Icebreaker

(This story originally appeared in the Spring 2019 edition of Yankees Magazine)

“People think we live in igloos,” new Yankees pitcher James Paxton jokes in the story I wrote after visiting him in his offseason home of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, in early January. We probably deserved that after suggesting that we introduce the Canadian left-hander to his new fans in New York by heading out ice fishing. As Paxton reminded us, the weather where he’s from — just south of Vancouver, about 100 miles from Seattle — is actually perfectly mild.

But hanging out on a frozen lake (a first for me — and for James) seemed an excellent way to get a sense of his personality, to “break the ice,” if you’ll forgive the strained metaphor. And Paxton couldn’t have been more game. In fact, after about 45 minutes of photos and intermittent fishing, we (me, the photographer, the two videographers from Yankees on Demand and the YES Network producer) told him that he could leave whenever he wanted, that we had everything we needed. But he wanted to keep fishing for as long as we would let him, so it was nice to know that we weren’t bothering him all that much.

Paxton’s one of those guys that proves the media’s East Coast bias. He really should be more famous than he is, and Brian Cashman probably deserves more credit than he has received for plucking him out of Seattle. His stuff is filthy, with a great four-seam fastball (he is very clear about the fact that his philosophy on the mound is just to go right after the hitters). He also has a terrific, somewhat unfair knuckle-curve, as well as a solid two-seamer, cutter and change. It’s an excellent arsenal, matched with fluid and easy mechanics that keeps his arm in good shape (knock on wood).

He’s also just a good guy. He couldn’t have been more pleasant and helpful over the few days we spent together (guess those Canadian stereotypes are true). Watching him work with kids during a clinic at the facility his brother-in-law Steven Hensley, owns, he made sure to give personal attention to everyone there. Hensley thinks the kids have no idea just how good Paxton is when he’s teaching them. He wishes that the pitcher got the attention he deserves. But if Paxton keeps pitching like he did in May of 2018 — when he threw a 16-K game, then followed it up with a no-hitter — the attention will definitely come his way. You can’t go under the radar in the Bronx.

(Courtesy New York Yankees)

This was a fun one — I got to ice fish! I even caught some! That was extremely cool. And I like the story, too. Hope you’ll read.

https://www.mlb.com/yankees/news/getting-to-know-yankees-lefty-james-paxton/c-303341582?tid=163658034

A Year in the Life

(Courtesy New York Yankees)

(This story originally appeared in the Spring 2019 edition of Yankees Magazine)

When the Yankees hired Aaron Boone, my first thought was similar to a lot of other people’s: Why? Only, I think I was coming at it from the opposite side of most people who were confused by the move. Why, I wondered, would Aaron Boone want this job?

Obviously, there aren’t too many managing positions that compare in fame and prominence to the top job in the Bronx. But why would you want your first job to be replacing a guy who was fired after taking an overachieving team within a game of the World Series? Why would a guy such as Aaron Boone, whose short career in pinstripes included a basically perfect, singular memory, want to change that? Becoming a manager is basically just starting the clock until you inevitably get fired. Even Joe Torre left under not so great terms.

Again, why would you want this job?

I spent a year watching Boone pretty closely, trying to get a measure of the guy, before I got to spend some time with him on what was almost exactly the one-year anniversary of his hiring. We chatted in his office, as Boone — smiling, enthusiastic, ready for the new year — talked about what went right for so much of the 2018 season, and what went wrong when the games meant the most. It’s difficult to fully and honestly judge the year. On paper, so much went right. Even in the ALDS loss to Boston, Boone’s players were right there in all but one game, the absolute laugher in Game 3.

But Boone clearly took a different philosophy into the playoffs than his counterpart, Alex Cora, did. Cora threw away the book, making aggressive pitching changes without a second’s thought. Conversely, the knock on Boone after the series was that he took too long to react, leaving pitchers in to fight through trouble, letting the clock tick toward midnight instead of acting. I wanted to take the manager’s temperature with a few months of perspective.

(Courtesy New York Yankees)

I’m not sure how much new ground we broke. He basically met me halfway on my questions about the playoffs, admitting that there are some things he has second thoughts about, but insisting that the process was sound. And I’m not sure he’s wrong about that. Cora got the last laugh because his team won, but if, for example, the Yankees had come back to win Game 4, after Chris Sale had pitched the 8th inning (because Cora was managing to win every single pitch), I’m not sure who would have pitched in the deciding Game 5. Maybe then we’re talking about Boone being a genius for remaining patient, for going with what had worked. Perhaps we’re just overthinking all of this.

Anyhow, I hope you’ll read and enjoy.

https://www.mlb.com/yankees/news/aaron-boone-looks-back-on-his-first-year-in-ny/c-302440744?tid=163658034