Yankees’ Anthony Volpe driven by his obsession for game

Yankees’ Anthony Volpe driven by his obsession for game

TAMPA — Beyond whatever he does on the field — and Anthony Volpe became the only Yankees rookie to ever go 20-20 (20 homers, 20 steals) and joined Derek Jeter as the only Yankees shortstops to do it — he brings unchecked joy into a clubhouse that probably needs it after what Yankees general manager Brian Cashman appropriately called a “disaster” of a season.

Volpe wears a wide smile daily into the room. He loves what he’s doing at a time it’s fashionable to be blasé. He would never say that baseball is just his job.

Volpe family friend Al Leiter, the former Mets great and Yankees pitcher, whose son, Jack, is also a former Delbarton School teammate and first-round pick, isn’t sure he’s met many happier in their occupation.

“If Anthony could hit in the cages for 24 hours,” Leiter says, “he’d happily do that.”

Volpe didn’t disagree when that comment was relayed to him. In fact, he wore a look that suggested he was pondering if that’s actually possible. While he does seem slightly sheepish about his rep as an especially single-minded individual, he can’t deny it.

Ultimately, he admitted, “I wouldn’t rather be doing anything else.”

Yankees shortstop Anthony Volpe #11, running the bases after hitting a triple in the 6th inning against the Rays.Yankees shortstop Anthony Volpe #11, running the bases after hitting a triple in the 6th inning against the Rays. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

The rumor that he actually doesn’t do anything else, however, that one he flat denies. He says he plays golf, but not very often, and follows golf and soccer results (Manchester City and Tiger Woods are favorites).

But mostly, he’s a ballplayer, and a driven one. He said he looks at last year as a frustrating one for him, and for the team. Maybe so, but at just 22, he’s established himself as the starting Yankees shortstop, which — no surprise — has been his dream since age 5.

That’s when he first met Jack Leiter by happenstance in an Upper East Side Park. Jack was looking to have a catch (that’s the way we say it in New York, sorry if you’re reading this elsewhere), and the baseball prodigies were on their way. They took divergent paths, with Jack going first to baseball powerhouse Vanderbilt. Young Leiter later became the No. 2 overall selection of the Rangers and spent last year in the high minors for them.

Volpe sent word to teams he was headed to Vandy, too, and would only consider changing his mind if selected by the team of his dreams — and his grandfather’s dreams. Yes, of course, the Yankees. For which the Yankees are grateful. After his quick trip through the minors, he is the beloved little brother in a clubhouse filled with established, high-priced stars.

“He’s a great teammate, a great individual, he has great parents who raised him,” Aaron Judge says. “He’s someone who, day in and day out, you want to have in your corner. He’s dedicated to his craft, and dedicated to whoever walks in this building. We’re lucky to have him.”

The Volpe family lived and breathed Yankees baseball, and Volpe wore No. 7 all through his youth as it’s the number of his grandpa’s favorite Yankee. So when the Yankees selected him No. 30 overall, there wasn’t much doubt what he’d do.

If he felt his rookie season was dissatisfying, they’re thrilled with the speed-power combo — only 16 big leaguers ever posted a 20-20 season as rookies — and the extraordinary defense that earned him a surprise Gold Glove. Detractors suggested he might not have enough arm for shortstop but he has plenty, especially when you consider other attributes — quickness, instinct and, of course, his willingness to work around the clock.

“He’s as dedicated as anybody I’ve ever known, played with or heard of,” Al Leiter says.

Yankees players marvel at his singular focus and talk about him like he’s almost a perfect young person. Fun fact: To a man, they claim he’s never had a drink. (For the record, Volpe confirmed he’s never been drunk but unconvincingly claims to have had a celebratory sip on New Year’s Eve.)

Jose Trevino, who calls Volpe “a great, great kid,” is one of many who believes Volpe has never even sipped (actually they all do), but concludes, “Hopefully at the end of the year we can fix that.”

Yankees shortstop Anthony Volpe #11, swinging a bat waiting to hit in the 1st inning.Yankees shortstop Anthony Volpe #11, swinging a bat waiting to hit in the 1st inning. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

His teammates really don’t care to keep score there, they just know he’s going to do whatever he can to better himself as a ballplayer. They don’t have to give that a thought.

He won’t get into the hitting weeds with a non-ballplayer (me), but he certainly wasn’t on board with my hypothesis that someone in the organization made him do an uppercut swing last year to try for homers or at least try to get the ball in the air.

Someone at camp says he’s pleased to see Volpe’s swing is “flatter” this year because they believe he has a lot more in there than the .209 batting average he posted. Volpe himself only says he “just wants to be on path with the ball” which is simple enough for me to understand.

Speaking about last year generally, Volpe says, “In the moment, it obviously was frustrating. But I wouldn’t trade those feelings or the fire it lit under me for anything.”

The guess here is that fire of his didn’t really need to be lit.