Carl Yastrzemski is a living baseball legend with a Triple Crown season (1967) and a 23-year, Hall of Fame career on his resume.
He’s also legendary for keeping his emotions in check.
That, admits the original “Yaz,” was even harder this week when, for the first time since 1983, a Yastrzemski played left field at Fenway Park in Boston.
His grandson, Mike Yastrzemski, of Andover, Massachusetts, was in the San Francisco Giants outfield, playing in his grandfather’s old homestead.
“I never dreamed Michael would be playing at Fenway Park,” said Yaz.
Other things were weighing on Carl Yastrzemski’s mind: He turned 80 on Aug. 22. His grandson turned 29 the next day.
This past Sunday was the 15th anniversary of the death of Yaz’s son, and Mike’s father, Carl “Michael” Yastrzemski Jr., after a surgery due to blood clots.
“I know my son would be so proud of Michael,” said Yaz. “He taught Michael how to play baseball. They worked a lot together.”
Yaz has heard other people talk about the similarity between his son, whose baseball career stopped in Triple-A, and his grandson.
“Mike was a switch-hitter,” said Yaz. “But they looked a lot alike. They have a lot of the same mannerisms. They run the same. I see it every time I watch Michael play.”
And Yaz has watched Mike play nearly every game since he was called up by the Giants.
Yaz bought the MLB TV package and has spent many a late night watching his grandson, who has basically been an everyday player since his May 25 debut.
“I’ve lost a lot of sleep watching his games,” Yaz said of the late games on the West Coast. “I get up every morning at 6:30. It’s tough on me watching compared to playing. I’m pulling so hard for him. It’s not easy.”
When his grandson was playing in the minors – 703 games, in all – Yaz didn’t watch any games because they were only available on the Internet.
And he “knows nothing” about the Internet.
“My brother (Richard) watched them all,” said Yaz. “He would send me messages the next morning about how he played to our iPad. I don’t know how to use the iPad, my wife (Nancy) did all that.”
Mike’s numbers – .263, 19 homers, 17 doubles, 3 triples, 51 RBI and an .833 OPS before this week’s series in Boston – have been astounding, basically putting him in the National League “Rookie of the Year” discussion.
Mike’s Fenway Park debut couldn’t have been more perfect. In his second trip to the plate, during the fourth inning, he belted a 401-foot home run to straightaway center.
Grandpa has been more than pleased.
“I’m most impressed with the power he picked up,” said Yaz. “He always was a very good hitter, a lot of doubles. But I think he figured a few things out when he was traded to the Giants and sent to Sacramento (AAA). He’s been swinging a big bat all year.”
As for Yaz’s influence on Mike this year, or really any year, grandpa says it isn’t much. They talk every few weeks.
These games in Boston were the first that Yaz has seen his grandson play as a major leaguer in person.
“I remember going to watch my son play in Orlando when he was in (Double-A),” Yaz reflected in an interview beforehand. “I was there for a weekend series, Friday through Sunday. He was like 0-for-8 the first two days, and I could see he was pressing.
“At dinner on Saturday night, I made up a story that we had to leave a day early and go home,” said Yaz. “He had a double-header the next day, and he goes 5-for-7.
The point is,s I don’t want Mike or anybody worrying about me. Plus, I’m superstitious.”
Speaking of Yastrzemski superstitions, young Mike told his grandfather he’s always struggled at the plate on his dad’s birthday, Aug. 16.
Last month with the Giants, he had maybe the greatest game of his career on the 16th, belting three home runs, including the game-winner in 11 innings.
The Giants beat the Diamondbacks, 10-9.
On Yaz’s 80th birthday?
“He struck out three times!” said Yaz, laughing.
The return of the Yastrzemski name to left field, in the shadow of Fenway Park’s iconic “Green Monster,” was special for another reason.
Before Wednesday night’s game, Yaz turned up early to throw out the first pitch to his grandson at home plate.
It was as emotional as they come, at least for Yaz.
“This is, for me, as great a moment as winning the Triple Crown,” he said of his batting feat — leading for average, home runs and RBI in the ‘67 season — that’s been repeated just once since his retirement.
“Michael never gave up when a lot of other guys would have. His determination is special,” he said. “I really never expected to see this. I’m proud of him.”
Bill Burt is executive sports editor of The Eagle-Tribune. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.