The above photograph captures the first time I ever met Brandon Laird. It was last year’s Media Day at Waterfront Park, and Laird was a not too particularly highly touted third base prospect who was coming off a solid season in High-A Tampa. He was also coming off of an off-season in which he made headlines for the wrong reasons, allegedly getting involved in an altercation at a Phoenix Suns game with his big league catcher brother, Gerald.
Which meant there were some tough questions I had to ask…which isn’t really the impression you want to make the first time you meet a guy.
But Laird, just 22 years old at the time, was a true pro about it and answered every question without issue. After everything was over, I approached Laird and thanked him for being cool about everything and that I didn’t particularly enjoy asking those questions, and he said he understood and that he knew I had a job to do. Since that day, I’ve been able to build a nice relationship with Brandon, who has always been giving of his time with myself and other reporters.
Despite concerns about athleticism and playing a position that will seemingly be locked down for years in the Bronx, Laird perservered and batted his way to the big leagues, boosted largely by a 2010 season that saw him take Eastern League MVP honors despite being called up to Triple-A Scranton at the end of July. Laird batted .291 in 107 games as the Thunder’s everyday third baseman, adding 23 home runs and 90 RBI along the way.
Laird struggled initially in Scranton at the tail end of last season, hitting just .246, but flourished at times this season and earned his first big league call-up in the middle of July.
“We were in Lehigh Valley, and after the game, Dave Miley called me in and said, ‘You’re going up, go help that team win,'” Laird recalled.
“It’s exciting to be up again and to be up for a full month and get experience in the big leagues.”
Laird played in four straight games in his initial call-up, collecting his first big league hit and RBI in his first at-bat on July 22. He was sent down at the end of the month and stayed in Scranton for the remainder of their season before returning to the big leagues. But he says that brief first stint was beneficial to his latest recall.
“I was actually talking about that with Eric Chavez the other day in BP, about how the second time up was a little easier for me,” Laird said.
“I’ve been through it already and got the nerves out of the way. I’m pretty sure that when I go in, I’ll still be a little nervous, but I know what to look for and I’ve been here. It helps a lot, and being around these guys before helps also.”
Of course, a glance around the spacious Yankees clubhouse reveals that “these guys” are…well, more than just “these guys” to a lot of people. There’s Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, CC Sabathia, Mariano Rivera and so on…all these star players. And then there’s little known Brandon Laird, whose locker is next to media darling Jesus Montero and far away from the bigger name players at the far end of the blue carpeted palace. Laird said his goals for this month are to use it as a learning experience, asking as many questions as he can to his more experienced teammates.
“Growing up, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter were guys I always looked up to. Jeter, just how he carries himself, he’s a class act in everything he does. When he’s hitting and taking ground balls, I’m always watching him. I’m just trying to get better and help myself.”
I asked Laird if he was still a little nervous going up to guys like Jeter and A-Rod.
“In spring training, I was a little in shock. I was afraid to go up to them, but they’re very approachable,” Laird told me.
“Now, being around them for a while, they joke with you. Derek’s always joking with me. It’s exciting, it makes me feel good. He likes to help the young guys, he’s been there. To just learn from a guy like that, it’s awesome.”
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com