TAMPA, Fla. -- It was an off-season of surprises for Brett Gardner. First he learned that the Yankees had given his centerfield job away to Jacoby Ellsbury. Then came the news that Derek Jeter, his friend and neighbor in the Yankees spring training clubhouse and his teammate for the past six seasons, was calling it quits.
It's not hard to figure out which of those events hit him harder.
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"Well, last year he was hurt for most of the season and it was weird, it was different, because he’s never spent much time on the disabled list, he’s always been out there, so it’ll be weird,'' Gardner said. I’m sure he’ll talk more about it today but hopefully he’ll be in some capacity still part of the organization and still around from time to time and I’m sure he will be. But it’ll be different, yeah."
Jeter and Gardner have alwasy had a good-natured bantering relationship, as Jeter does with most of his teammates. A few moments later, Jeter walked in and took up residence in the locker next door, just in time to hear a question about Gardner having to move to left field this year.
"What do you think about playing left?," Jeter asked.
Gardner ignored him, but a few monents later the subject of a possible Gardner trade came up.
"You're getting traded now?," Jeter asked.
"Not yet, Jeet. By the way, is that really your Facebook account?"
That's the kind of stuff that will be missing from the Yankees clubhouse next season, the easy rapport between veterans like Jeter and just about everyone in the clubhouse. Without Jeter to hold it together, you could see the Yankees clubhouse dividing into factions, pitchers on one side, position players on the other, young with young, older with older, and not all that much interaction.
And that was what Gardner said he woudl remember most about Jeter, his habit of going out of his way to make new faces in the clubhouse feel comfortable.
"I don’t remember exactly when I first met him," Gardner said. "It was 2006 and Joe Torre was still the manager here and I wasn't in big league camp, I just came over to help with some split-squad games and he came over and sat down to talk to me. He's always been good that way. He just makes young kids feel at home and he’s very friendly. You meet him and he’s not scared to sit down and talk to you, answer questions, let you pick his brain about things and I think that’s always been a great thing about him."
Gardner did, however, remember Jeter's opening line: "Hey, I'm Derek."
"I think I already had an idea who he was," Gardner said.
Gardner admitted he was ''surprised'' when the Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury, like him a centerfielder whose game is centered around speed, to a seven-year contract in the off-season.
"It caught me by surpris, but he’s a great player and any team he goes to, he makes better,'' Gardner said. "Having him over here makes us a better team. I’m happy to play alongside of him and learn from him. And he’s obviously a real good baserunner, we’re kinda the same type of player and maybe some things that he has I can learn from him, and push each other to get better."
Gardner said that soon after the signing, Joe Girardi called him to ease his fears that he was about to be traded.
"He just told not to worry about all the trade rumors going on, that he still envisioned me playing a big role on this team," Gardner said. "I’ve always been a big believer in trying to not get too caught up in things I can’t control, especially in the off-season. He didn't exactly tell me I wasn't going to be traded, because at the end of the day that’s not his decision, but more like not to worry about everything you see and hear."
Unless, of course, you see it on Derek Jeter's Facebook page.