As ecstatic as he was the November night in the Bronx 10 years ago when a slow roller to then-teammate Robinson Cano ended the 2009 World Series in New York's favor, Gardner's emotions over the years have completely flipped.
Since his second big league season, his club has failed to reach baseball's zenith again. Now a 12-year veteran, Gardner hasn't been back to the World Series. That has made it hard for him in recent years to replicate his bygone joy.
"It's been a disappointing 10 years," the 35-year-old outfielder said. "It's flown by. It's been way too long. I know from the front office and the ownership, obviously they go out of their way to put the best possible team on the field every year.
"I know for our fans it's been disappointing, too."
Gardner is one of two current Yankees who were on that 2009 team. The other, 38-year-old starting pitcher CC Sabathia, is retiring at the end of this season. A third current Yankee, J.A. Happ, pitched against the Bronx Bombers in the 2009 World Series as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies.
"As one of the guys who's been in this room the whole time, it's been just as disappointing, if not more so, for me," Gardner said. "I've lost probably more sleep over it than anybody. Yeah, we're trying to get back there, and anything short of that is not acceptable."
To make matters worse for Gardner, the Yankees' rival Boston Red Sox have won two championships in that span, including last year's.
In part because of the disappointment that has bubbled inside him over the years, Gardner felt it was necessary he focus solely on coming back to New York when he was a free agent this offseason. Although he had interest from other teams during his very brief free-agent window, Gardner wasn't trying to entertain any of them.
"There's nowhere else I wanted to be, no other team that I could pick that I'd rather be on," said Gardner, who re-signed as a free agent on Oct. 31. "I love playing in New York and for those fans. The last few years have been exciting to get back to the playoffs and see the kind of atmosphere that the stadium can have, and you want to feel more of that."
The Yankees wanted to feel more of the energy he provides their clubhouse, which is full of stars that are beginning to come of age.
"He's a real important voice in our room," manager Aaron Boone said. "He's one of those guys that helps set the tone as far as our culture is concerned.
"But it's really important to remember that he is still a really productive player. He's a premium, premium outfielder. And left field in our ballpark, it's no secret that it is important to have a really good defender out there."
While the Yankees haven't won a World Series the last nine years, they have been part of six of the past nine postseasons. They also were a game away from the Series in 2017, and lost to the eventual champion Red Sox in last year's American League Division Series after winning 100 regular-season games with a banged-up roster.
Gardner agreed to his one-year, $7.5 million deal after the team had declined an option that would have paid him $12.5 million in 2019. Even after turning down that option, the Yankees still wanted Gardner back.
"If they didn't want me back, I was going to continue playing and go somewhere else," Gardner said. "But being able to come back, and being able to be part of this team, I kind of knew it was going to be CC's last year and I remember what happened 10 years ago, and we're trying to get back to that place.
"Obviously the season hasn't started at this point, but we've got a better group of guys than we've had. Maybe even better than I've seen. I'm just excited about this season, excited to be part of it."
Unlike Sabathia, Gardner has no plans of making this his final season. He's talked about his remaining longevity with his wife and his 10- and 8-year-old children. The entire family is comfortable with him continuing a little while longer.
"They want me to keep playing as long as I can," Gardner said. "There's obviously things that I miss about not being at home, but they're not really drawing me to be back home yet."