Gammons: Yaz's grandson shows promise

Gammons: Yaz's grandson shows promise

BREWSTER, Mass. -- The Yastrzemski name across the back of the uniform makes him readily identifiable. Mike Yastrzemski is used to that by now, having grown up in the Boston suburb of Andover and attended St. John's Prep in Danvers before moving on to Vanderbilt.

Wednesday night he was playing left field for the Cotuit Kettleers of the Cape Cod League on a night when Brewster pitcher Austin Lubisnky took a no-hitter into the eighth inning. This is always a pitchers' league the first few weeks as players get used to the professional rigors of playing every day with wood bats, and it is always a tough league for freshmen, especially a kid who grew up in the New England climate.

For the record, in his first start of the summer, Mike Yastrzemski went 0-for-2 with a walk.

Mike Yastrzemski jokingly says "my grandfather told me not to do anything the way he did," meaning holding the bat high above his ear, or changing his stance to adjust to each game's pitcher. He is like Carl in that he is shy and quiet. He is a strong, serious student who had feelers from Ivy League schools before deciding on Vanderbilt.

The Red Sox drafted Mike Yastrzemski in the 36th round in 2009, and while they like him as a prospect, they knew he was headed to school. "There was never any doubt Mike wants the education," Carl says. "He can grow as a baseball player in college, which will be the best thing for him. I'm really proud of his being a very good student. He's a really good kid."

No one knows how much Carl will come to the Cape to watch his grandson play, because he admits that when he goes to games, "I get so nervous I can't watch." He has worked with Mike in cages and on barren fields, and has occasionally brought along his trusted hitting coach Walter Hriniak.

Yaz did get to watch his grandson last summer at Fenway Park, wearing a Red Sox uniform with the No. 8 and Yastrzemski across the back. The Red Sox bring their drafted players to Fenway for a game, and parents watch from one of the private clubs upstairs. "To see a young Yastrzemski wearing the No. 8, standing in the left-hand batters box with Yaz looking down, was a special family moment," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein.

One thing is eminently clear about Mike Yastrzemski: he does not consider himself entitled because of his name. "I just try to play hard, get better and help my team win," he says. He started as the Vanderbilt center fielder in 35 of the team's 66 games, batting .260 with three regular-season homers, but finished strong with long home runs in both the Regionals and Super Regionals before Vanderbilt missed the College World Series, losing 7-6 to Florida State.

Scouts at the Regionals raved about the purity of his swing, as did scouts watching his first start for Cotuit on Wednesday. "He needs to get stronger," said one. "I'll be curious to see him two years from now, because that swing has a chance to make him a very good hitter."

"I'm actually the same size my grandfather was when he was my age [and a freshman at Notre Dame]," says Mike. "The size and the strength will come. I just have to work really hard and learn."

In reality, the work ethic is something he wants to copy from his grandfather, whose daily hitting routines were exhausting. That's why at the age of 39, Carl Yastrzemski could pull a Ron Guidry fastball into the right-field seats in the 1978 playoff. "I know that," says Mike.

He is not some spoiled kid who had the run of a Major League clubhouse and had a BMW in high school. He suffered the death of his father six years ago, worked at his education, works hard at playing baseball. "He's clearly a very serious young man who respects the game," says Cotuit manager Mike Roberts. "He's very young for this league, and he needs to get stronger. But he's going to put in the work."

The Cape League has a history of players going through development pains. Todd Helton played two years and did not hit a home run. Lance Berkman hit one -- an opposite-field job off a foul pole. Chase Utley as a UCLA freshman was a skinny kid, a year off not being drafted out of high school. The majority of scouts put Kevin Youkilis in as a non-prospect. Brewster manager Tom Myers was an assistant at Santa Clara when they cut a 100-something-pound freshman named Daniel Nava and made him the equipment manager who also kept Myers' pitching charts.

This summer will be a learning experience for Mike Yastrzemski. It would be unusual for a freshman hitter from New England to make the league's All-Star Game, but if he does, he would get to play at Fenway on July 28. As it is, the Yankees and Red Sox are bringing all the Cape League players to Fenway for a workout for all the Major League teams.

As much as Carl hates getting on a plane and leaving Florida, he will come up for some events. Yaz has been something of a recluse the past few years, so private that several of his Hall of Fame brethren were concerned until he went to Cooperstown for Jim Rice's induction last July. His grandson has been a source of great pride, someone who at times has brought him out of the shadows.

"Whatever he becomes as a player will be fine," Carl said this spring. "I don't want to put any added pressure on him. I don't want the name to be any kind of a burden. What matters most to me is that he is an exceptional student and a great kid. That's what I'm proudest of. That's what is important."

Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.