05/09/07 1:00 AM ET
No lack of grit in Mientkiewicz's game
Erasing slow start at plate, first baseman remains strong in field
By Caleb Breakey / MLB.com
It's the retro look, a dogged style of play that sometimes seems rare in this era of baseball. But it's this type of grit that lives inside Yankee Stadium, on the field, in the dugout, through the tunnel and inside the locker marked by a blue plaque: Mientkiewicz.
"He's flying around and he's dirty every game," Yankees starter Andy Pettitte said. "He looks like he just got done wrestling everybody."
This is Doug Mientkiewicz. This, according to him, is why he's still a Major Leaguer.
The Yankees first baseman said he understands why he hits low in the lineup. He's not a marquee power hitter. He doesn't hit close to .354, like Derek Jeter has so far.
But Mientkiewicz plays hard, and he said that the best compliment he received was this: He gets the most out of the least amount of talent.
"You feel like you've done your job when you look down and you're covered from head to toe in dirt," he said.
Now, Mientkiewicz uses a humble humor, so don't overlook his career on-base percentage of .357 or his Gold Glove Award. There's no doubt that he's gifted enough to play baseball. Mientkiewicz said that he can do what he does because he works hard. He even said he spent more time with Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long than with his family in the past six weeks.
"He's a professional," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "He knows he's in there for his glove and takes a lot of pride in his bat, even though it hasn't done much. ... He's been on a winner before. I think he understands what's important for teams to win. He's a good teammate."
Torre added that the Yankees believe Mientkiewicz is a better hitter than he's shown the past couple of seasons. And maybe they were right.
Mientkiewicz went 2-for-3 with an RBI on Tuesday night, but that was just his hitting. He also gave Texas a good showing of his glove. Just ask Rangers catcher Gerald Laird.
Laird tried to bunt himself aboard to start the fifth inning. Mientkiewicz charged the ball but strayed far from first base. Pettitte had stepped toward the bunted ball, too, so he couldn't cover first. And second baseman Robinson Cano didn't have a chance, either. It came down to a footrace between Mientkiewicz and Laird.
"Two of the slowest people on earth chasing each other right there," Mientkiewicz said.
Laird ran on the inside of the baseline to create more space between him and a hustling Mientkiewicz. Then, the Yankees first baseman dove head-first toward Laird, fully suspended in the air.
Laird might have avoided the tag by a pencil-thin amount of air, but in the process, he dodged too far to the right and past first base. Mientkiewicz scrambled to the bag and touched it before Laird could recover.
Mientkiewicz recorded every out that inning. It's been said by Yankees staff that he could hit in the low .200s and still play every day because of his defense. He's established a confidence in himself from the Yankees infield, third baseman Alex Rodriguez said.
A-Rod, who played high school ball with Mientkiewicz, compared him to former Yankees first baseman and three-time Gold Glove Award winner John Olerud.
"It just gives you so much confidence to throw the ball over there," Rodriguez said. "The one thing he tells you is the same thing [Don] Mattingly used to tell you; keep it low, because I can help you. If you throw it high, I can't. But if it hits the glove, it's going to be an out usually."
Mientkiewicz said it surprised him that fans waited three weeks into the season to boo him. He said he deserved it much earlier. But now, Mientkiewicz said he knows what it feels like to do something right as a Yankee.
"It's the whole thing," he said. "I feel happy coming to the park every day. I love the city, I love the park. I love everything about this place, and it's time I started playing."
Caleb Breakey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.