BRONX, N.Y. — There was no reason to ever think that Justin Christian would become a New York Yankee.
Not when he was putting up numbers for little known Southeast Missouri State University after transferring from Auburn.
Not when 1,480 players were taken over the course of 50 rounds in the 2003 draft and Christian was not among them.
And certainly not when he was playing in relative anonymity in front of around 3,500 people a night in the independent Frontier League for the O’Malley, Missouri based River City Rascals.
It was only in Trenton where 68 stolen bases during a standout 2006 season finally started opening some eyes in the organization.
But two years later, he sits quietly in the Yankees clubhouse, with a locker next to Joba Chamberlain’s and jerseys hanging in his own that belong to him.
A scenario that was unlikely to everyone else, perhaps. But Christian himself never had any doubt.
“Just in my mind, I always felt like I had what it took to get here,” he said.
“You always dream and you hope, and you work hard to get to this point. It was just a matter of somebody else realizing that and giving me that opportunity.”
It was opportunity that was created after the 28-year-old spent a year and a half playing at Waterfront Park in Trenton, establishing himself as a legitimate prospect after his standout 2006 campaign.
“I learned a lot there,” said Christian of playing in Trenton.
“Just in terms of refining my game and my approach at the plate. It was a transition stage for me in learning the outfield. To me, if you can get to Double-A and you can do well there, your skills are at a point where you can take them to the next level.”
Christian, the franchise’s all-time stolen base king who returned to Mercer County one last time while playing with Scranton during the April 1st exhibition game, was quick to point out how much he enjoyed his time with the Thunder off the field as well.
“The people and the fans there in Trenton made my transition such a great one,” he said.
“If you can play there, you can pretty much play anywhere.”
And now Christian finds himself playing in the outfield during the final season of Yankee Stadium. Sitting in his locker, if he looks to his right, he can see Derek Jeter. To his left? Alex Rodriguez.
Trenton it ain’t.
“It’s been a wonderful experience to see how they go about their business, and how they work day in and day out,” said Christian of his star teammates.
“That’s what’s most impressive to me. It’s unbelievable, they’re machines. They’re meticulous about their work and their craft, and the time they put into it is amazing. Even on Old Timers’ Day, where you see some of the old guys come in, you take a step back and go, ‘Man, I’m here.'”
Christian was kind enough to leave some advice for the players underneath him in Trenton as well.
“The best advice I could give them is to play the game that’s best suited for you,” he said.
“If you’re a speed guy, use your speed as much as you can and use things that will help you use your speed. If you’re not a power hitter, don’t try to hit home runs. Just try to get on base the best way you can, whether it’s laying bunts down or getting hits on the ground or whatever the case may be. Just play your game.”
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com