DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Like most New York Yankees fans, Taj Gibson isn't really concerned about how his favorite team will fare against the Texas Rangers in the ALCS, which starts on Friday night. He knows the young team from the Lone Star State has a chance, but in the end, as they have so many times, he has little doubt that his beloved Bronx Bombers will prevail.
"The Rangers are kind of hungry right now," the Brooklyn native admitted after his Bulls wrapped up practice on Thursday afternoon. Gibson quickly added: "I think we have a lot of talent, the Yankees have a lot of talent, I think we're going to do it in ... I think we can sweep them. Because we always tend to get them early, the Rangers never really tend to fare good against the Yankees in the past in the playoffs, so the odds are against them."
Yes, the thought of CC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera having to face Josh Hamilton in a seven-game series scares Gibson a little. "In the postseason you never know," he said. "Anybody can just have a breakout performance." But the 25 year-old Gibson has seen enough Yankees games over the years to know that his team almost always gets the job done in the postseason.
As you'll learn from our brief conversation, Gibson has been a Yankee fan for a long time. He's a big-time baseball fan and actually played the sport growing up. He also has some words of wisdom for Yankees manager -- and former Cubs catcher -- Joe Girardi, as he ponders his future.
How did you become such a Yankees fan growing up?
Taj Gibson: Just going up to the Bronx and being part of the heritage, just seeing guys go up there. My first baseball game was at a Yankees game, and I never forgot that feeling. It was always about going to Yankees games and always representing the white and blue. When you look at the cap, it says New York on it, so you got to respect it.
Now, did you play at all growing up?
TG: Yeah, I played baseball. I played catcher, I had like a .270 average, I was pretty decent.
In high school?
TG: Before high school.
Have you ever thought as a 6-9 catcher, you may have gone down the wrong career path?
TG: I don't know. Because the way I look at catchers now, when I watch baseball games now, I look at the catchers, I look at their positioning, and it's tough because they have to really get low now. They have cushions now for the legs, but there's a lot of contact, a lot of tipped balls, a lot of deflections. It's tough.
You've told me before that you were a Derek Jeter guy. Is he anywhere close to the end, do you think this could be his last hurrah in the postseason? Or do you think he has five or six more years left?
TG: In baseball, they can play, it seems like they play a whole eternity the way they go. It's all about him taking the right time off and getting back in the swing of things. He's had a lot of pressure on his shoulders for a while -- he still makes amazing plays on defense, so even if he can't contribute on offense, he's still a phenomenal defensive player. And he's a leader, so ...
And he's supposedly marrying Minka Kelly, so that helps, too.
TG: Yeah, (smiles) he's good all around. Even if he can't do one thing good, he's got the defense going. But, [with] the Yankees I don't know, I think he's got maybe another six years in him. He can be like [Cal] Ripken [Jr.] probably ... If he hits [for] like a .280 average, .280 at least and they can switch him in lineups, he'll be good. I watch baseball all the time.
Do you think he has a chance to eclipse Pete Rose [as the all-time hits king]?
TG: How many does he have now?
He's getting close to 3,000. [2,926 to be exact].
TG: Yeah, he can do it. If he lets his body heal the right way ... but it's all about him getting healthy and feeling right, and having the right mental [approach].
Joe Girardi -- Should he stay with the Yankees next year or should he come here and manage the Cubs?
TG: (Pauses) It's kind of tough, because isn't he from Chicago? He's from Chicago, so if he [comes to the Cubs] ... I don't know. Both franchises are historical, so he's leaving one to come to an even better one, if he does, but it's not like the Yankees. You never get tired of winning, but it's his hometown, he's a hometown guy, so I wouldn't be surprised.
So you wouldn't think he's crazy if he left the Yankees to come to the Cubs?
TG: I don't really think he's crazy, I think he's a good coach, but he should look at his roster, his depth chart, and see how much they're going to let him live with. Because you never know, he could come out and have a terrible season the first year [in Chicago] and then you never know, he'd be in the hot seat. He has to make his decisions wisely and think about it. You [would be] leaving a bang-up roster full of sluggers and all that [with the Yankees] to come to a roster that's kind of rebuilding and all that [with the Cubs], so it's kind of tough. There's nothing like New York and there's nothing like Chicago, so it's going to be a tough decision.
I was going to say, you've lived in both places ...
TG: Yeah, and I've been to both [fields], I've even been to the old Yankee Stadium. There's nothing like the Chicago Cubs, the franchise and stuff, so it will be crazy to see what he does, but ... leaving the Yankees, and all those [players]? He has a squad. He has a squad. All he has to do is just coach them, get their mentality right, because their pitching staff, everything is fully loaded.