Harrison Bader’s path from scrappy teenage New York baseball ‘outsider’ to playing center field for the Yankees

Harrison Bader’s path from scrappy teenage New York baseball ‘outsider’ to playing center field for the Yankees

Harrison Bader was born on the Upper East Side, grew up in Bronxville and played high school baseball at Horace Mann, a private school in The Bronx.

He also spent three seasons playing for the New York Grays, a travel team that often practiced on a field at PS 29 on 157th St. and Melrose Avenue, just a mile from Yankee Stadium.

On Tuesday, he played his first game in a Yankees uniform at the Stadium and had three RBIs. In the bottom of the ninth, he watched Aaron Judge tie Babe Ruth with his 60th home run of the season and Giancarlo Stanton hit a game-winning grand slam.

“It was amazing,’’ Bader said the following day. “Those were amazing feats, but everyone has the bigger picture in mind here: to win the World Series.”

Bader, who sat in the stands in Yankee Stadium when he was younger, came to the Yankees in an August trade with the Cardinals in exchange for left-hander Jordan Montgomery.

Harrison Bader with the New York GraysHarrison Bader’s trade to the Yankees brings him only a mile away from the neighborhood in which he played travel ball for three years.Photo courtesy of David Owens

It was the most unexpected move of the trade deadline by the Yankees. Montgomery was a solid left-hander in the middle of a rotation the Yankees were looking to upgrade. To make matters worse, Bader was sidelined due to plantar fasciitis and weeks away from being able to play.

But the Yankees wanted an upgrade in center field after Aaron Hicks played his way out of the starting lineup and to be able to move Judge back to right field to cut down on his wear and tear. And then Montgomery went to the Cardinals and started pitching like vintage CC Sabathia.

The trade became unpopular with the fans and questioned in some parts of the baseball world.

“I didn’t pay attention to any of the talk or any of that stuff,’’ Bader said. “I just concentrated on doing my work to get back, and the Yankees did an amazing job with that.”

Now Bader is ready to contribute to a stretch run in The Bronx.

“I called him right away after the trade,’’ said Kevin Martir, Bader’s former teammate with the Grays. “I told him, ‘Finally, you’re in pinstripes. This is what we envisioned when we were younger: to play for the Yankees at Yankee Stadium.’”

Martir is from Brooklyn, and like most of Bader’s teammates with the Grays, lived in the inner city. After playing his college ball at Maryland, Martir spent some time in the minors before injuries ended his career. He’s now the hitting coach for the Yankees’ Low-A Tampa affiliate.

New York Yankees center fielder Harrison Bader #22 scores on an RBI single by New York Yankees catcher Jose Trevino #39 during the fifth inning.The Yankees acquired Bader, who can help their center-field defense and baserunning, in a controversial trade-deadline deal that sent Jordan Montgomery to the Cardinals.Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

“We were a bunch of Latin kids from The Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, mostly,’’ said Martir, who was drafted by the Astros in the 18th round in 2015 and played parts of three seasons in the minors. “He walked in that first day, and we said, ‘Who is this kid?’ But you could tell right away how much he wanted to play and how hard he worked, so he fit right in.”

David Owens runs the New York Grays and was briefly an assistant coach at Horace Mann. He helped steer Bader to the Grays program.

“He adapted very well right away,’’ Owens said. “No matter your background, if you’re a ballplayer, you’re a ballplayer.”

Bader isn’t the only former Gray in the majors: Jose Cuas is a right-hander in the Royals bullpen.

“The Grays taught me that regardless of background, money or race, once you step on a baseball field, the ball doesn’t care,’’ Bader said. “Whether you’re from Brooklyn or the Upper East Side. I was one of the outsiders since I’m not Spanish. But they welcomed me because I could play.”

He played well enough to get to the University of Florida before being drafted in the third round by the Cardinals in 2015.

He works on drills in the offseasons with Owens and other trainers and has become an elite defensive center fielder, which is what Aaron Boone and general manager Brian Cashman like about the 28-year-old. Bader won a Gold Glove award last season and also posted career highs in homers (16) and OPS (.785).

“He was scrappy and played hard,’’ Martir said. “He always wanted to get better. Every year, he came back bigger, stronger and faster. He put the work in. You could say he was obsessed with the game.”

New York Yankees Harrison Bader RBI single scores Oswaldo Cabrera in the fifth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Yankee Stadium, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022, in Bronx, NY.Current Yankees minor league batting coach Kevin Martir, who was Bader’s teammate when both played for the Grays, says the Yankees’ new outfielder is “obsessed” with the game.Corey Sipkin

Martir is a hitting coach, and he is confident his old teammate will contribute at the plate.

“I think there’s still a lot of upside with his bat,’’ Martir said. “We talk about hitting, and I believe he’s in the right place at the right time to get the most out of himself as an athlete.”

Now Bader is doing it with the Yankees.

“My dream was just to play in the major leagues,’’ Bader said. “That’s what I was fixated on. So when I got to the majors with the Cardinals, it’s not like I was still thinking about the Yankees.

“But I always wanted to play the game on the greatest stage, so in the back of my mind, I thought about New York. It really is a different feel. It makes me fall in love with New York all over again. But no matter where I am, I have a job to do.”

Save a thought

New York Yankees relief pitcher Clay Holmes #35 throws a pitch during the 8th inning.Clay Holmes’ second-half struggles has raised some questions about Aaron Boone will handle the bullpen in the playoffs.Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Who’s closing?

The Yankees have just a few weeks before the postseason to get their bullpen in order. Clay Holmes leads the team with 20 saves, but the right-hander hasn’t been the same since the All-Star break and lacks postseason inexperience.

Aroldis Chapman has plenty of playoff experience, much of it not good. He’s second on the Yankees with nine saves, but is no guarantee to be on the playoff roster, much less in the closer role.

Up next is Wandy Peralta with four saves. Boone has noted the left-hander’s “fearlessness,” but Peralta is out until at least early October with a back injury. The Yankees are still hopeful for his return before the playoffs.

Zack Britton, back Thursday after missing a year after last season’s UCL surgery, has to show his stuff has returned after having been out for so long.

So much like they’ve done for most of the second half, the Yankees may have to piece together the end of games.

Ducks on the pond

New York Yankees left fielder Oswaldo Cabrera (95) grand slam home run during the first inning when the New York Yankees played the Pittsburgh Pirates Wednesday, September 21, 2022 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, NY.Though he has generally struggled at the plate since his call-up from the minors, Oswaldo Cabrera has yet to be retired in his first four plate appearances with the bases loaded.Robert Sabo

Oswaldo Cabrera has stood out in a variety of ways since being called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in mid-August. He’s shown an ability to play all four infield positions and both corner outfield spots.

But perhaps his most impressive feat has come at the plate: In four plate appearances with the bases loaded, the 23-year-old Cabrera is 3-for-3 with a walk and eight RBIs, including a grand slam in the first inning of Wednesday’s win over the Pirates.

He’s got some work to do in other situations, though. Cabrera has just seven RBIs in 119 plate appearances without the bases loaded.

Still, it’s another example of how Cabrera has shown an ability to not be overwhelmed in new and different spots in the majors.