It’s not a name that is easy to escape from.
It may take some practice to learn how to spell it, but recognizing the name is second nature for anyone who has ever stepped foot inside Fenway Park. As a result, whenever Michael Yastrzemski steps up to the plate at Vanderbilt or with the Cotuit Kettleers in the Cape Cod Baseball League, people immediately stop and stare.
Being the grandson of a Hall of Famer and Red Sox legend will do that to you.
Yastrzemski, an upcoming sophomore at Vanderbilt University who was also selected by the Red Sox in the 36th round of the 2009 draft, is accustomed to the attention. Among all the heroes who have come through Yawkey Way, his grandfather is one of the most beloved.
"Michael comes from a family with tremendous baseball heritage, and I think it’s wonderful because it’s the players like his grandfather who have played for the Red Sox who have made this part of the nation love baseball," said Kettleers head coach Mike Roberts. "I think there’s a lot of positives to [the experience of playing in the Cape] – I just want him to have the chance to grow up."
Yastrzemski’s freshman season at Vanderbilt was a learning experience. In 131 at-bats, he hit .260 with a .347 on-base percentage. He didn’t make a single defensive error, proving himself as a skilled outfielder who has the arm to play any of the three positions.
In June, Yastrzemski journeyed back to the heart of Red Sox Nation to join the Kettleers for the summer. He’s not playing in the Cape League so he can continue to revel in his family’s legacy; he’s here to put in the time and practice that will help him ensure he can live up to it.
He, however, may be facing a bit more pressure than any other player spending the summer in the nation’s most-renowned amateur league.
"What I want people to realize is that Michael’s a very young player – he’s a very talented player, and he’s just like everybody else but with a different name," Roberts said. "He’s just working on his skills, despite all the media attention."
Yastrzemski, just like anyone else on the roster, battles the same inconsistencies that plague hitters from the amateurs all the way up through Major League Baseball. As of Thursday’s game against Bourne, Yastrzemski is 20-for-76 with a homer, nine RBIs, 12 strikeouts and a .321 on-base percentage.
"The main difference [in the Cape League] has definitely been the consistent pitching," Yastrzemski said. "Everyone’s got good off-speed stuff and throws strikes, and that’s different from what any high school kid or college kid is used to. It’s tough to come in and face that."
Trying to perfect your swing in the most competitive pitcher’s league in the nation can be a challenge, especially when you’re playing with wood bats for the first time.
"Offensively, just like most of the guys on the Cape, he’s inconsistent," Roberts said. "One day, he’s very comfortable, and the next day, he’s not very comfortable."
Yastrzemski, however, has abundant resources to turn to when it comes to making adjustments and finding an approach that works. He has Commodores coach Tim Corbin; he now has Roberts, who has plenty of experience working with athletes of all levels at The Performance Institute; and if he’s really struggling, he always has his grandfather to consult for advice.
"He kind of lets me do my own thing, but he knows that if I have any question or if I’m struggling, I’ll give him a call," Yastrzemski said. "I’ll definitely go see my coaches, too, but if that doesn’t help, I’ll give him a call and see what he thinks."
Baseball was not something Yastrzemski was pushed into because of his family heritage – instead, it was a natural progression for him. He wanted to play, and it didn’t take any extra prodding from his grandfather or his father. But once he did develop a passion for baseball, his grandfather was happy and eager to help. Together, he and Michael would single out an area that needed some extra attention, work on it tirelessly for 45 minutes at a time and then progress to the next item on the agenda.
Whereas some young players in his position may see the royal baseball ancestry as something of a burden or a source of inescapable pressure, Yastrzemski feels the opposite. He has a Hall of Famer at his disposal as his own personal groomer. There’s no disadvantage to that.
"I’ll never get sick of [the extra attention]," Yastrzemski said. "It’s my heritage. It’s almost like a responsibility that I like to take on, to keep myself in line and keep myself working as well as I can and make my performance the best it can be."
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