TAMPA — The dream hatched when Anthony Volpe was a little kid living in Watchung, N.J. Besides family, baseball was a first love and Yankee Stadium was just 40 miles from home, so the Yankees were his team.
Little Anthony would go to the Bronx with his parents for games and religiously watched most of the others on TV.
All Volpe ever wanted to do with his life was play shortstop for the Yankees. Actually, that’s not entirely true. He wanted to win World Series playing shortstop for the Yankees.
“Since as long as I can remember,” Volpe said before prefacing, “I’m probably the same as a lot of the kids my age, a lot of my classmates, all my teammates. But this was a lot of dreaming.”
It was more than dreaming. Baseball was Volpe’s passion for as long as he can remember, too. He was determined from a young age to do everything he could to someday be a Yankee. That required hours and hours of working on all parts of his game around the calendar.
Early on, Volpe’s raw talent and work habits stood out wherever he played.
Now, as a 21-year-old young man who makes as good an impression off the field as on, Volpe’s dream is coming true.
Heading into his first big-league spring training this year, Volpe was a longshot to break camp with the Yankees. The starting shortstop was open, but 2022 starter Isiah Kiner-Falefa and hotshot rookie Oswald Peraza were the co-favorites.
“You never know, (Volpe) could still kick the door in and force the onus on us,” manager Aaron Boone told YES in January.
On Sunday afternoon, after the Yankees’ 6-3 win over the Blue Jays, Volpe was called into Boone’s office and told he’s made the team. Come Thursday, Opening Day at Yankee Stadium, Volpe will be the Yankees’ shortstop.
“I think when we take a step back and evaluate, he really checked every box that we could have had for him and absolutely kicked the door in and earned this opportunity,” Boone said.
Overcome with emotion, Volpe said, “This day and this moment is what I’ve worked my whole life for.”
Volpe earned it. After March 9, Kiner-Falefa didn’t play any shortstop and prepped for a utility role that would include infield and outfield. Last Monday, with Peraza slumping offensively and Volpe still putting on shows every time he played, the Yankees’ front office and coaching staff met to talk about roster decisions.
By then, Volpe had won over everyone in so many ways. He has just 22 games of Triple-A experience and no big-league time, but the Yankees brass decided their No. 1 prospect two years running was ready.
“He came into this camp continuing to reinforce everything he’s done at every level, which is standout amongst everyone,” general manager Brian Cashman said. “He showed up early (for spring training). I want to say it was December. On his own. Voluntarily. He knew there was a competition and he was intent on winning it.
“From the defensive side, from the offensive side, from one of the first to get here in the morning pre-game or pre-practice to one of the last to leave, he just dominated all sides of the ball in February and March.”
Volpe was eight won their last World Series in 2009. Then, Derek Jeter was the face of the Yankees, so of course he was a childhood hero for Volpe.
But Volpe saw Jeter as more than a great player. He recognized the intangibles and makeup that added to the Hall of Fame shortstop’s greatness and made sure those traits were a part of his baseball DNA.
Volpe always was more than a fan. He was schooled to play the game the right way, so he looked up to the players who ran out every groundball, the ones who turned singles into hustling doubles, the ones who threw to the right base all the time.
From the time Volpe was in grade school, he always was the star on the ballfield, too. Although usually one of the smallest players, his bat-to-ball skills were better than the other kids he played with and against. He also learned from a young age how to work pitchers. He learned how to hit the ball where it was pitched and drive baseballs to the opposite field. He practiced bunting until it was a big strength. He used his speed to steal a lot of bases while training to run faster. His defense always was superb. His baseball IQ always was off the charts.
Volpe advanced from New Jersey youth leagues to traveling teams to high school ball at Delbarton with a lot of USA Baseball events mixed in around the country and globe.
By his senior year at Delbarton, Volpe’s mission to someday play for the Yankees no longer was farfetched. That spring, Yankees scouting director Damon Oppenheimer selected Volpe in the first round of the 2019 draft, 30th overall.
“Damon and his staff out of the amateur scouting department … they placed a bet on him coming out of Delbarton,” Cashman said. “They said the tools would play. They said the makeup was off the chart and he would earn everything every step of the way.”
At the time of the draft, Volpe had committed to go to college to play for national power Vanderbilt, but there was no way he was headed to Nashville after the Yankees picked him.
“It was a once in a lifetime chance to get into the organization,” said Volpe, who received a $2.7 million signing bonus from the Yankees.
Still a long way from the big leagues, Volpe started the climb up the organization ladder that summer. He played rookie ball in 2019, then sat out a whole year when COVID wiped out the entire 2000 minor-league season.
Volpe used this time off to hone all of his baseball skills at home, then the next year he soared up the prospects rankings putting up sensational numbers playing for the Low-A Tampa Tarpons and High-A Hudson Valley Renegades.
Last year was a homecoming that initially brought some adversity. Playing just a few miles from home for the Double-A Somerset Patriots, Volpe was hitting .202 through June 3 before getting hot and staying hot. By the end of the season, Volpe’s stats were impressive and he got some Triple-A experience.
“I’m just happy with all the work I’ve put in,” Volpe said. “I feel like I improved a lot in different parts of my game.”
Scouts and prospects experts grew to love Volpe’s game so much that he’s been a top five prospect in baseball last year and this year.
But heading into spring training, the thinking throughout the industry was that Volpe wasn’t quite big-league ready. There was a belief that he’d start the season in Triple-A, then maybe earn a first call-up by summertime or in September. There even was speculation that he’d go to Scranton and play a lot of second base because there’s been questions for years about his arm strength at shortstop.
Volpe looked like a major league shortstop this spring. He made every play and his arm played out fine, even on long throws from the hole.
“He’s prepared,” Yankees captain Aaron Judge said. “Very rarely do you see that at such a young age. Usually you’re a little immature or a little unprepared, but he seems ready to go every single game I’ve played behind him.”
While Volpe passed the eye test, he put up eye-popping numbers. Through Sunday, an off day for Volpe after three games in three days, he was hitting .314 with six doubles, a triple, three homers, five RBI, eight walks, five steals in five attempts and a 1.064 OPS in 17 games.
“Very impressive at-bats,” Yankees outfielder Giancarlo Stanton said. “He’s running all over the basepaths. He’s a well-rounded player.”
And now Volpe is a big-leaguer. He celebrated Sunday’s news with his parents and other family members in the Yankees dugout at Steinbrenner Field.
On Sunday evening, he celebrated with his spring training roommates, four buddies that were teammates during his minor-league road to the big leagues — Austin Wells, Mickey Gasper, Max Burt and Spencer Henson. They dubbed their planned night “The Last Supper” because “it was going to be our last night and “we’re all going our separate ways.”
The Yankees leave Florida after Monday’s game in Tampa. They’ll play an exhibition against the Nationals on Tuesday in Washington, D.C., then rest up for a day before Thursday’s season opener against the Giants.
Volpe watched a lot of Yankees games over the years from the stands. This time, he’ll be out there on the playing field in pinstripes with a better number than his spring training No. 77, maybe 11 or 14. He’ll hear his name during player introductions, then head out to shortstop for his first Yankees game and be part of the Bleacher Creatures roll call.
It’ll be everything he’s dreamed of and worked for forever.
“It’s super surreal,” Volpe said. “I’ve only ever been to games at Yankee Stadium (as a fan). To get that opportunity, I’m so excited. It’s crazy. I don’t even know what lies ahead.”
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Randy Miller may be reached at [email protected].