Nick Tropeano's Connection to Yankee Stadium Makes His Appearance With New York This Spring Even More Special
Yankee Stadium has always held a special place in Nick Tropeano's heart. It's been that way since he attended his first ever baseball game at the historic ballpark when he was just six years old.
Since then, this "diehard" Yankees fan and native of West Islip, NY, has dreamt of returning one day – but this time, rather than sitting in the stands wearing street clothes or in the visitors dugout in an opposing uniform, he's aspired to take the field in pinstripes.
That's why a contract offer from his childhood team this offseason was a career-altering moment for the 29-year-old hurler.
"I had a lot of offers, but once I heard the name 'the Yankees,' it was eye opening," Tropeano said earlier this spring, recalling attending countless Sunday home games with his dad when he was growing up. "Everything else went to the back of my mind."
Entering his sixth big-league season, Tropeano inked a Minor League deal with the Bronx Bombers – a contract featuring an invite to Yankees' Major League Spring Training. After weeks of drills and bullpens with his new teammates, the right-hander made his Yankees debut during the club's Grapefruit League opener in February.
Days later at his locker in the clubhouse at George M. Steinbrenner Field – even if he earned the losing decision in his first ever appearance with the club – toeing the rubber in a Yankees jersey was already engrained in his mind forever.
"I've been in the big leagues a long time and just having that experience and putting on that uniform is another level," Tropeano explained. "Even if it's spring, it's a notch above. You feel different, it's a different type of feeling when you put on that uniform."
After shining at West Islip High School, and playing collegiate baseball at nearby Stony Brook University, Tropeano was selected by the Astros as a fifth-round draft pick in 2011. Just three years later, he made his Major League debut with Houston in September of 2014.
The right-hander made just four starts with the Astros before he was traded to the division rival Angels that offseason. He's spent the rest of his career in Los Angeles up to this point.
Across his five-year career, Tropeano has made a total of 42 appearances on the mound – including 39 games started – posting an ERA of 4.51 in 217 1/3 innings. That starting pitching experience vaulted the veteran into the discussion for the Bombers' vacant spot in their rotation this spring.
Tropeano wound up making five appearances in Grapefruit League play before games were suspended due to the national emergency created by the novel coronavirus pandemic. In his lone start of the spring, a few days after his debut, Tropeano twirled two shutout innings allowing just one base hit to the Blue Jays. Weeks later, in the Yankees' final game before MLB canceled the remainder of the spring, Tropeano got the win over the reigning champion Nationals.
The 29-year-old has been on some talented teams, shared clubhouses with some of this generation's best ballplayers, but when asked about how this current Yankees club compares, he explained that this year is different in the best way.
"I've been around and I think you say it every year, but this year you actually believe it," he admitted. "You see it and you visualize it in the future. That's what teams do to be successful, they visualize. I think this team is doing that and you gotta believe."
Speaking of visualization, throughout all his years playing professionally, that image of pitching at Yankee Stadium in his favorite team's uniform hasn't left his mind.
"Just those emotions as a kid, when you go to the game and think 'one day, I want to be on that team and I want to be on that field,'" he explained, envisioning his first appearance at the stadium. "When you walk out of the clubhouse and onto the field and take it all in, it's like wow. It's almost surreal. This is what you've been working for your whole life and now, just having the opportunity to play for this team is unreal."
Taking steps closer to that goal is even more special when considering the injuries that Tropeano has overcome along the way. The right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery in 2016, missing the entirety of the 2017 season. Right shoulder inflammation in the final month of the 2018 season meant his second-consecutive campaign featuring a trip to the 60-day injured list.
Through it all, Tropeano explained that he's been surrounded by an incredible support system, a group that's helped him overcome all of his career's obstacles.
"My parents, I think my college coach will be there too. Lot of family and friends" he said, brainstorming those who would be in the stands on the day he makes his first appearance at Yankee Stadium. "I've got such a good support group, especially these past couple of years going through some health issues and my seasons being shortened. That support group is going to be there through thick and thin."
Tropeano didn't see these unprecedented coronavirus-induced circumstances coming. It's safe to say that nobody did. But earlier this spring, when the season was just weeks away, the right-hander's excitement to be a part of this roster and have a chance to make an impact on a World Series caliber ball club was palpable.
"I'm just here to contribute and show that I'm healthy," he said. "Whether it be at the beginning, middle or end of the season. Starter or reliever. I just want to contribute to this talented roster because I can see this team doing really, really big things."
COVID-19 is just another bump in the road for Tropeano on his way of him achieving his goals. Regardless of whether or not the season is played this year, you can count on him to continue striving in pursuit of that dream.
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