While the Yankees were working on a 3-1 win over the Blue Jays in Dunedin on Monday night, protests were taking place some 1,600 miles north.
The tragic story out of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota has become all too familiar. Daunte Wright, 20, was shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop Sunday night. Brooklyn Center police claim the officer in question, Kimberly Potter, intended to use her taser, but the death of another Black man at the hands of law enforcement—10 miles from where Derek Chauvin is currently on trial in the killing of George Floyd—has left many Minnesotans and people across the country in pain once again.
Aaron Hicks is one of those people.
The Yankees center fielder, who spent the first three years of his MLB career with the Twins, and was drafted in the first round by the organization in 2008, removed himself from Monday’s lineup shortly before first pitch. Hicks’ decision came with the full support of his manager and followed the Twins’ own decision to postpone their home game against the Red Sox.
"With all that's going on in Minneapolis, he's having a tough time right now," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of Hicks pregame.
Boone added that designated hitter Giancarlo Stanton considered sitting out as well, but he ultimately did play.
"[We] had a conversation in my office and [Hicks] just felt like it was best to not be in the starting lineup tonight and I certainly support that," Boone said. "We'll try to rally around him the best we can. Obviously, the situation is heartbreaking right now in Minneapolis and I think it’s hit Aaron particularly hard."
Sadly, but predictably, the empathy that Boone displayed did not spread to every eye, ear and soul that received the news.
There was plenty of support, but comments ranging from ignorant to hateful were easy to come by on social media as well. Some celebrated Hicks’ absence from the lineup, as he’s off to a slow start this year, and thus ignored his humanity. Others invoked his salary, as if money is a cure-all for a state of emotional distress or some forcefield against racism.
"I can't walk in Aaron's shoes,” Gerrit Cole acknowledged after the game. “But as a teammate, my job is to support him and make sure he's doing all right. That's an arm around him, a pat on the butt. Whatever he needs to go through emotionally, he needs to go through. We'll be here for him."
The bottom line was that Hicks needed a personal day, a day that he didn’t even take entirely for himself. Hicks spent the game in the Yankees dugout and took batting practice beforehand. But he didn’t think he could clear his mind enough to play in a big-league game.
To those criticizing the decision, know that Boone has Hicks’ back.
“I would say that Aaron is hurting in a huge way,” Boone said when asked what he would tell people condemning the outfielder. “I think, in a way, felt like it was probably the responsible thing to take himself out in knowing that it was going to be hard for him to be all in mentally in what’s a high-stakes, difficult job to go out and perform for the New York Yankees.”
A few years ago, it would have been more surprising to see a player ask for a night off under such circumstances, or to see a manager get behind it. But baseball culture, traditionally conservative, has been undergoing a bit of a change in the last year, one where players now have more freedom to express themselves, whether it be through protest, outspokenness or simply asking for a needed personal day.
Boone is all for it.
“There’s no question it’s changed a lot in that regard, and a lot in a positive way,” the manager said. “Things that go on in society and in our culture spill over into athletics. These guys, rightfully so, have gained more and more of a platform to be able to express themselves. I certainly support their right to do that.”
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