NEW YORK — About the lamest move a pro athlete can pull is to wear pieces of his uniform outside the stadium. It’s the equivalent of a college freshman who hangs his school ID from a lanyard around his neck. Team-issued workout clothes are O.K., but the uniform travels from locker to field and back. Veterans often send rookies out for coffee in full dress to drive home the point. And yet sharp-eyed Southern Californians this week may have spotted an amusing sight: Gerrit Cole, new Yankee, walking around in his new Yankees cap.
“He was like a little boy,” said his wife, Amy, after the Wednesday press conference at which New York introduced its $324 million ace. “It’s a dream. It’s where he’s always wanted to be.”
Cole said as much to his agent, Scott Boras. After what Boras called “an economic round” in which they separated teams by the financial commitments they were willing to make, Cole considered his options.
His father, Mark, was born in Syracuse, N.Y. Young Gerrit, raised in Newport Beach, Calif., would rush home after school to catch Yankees games, which started at 4. They attended Games 6 and 7 of the 2001 World Series together, 11-year-old Gerrit holding a pinstriped sign that read YANKEE FAN TODAY TOMORROW FOREVER. When New York selected Cole out of Orange Lutheran High School in the first round of the 2008 draft, he had the opportunity to live his dream.
But the Coles entered every possible piece of data into a spreadsheet—the likelihood of injury, the average career earnings of players who turn pro out of high school versus those who attend college, the value of a degree—and decided he would go to UCLA. The Pirates took him with the first pick of the 2011 draft. Eight years and a trade to the Astros later, Cole was just off a season with an AL-best 2.50 ERA and a majors-best 326 strikeouts. He was a free agent for the first time. He and his boyhood team had a second chance.
“O.K.,” he told Boras. “Let’s call [Yankees GM Brian Cashman] and try to work this out.”
Cole was never really going to be an Angel or a Dodger. He loved the Yankees. He was in as soon as they made it clear that they loved him back.
Even with the ink dry and his No. 45 jersey—in honor of greats such as Bob Gibson and Pedro Martinez—stretched across his back, Cole could barely stop beaming for long enough to enumerate the ways the Yankees made him feel special. They presented him with a foot-tall gold box shaped like home plate, which opens to reveal a model of Yankee Stadium and an iPad stocked with information, from background on each of the team’s 27 championships to advice on where to send his future children to school. (They were the only team to provide such a gadget, Cole said.) They brought along Andy Pettitte, his childhood favorite player, to one of their five meetings. (“His phone number is in my cellphone!” Cole gushed on Wednesday.) They gave him a bottle of the 2004 Masseto (retail price: four figures) that he and his wife drank on their anniversary in Florence, as well as a bottle of the ’05, just for good measure.
That one stopped him. “There are not very many people in the world that know that’s my favorite wine,” he said, then smiled. “Now there are, which is great. If you have a bottle, send it my way!”
How? he wondered all through the meeting and into the night. He climbed into bed at 11:30 p.m. and shot up. He had suddenly remembered an Astros trip through Yankee Stadium during which he had shown visiting clubhouse manager Lou Cucuzza a photo of that anniversary dinner. The bottle had been visible in the frame. “Lou!” he yelped.
These were the lengths to which the Yankees would go to demonstrate their interest. And then, of course, there was the money, a record deal for a pitcher. Boras called to relay New York’s offer. Cole’s mind spun. He said nothing.
“G, are you there?” Boras said. “You’re supposed to be f------ screaming.”
Eventually, Cole did. He cried. He jumped around the living room while Amy laughed. His parents dug that YANKEE FAN sign out of his childhood bedroom, where it had spent 18 years as the letters faded. He was so excited that he FaceTimed New York media relations head Jason Zillo, crowding it into the frame: I’m bringing this to the press conference!
Cole unveiled it on Wednesday, a smile etched on his newly clean-shaved face. “I’m here,” he said. “I’ve always been here.”