Staten Island Native Zack Granite is Living Out His Yankees Dream
Receiving an invite to Spring Training with any Major League franchise is a monumental opportunity for a ballplayer.
From the perennial starters down to up-and-coming prospects, the spring is a chance to hone certain skills, jockey for position to potentially earn a spot on a big-league roster and leave a lasting impression with an organization's coaching staff.
That big break is even more special, however, when it's with the team a player has always dreamt of being a part of.
Staten Island native Zack Granite has dreamt of donning a New York Yankees uniform for his entire life. For the 27-year-old – after signing a Minor League deal with the Bombers this offseason – an invitation to Yankees' Major League Spring Training has been both a 'meaningful' and 'unreal' experience.
"That was the dream all along. Putting the pinstripes on," Granite said earlier this spring. "The image I've had since I was five years old playing in the Major Leagues, I've never not had the Yankee pinstripes on."
Standing at his locker in the middle of the clubhouse at George M. Steinbrenner Field, equidistant between where Aaron Judge and Gerrit Cole reside, Granite's face lit up recalling his fondest memories growing up in New York City as a Yankees fan.
"I used to go to a lot of games, watched them on YES and if we were in the car, we would listen to them," he exclaimed. "It was a pretty good team growing up."
His love for the game blossomed during New York's late-1990s dynasty. Therefore, it's no surprise Derek Jeter was Granite's favorite player. He even named his dog 'Jeter' in honor of The Captain.
Nonetheless, two other Yankees greats particularly resonated with him as he grew up – one of them happens to be the club's longest-tenured player.
"Obviously Jeter and then Bernie Williams being a left-handed outfielder," he explained. "I always followed the center fielders. Then as I got older, Brett Gardner was a rookie by the time I was in high school. So, you know, watching him as he kind of resembles my game a little bit was pretty cool."
Granite's baseball career may have started just a few miles away from the Bronx, but it's been a winding road to earning a locker in the Yankees' clubhouse.
The lefty was a standout at Tottenville High School – a local powerhouse program where he won a city championship in 2010 – before playing collegiate ball at nearby Seton Hall University. He was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 14th round of the 2013 MLB Draft.
The fleet-footed outfielder ascended through the Twins farm system, winning the organization's Minor League Player of the Year Award in 2016 after stealing 56 bags and hitting .296 in Double-A Chatanooga.
The following year, Granite made his first and only stint of his career in the Majors. Across 40 games with Minnesota, the Staten Islander posted a .237 batting average (22-for-93) with 14 runs scored, one home run and plenty of memorable moments.
This spring, Granite appeared in 12 Grapefruit League games with New York before Spring Training was cut short due to the national emergency created by the novel coronavirus pandemic. In those dozen contests, Granite tallied three base hits in 18 at-bats, driving in three. He played reliable, error-free defense at all three outfield positions.
Back before Spring Training games began, Granite was already ensconced among his Yankees teammates. Surrounded by some of the best and most experienced outfielders in all of baseball, Granite didn't hesitate to take a step back and focus on taking it all in.
"I learn a lot from watching," Granite explained. "Honestly everybody here is a professional. I pick up on little things here and there."
The emotional connection to the intertwined 'NY' on his cap didn't change the way he attacks the game physically and mentally. Granite clarified that he has and always will play baseball the same way – whether it's with New York, the Texas Rangers' Triple-A affiliate that he played for last year or in rookie ball with the Twins right out of college.
In the back of his mind, however, Granite's ultimate dream to take the field at Yankee Stadium in pinstripes hasn't gone away.
"That's the moment I would love to have," he said, thinking about jogging out of the Yankees' first base dugout in the Bronx for the first time. "I've been there a ton – the old stadium and the new – so it would be pretty special. Obviously my family would be there. My wife, my brother and my parents.
"It would be really special, a really special moment. Hard to describe honestly."
He's played there before, registering two regular season plate appearances at Yankee Stadium in 2017. He even stroked a base hit in the 2017 American League Wild Card game. When asked if he recalled the last time he had stepped foot in the stadium, he didn't miss a beat.
"I was hurt in 2018 and my buddy had tickets," he remembered. "I went to a Yankees Mets game at Yankee Stadium. I believe it was [Jacob] deGrom pitching for the Mets vesus [Luis] Severino.
"Interesting sitting in the seats when you want to be out there playing, you know? That was the last time I was there."
In order to return as a member of the Bombers, Granite has some work to do.
As a non-roster invitee, Granite doesn't presently have a spot on the Yankees' 40-man roster. Therefore, in order to be called up to the big-league club, he'll need to overcome that obstacle. In these unprecedented times, with COVID-19 forcing MLB to postpone the regular season, only time will tell if New York elects to call upon Granite for internal outfield depth this season or beyond.
Granite won't hit the ball 500 feet. He won't sign a contract for nine figures. Due to his dedication to his craft and determination to live out his dreams, however, he's one step away from returning to the Majors with his childhood team.
Asked what he would tell the next wave of high school and college ballplayers, looking to one day receive their own invite to Major League Spring Training, Granite advised to stay true to oneself and always do your best. In his mind, if you play the game the right way, the results will follow.
"I would tell them to keep working hard," Granite explained with intentions to return to his former high school this offseason. "That was me ten years ago. I don't do anything special, I just play the game hard and people like the way I play the game.
"I'm not 6-foot-7, I'm 5-foot-9, 5-foot-10. I play the game the right way and it's gotten me this far."
Regardless of how he fits into the Yankees ever-changing positional puzzle, Granite is eager to help in any way he can. Whether it's pinch running, filling in on defense or anything in between, this outfielder wants nothing more than to contribute.
"Everybody is out here with one goal in common. Everybody is trying to win," he said. "We're going for 28 this year and I think that's pretty cool. I'm just glad to be a part of it."
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