Yankees’ Bird draws attention and praise, hit after hit


A new Twitter account recently popped up under the name of Greg Bird, who someday soon enough may become a New York Yankees slugger. It looked legitimate enough, with mostly innocuous comments and the occasional plea for more followers. But there was one important clue exposing its deceit.

After a recent game, the account reposted an item from the Yankees’ public relations department pointing out that Bird, with two hits that day, was batting over .400 in Grapefruit League action.

“I wouldn’t be retweeting my stats, I promise you that,” Bird declared before a recent Grapefruit League game. “I wouldn’t be doing that.”

Self-promotion is not one of Bird’s tools as a baseball player, and no, the account is not his. He once had an account, but deleted it and says that, for now, it is not a platform that suits him. Instead, he prefers making his statements on Instagram and from the batter’s box, where his powerful and graceful left-handed swing could indeed transform him into a major presence at first base in New York, and beyond.

A fake Twitter account is only one of the early signs of impending celebrity, along with well-meaning admirers, autograph-seekers, groupies and sycophants. Bird, who is 24, got a small taste of being a big name in 2015 when he hit 11 home runs in just 46 games for the Yankees, but that was like wading in the kiddie pool compared to what might await him if he can display that same power over a full season.

In his six-week stint with the Yankees in 2015, he said, Yankee fans began to recognize him when he was strolling about town or strap-hanging on the No. 4 train to the Bronx, but the attention was never overwhelming.

“It’s such a busy city and there is so much going on,” he said. “Everyone has their own thing to do and you’re doing it, too. So you’re kind of a fish in the sea, swimming along.”

So far this spring, Bird has demonstrated that his 2015 output in the Bronx was not misleading. Long considered the best hitter in the Yankees’ farm system, and with a 6-foot 4-inch, 220-pound frame that shouts long ball, he has four home runs, five doubles, a triple and was batting .452 in his first 13 spring training games.

The production is especially encouraging for the Yankees because Bird is returning from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder in February 2016 that forced him to miss all of that season. He spent much of the time rehabbing and working out in relative solitude. He then scraped off some rust in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit one home run in 17 games and batted just .215 with a .346 on-base percentage.

Now, all the rust seems to be off. And if all goes according to plan, he and other emerging players like catcher Gary Sanchez and Gleyber Torres could be part of an everyday core of the team for years to come.

This spring, those three are already hinting at might be possible down the road. Sanchez, in the wake of his rookie home run onslaught in the last two months of the 2016 season, was hitting .387 going into Friday’s exhibition action, with four home runs, two doubles and 11 RBIs.

Torres, who was acquired last summer from the Chicago Cubs in the deal that essentially lent Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs for the remainder of the 2016 season (and helped them finally win a world championship), was hitting .478 with two home runs, five doubles and seven RBIs.

As of Friday, the Yankees had a 15-5 record, the best in either the Grapefruit or Cactus leagues. Yes, it’s only exhibition games, but better that the Yankees are winning a lot of them, than losing. And it’s good, too, that Bird seems to be fully back to where he was two seasons ago.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi thinks Bird possesses the right temperament for playing in New York, much the way a previous group of homegrown Yankees superstars — Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter — displayed that ability two decades earlier.

Girardi was a catcher on the Yankees when those players were young and he says Bird exhibits similar composure.

“I believe so,” Girardi said. “They took care of their bodies, they got their rest; they did all the things they needed to do. We were all young once and we like to go out. But you get caught up in that and get in a lot of trouble and it will affect your performance on the field. Those guys handled it extremely well.”

Jeter has said that he, too, often took the subway to Yankee Stadium when he was young, but it eventually became untenable because of all the attention he drew. Eventually, Bird may decide the No. 4 train no longer makes sense for him, either. In the meantime, he has watched his teammate and friend Brett Gardner, who is nearly 10 years older than Bird at 33, ably navigate a New York lifestyle.

“He handles it really well and I see that,” Bird explained. “I don’t look at it any differently. I’m me, and I feel like I’m still going to be me.”

That would make a good tweet. If he had a Twitter account.


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