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Nightengale: Stanton won’t Hide from Expectations or Fanfare as a Yankee

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New York Yankee Giancarlo Stanton. Photo: KIM KLEMENT / USA TODAY SPORTS

Giancarlo Stanton hurriedly walks to his corner locker in the New York Yankees clubhouse. He stops. Starts. Looks for his bat. Asks if you remember seeing him carrying a bat.

There’s no panic in his face, but anxiety in his voice, four days into his new workplace.

He tells you he’s still getting adjusted to a new organization, getting to know new teammates (all but three he had never met), trying to find out where he’s supposed to be, what time, and learn the names and faces of strangers he’s never seen.

He still doesn’t have a place to live yet in New York, trying to negotiate with former teammate A.J. Ramos the perfect spot in between Yankee Stadium in the Bronx and Citi Field in Queens. He hasn’t had even had time to unpack everything in his recently completed three-story penthouse in downtown Miami, which now will be only a winter home, let alone his rental in Tampa.

And, oh yeah, he only has a month to get rather creative before the Yankees head north.

It may seem like a ridiculous notion, but what the heck, he’s going to see if he can somehow go incognito in the streets of New York.

He may be 6-foot-6 and a chiseled 245 pounds, Madison Avenue looks, a face plastered on billboards around town, with regular appearances on the back and front pages of the New York tabloids, but, hey, he’s going to give it a shot.

 “I’m going to have to fool around with some disguises and what not,’’ Stanton says. “Get some long hair. Maybe bring my mullet back.

“I have to play round with it to see if I can get away with it.’’

The odds of Stanton not recognized the moment he leaves his New York apartment?

“Zero,’’ Yankees closer David Robertson said. “He’s 6-6, his back is as wide as a door, and everyone knows his face.’’

Says Yankees veteran pitcher CC Sabathia: “He’s got no chance. Those days are over. He better get used to it, he’s going to have to deal with it.’’

Stanton, 28, who is almost an introvert beyond a circle of trust consisting mostly of buddies from high school, understands his life will forever be different.

Stanton, who would rather stand in the shadows of a batter’s box facing Clayton Kershaw than face cameras and notepads every day, can no longer duck the media after games. He can homer four times, or strike out four times, and reporters will be waiting. It’s a spotlight that even has his former Marlins teammates privately wondering whether he can handle it.

“I’m pretty well-aware how it is,’’ Stanton says. “I played enough in New York, so I paid attention. You see how the papers are, good and bad. You see how the media is, good and bad.

“There will be a point where there will be negativity. There will be magnified negativity, magnified positive things. You got to live through it and understand that. I expect it.

“I’m not going to run from it. If you run from it, you’re just going to be worrying about it every day. “Oh, here they come.’ I’m just going to be myself, and not to change to be someone I’m not.

“I just want to be truthful.’’

Stanton got a subtle reminder of life in New York last May when he was peppered with questions about Yankee rookie Aaron Judge’s sensational start. Stanton said he preferred not to talk about him since he wasn’t a teammate. The next thing he knew, his comments blew up, as if he was feuding with Judge.

“I know the media stirred up what I said in the beginning of the year,’’ Stanton says. “I was in New York, we were playing terrible, and this guy says, “Hey, I think this guy (Judge) has more power than you. Do you think he has more power than you? Hey, did you see his home run?’

“I was like, ‘Hey, that doesn’t matter to me. I don’t care about miles per hour off the bat. I don’t care if he has more, or I have less. It doesn’t matter.’

“That got all stirred up, so I remember when I met (Judge) at the All-Star Game, I said, “Look man, they’re trying to stir things up. We got to be cool. We got to be friends. We got to understand that we can help each other.’’

Here they are, now teammates, where Stanton will wear a Yankee uniform Friday for the first time in a game when the Yankees host the Detroit Tigers at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

In many ways, Stanton says, it will feel as if it’s his major-league debut.

It will be the first chapter of the rest of his career.

He already has the accolades, all of the money he’ll ever need for generations of his family, but finally, he has a chance to actually win, with actual fans showing up for games.

There have been more fans watching batting practice this week at Steinbrenner Field, hooting and hollering just at the sight of him and Judge, than would show up for weekday games at Marlins Park.

