Brett Gardner keeps giving Yankees fans reasons to love him

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This is the fascinating part of the career for Brett Gardner. He has been around too long for there to be anything resembling novelty around him. He showed up for good in 2008 and has kept showing up. He is in every team photograph. He is at every spring training.

Thus far, he has played in 99 of the Yankees’ 117 games.

He is evidence of just how subjective fans are. Most Yankees fans have grumbled, one time or another, at Gardner’s mere presence. All-Stars have come and gone. Superstars have come and gone. Outfielders galore have come, threatened to make Gardner an afterthought; they’re all gone, too. Gardner stays.

That isn’t always appreciated by Yankees fans, who are more than happy to list for you Gardner’s deficiencies as a player. They like his spunk. They like his spirit. They’d love for him to be a late-inning pinch runner, maybe a defensive replacement, maybe take a lefty swing against a ham-and-egg right-handed reliever.

But playing 99 games at age 37? Taking 322 plate appearances?

That’s a tell-tale sign that something’s gone wrong with the master blueprint.

And yet …

As hard as they can be on ol’ No. 11, good luck to you, as a Yankees outsider, if you ever bring those points up to a Yankees fan. Because the memories that come flooding back are visceral: Gardner legging out a triple. Gardner chasing down a ball in the alley. Gardner beating the hell out of the dugout roof with his bat. Gardner jawing with an umpire, sometimes when he’s at bat, as often on behalf of a teammate.

Brett Gardner
Getty Images

And thus you have the complex relationship between the Yankees’ longest-tenured player and their most faithful fan, broken down to the simple truth of a successful long-running marriage.

I can complain about my spouse.

If you do it, I’ll break your jaw.

“There’s never been a moment that I doubted how the fans have felt about me,” Gardner said earlier this year. “I think they like my approach. They like how I come to play each game, how I play hard each game. They like that they know that if I’m in the lineup, they’re getting an honest effort from me every time out.”

Gardner was not in the starting lineup Monday night, as the Yankees returned from a successful 4-2 road trip through Kansas City, Iowa and Chicago, though you can expect to see him plenty as the Yankees take on Anaheim, Boston and Minnesota on this seven-day, eight-game homestand.

For one thing, that’s just the rule around the Yankees: you don’t go too many days without seeing Gardner’s name in the batting order.

But there is also the fact that Gardner has been heating up over the last month, slashing .275/.393/.420 since hitting a season low on July 17, when his batting average sank to .188. Gardner is a winning player, and so he is a guy who tends to find ways to do positive things for the club even when he isn’t hitting.

But when he is, it makes the Yankees that much more diverse and that much more dangerous.

“I feel good,” Gardner said last week. “My typical patient at-bats, seeing a lot of pitches, trying to make pitchers work. I feel like I’ve been taking some better swings. Just continuing to work, continuing to try and do things to help the team win and still manage to get on base via the walk even when I’m not swinging. Just continue to battle up there.”

He’s been saying the same things, doing the same things, for 14 years now. The Yankees keep reshuffling their deck, keep adding players, keep adding spice and dice to the mix. And every spring Gardner emerges from the home team clubhouse at Steinbrenner Field, and from the home dugout at Yankees Stadium, like one of the ghosts strolling through the corn in Dyersville, Iowa.

That isn’t always good news for Yankees, or so they will say.

But tell them that at your own risk.

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