
That story is no longer a thing, and six years after he was a 14th-round draft choice in 2013, Yastrzemski is in his first Orioles camp. For a few years, he’d been one of Buck Showalter’s Jics (Just-in-case) players, but in 2018, his name was rarely on the list of those called over from minor league camp at Twin Lakes Park.
“It feels great. It’s kind of like a little piece of a reward,” Yastrzemski, an outfielder, said of his first major league camp.
He’s wearing No. 75 and won’t break camp with the Orioles, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he finally makes his major league debut in 2019.
“Everybody puts in so much hard work and time to be able to be here. To learn from these guys, it’s a great experience,” Yastrzemski said.
By 2014, his first full season in professional baseball, Yastrzemski was on the fast track, playing for Low-A Delmarva, High-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie with a combined average of .288 with 14 home runs and 75 RBIs.
Since then, things have slowed considerably for Yastrzemski, who’s nearly split his time with the Baysox and Triple-A Norfolk but never has earned the call to the big leagues.
It’s taught the 28-year-old patience.
“There’s going to be roller coasters, no matter what level, what day,” Yastrzemski said. “You’re going to go through highs and lows. If you can try and keep those as steady as possible, you’re going to find consistency, and this game is all about finding consistency, finding production. I think that learning from those blips, these ups and downs is definitely going to benefit me.”
Even last year, when the Orioles lost 115 games, Yastrzemski didn’t get a call. He hit just .202 in 27 games with Bowie but .265 with a .359 on-base percentage with the Tides.
He said it wasn’t frustrating.
“It’s not really. It’s all a learning experience,” Yastrzemski said. “Everybody’s got their own path to get where they want to go, whatever path that is for me, I’m fine with it. As long as you see some light at the end of the tunnel, and you put everything into it, it’s rewarding in that sense.”
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde, who appreciates baseball history, likes that he has the grandson of a Hall of Famer on his team.
“I write ‘Yaz’ down. I don’t want to try and spell it,” Hyde said. “It’s pretty cool writing it down…He’s a pro. It’s fun to watch him out there. I know it’s his first big league camp, and I think it’s going to be a great experience for him.”
Even though Yastrzemski has been stuck in Bowie and Norfolk the last four years, he said he has put the time to good use.
“I think there’s a lot of aspects in this game that you can make progress on,” Yastrzemski said.
“It’s not just a statistical category. You can make better reads in the outfield, you can make better plays, you can be a better teammate, you can find ways to impact the team rather than hitting a home run. There’s a ton of different ways to do that ,and I think that this organization is moving into that light and understanding that there are a lot of things that people have to offer, and that’s something I’m looking to take advantage of.”
With Hyde and a new staff in charge, Yastrzemski believes that the atmosphere around Orioles camp is a lighter, more upbeat one.
“For a little bit of time, especially coming from the [minor league] side, you walk on eggshells,” Yastrzemski said. “You don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. You don’t want to make anyone feel like you’re taking away from them.
“…People are excited to be here, and that’s always fun to be a part of, when guys want to show up to the field. They’re not dragging their feet, and there’s positivity all around.”