And, yes, after years of losing, fan disillusionment and organizational chaos, he will be winning, going to a team that not only expects to win the World Series every year, but has not had a losing season in a quarter-century.

“That’s the part that I can’t wait,’’ Stanton says, “winning.

“I’ve never had that before. That’s what I always wanted. That’s what everybody wants in their career. And what my previous years haven’t been.

“You’re not going to be in your prime forever. You’re not going to be in the game forever. I wish every player can experience what I’m about to experience.’’

This simply is why Stanton wanted out of Miami, the only organization he has ever known, failing to ever make the postseason, let alone produce a winning season during his eight-year sentence.

They finished 80-82 in his rookie season, and that was as close as Stanton came to breaking even in Miami.

Still, he was prepared to stay. Really, it was his preference, falling in love with the city. It’s why he signed a 13-year, $325 million contract with the Marlins, with a complete no-trade clause, promised that the Marlins’ fire sale days were over.

It all changed the morning of Sept. 25, 2016, Stanton believes, when ace Jose Fernandez was killed in a boating accident. Still, even without Fernandez, Stanton believes if the Marlins would have added just two more starting pitchers, they could at least have been competitive in the NL East, baseball’s weakest division. He tried to convey that message to owner Derek Jeter in their lone face-to-face meeting.

Jeter wouldn’t budge.

“Jeter instead told him he had 24 hours to accept a trade to the Giants or the Cardinals,’’ said Joel Wolfe, his long-time agent, “or he would be in Miami the rest of his career.’’

Stanton called the Marlins’ bluff.

“I didn’t want to be part of a rebuild,’’ Stanton softly says, “I just didn’t. But I wasn’t going to put a deadline on it, either. I never experienced something like this before. I was not going to abide by a deadline.

“My deadline was spring training. I wanted to see what could happen, see what happened after the winter meetings. So to give me a deadline before all of that, no way.’’

Stanton says he never said “no,’’ simply, “not yet,’’ when the Marlins asked him if he would accept a trade to the Cardinals or Giants. He likely would have ultimately accepted a deal to the Giants, who promised him they would do everything possible to return to the World Series. The Giants offered to pay $265 million of Stanton’s remaining $295 million, and packaged outfielder Denard Span and two prospects in their proposal to the Marlins.

It was appealing, but Stanton’s first preference was playing for the Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros or Chicago Cubs.

Yes, who just happen to be the four playoff finalists in 2017, with Stanton watching virtually every inning of the World Series.

“You prefer not to be on the couch,’’ Stanton said, “but you don’t want to sit around and hope. I learn by watching, and I wanted to be the most prepared when I do get there.’’

The Yankees swooped in, made almost an identical offer to the Giants’ deal, substituting Starlin Castro instead of Span, and voila, now have the NL MVP in Stanton and the runner-up AL MVP in Judge – Thunder and Lightning in the same lineup.

Also, after there, of course, lies the rub.

It’s called expectations.

The Yankees finished one victory shy of the World Series, stoking the belief that this is the year they win it.

Stanton, who led baseball with 59 home runs last year, now is expected to top 60 as he moves into Yanke eStadium.

“If I hit two home runs all year,’’ Stanton says, “I don’t care, as long as we win the World Series.’’

Maybe there will be a time, too, that Stanton will even embrace the world’s biggest media giant, and not dread the constant microscope.

“I’m hopeful, but it’s going to take time,’’ Wolfe says, “because he was conditioned to avoid the media. He doesn’t like the media attention and doesn’t enjoy interviews.

“It’s just that when he was with the Marlins, the questions were never just about baseball or the game. There was always drama. He got so sick of all the bull.

“It’s just going to take some time for him to learn how to trust again.’’

Yet, no matter the attention, no matter how many media requests, Yankees GM Brian Cashman and his new teammates believe that Stanton will thrive. He’s in an environment full of stars, with the only narrative being the goal of a World Series championship.

“I work so hard, man, and it sucks not to be able to win,’’ Stanton says. “That’s why I’m so happy and so excited about this. There’s a true expectation and a chance to do something special here.

“I waited my whole life for this.’’

By Bob Nightengale

This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter and Facebook.

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