The San Juan Daily Star
For a Yankees rookie, a stack of gloves and a handmade necklace
By Gary Phillips
In Oswaldo Cabrera’s first week in the majors, the New York Yankees made the most of the multiple gloves that occupy his locker. On any given day, he found he could be sent out at one of four different positions and be expected to hold his own.
That kind of versatility is bound to make a player stand out, as is a No. 95 jersey being worn by a middle infielder for a first-place team with a $250 million payroll. But Cabrera, 23, has upped the ante by injecting some flair into his uniform with an imitation pearl necklace that, thanks to its mix of white and colored beads, clashes just enough with the Yankees’ businesslike approach to make it pop for viewers watching at home.
“I like it,” said reliever Ron Marinaccio, another Yankees rookie who has teamed with Cabrera in the minors and the majors this year. “It’s his thing. That’s what I like about Oswaldo. He’s not really worried about what anybody else is thinking. He’s doing his own thing, and he’s having fun doing it.”
Cabrera, who has instantly found his way into the steady stream of highlight videos on social media thanks to his defensive prowess, received the handmade necklace from Milton Ramos about six weeks ago.
Ramos, an infielder who was a third-round pick of the New York Mets in 2014, broke his hand on a swing at one of his minor league stops and ended up founding the company PawGripz, which makes rubber batting grips to protect players’ hands. Eventually, he decided that his company ought to sell something stylish, too.
“Look good, play good, you know?” said Ramos, who competed against Cabrera in the minors. “I was like, ‘Hey man, let me send you a necklace,’ because he’s a good friend of mine. He’s never took it off since.”
“Everybody’s loving it,” Cabrera said. “Everybody’s asking me. I’m like: ‘Hey, this is my guy. Ask him!’”
Ramos said his other big league clients include Gary Sánchez, Nick Gordon, Triston McKenzie and Chris Archer. Cabrera wears Ramos’ “Pollyanna Necklace” — so named because it is intended for cheerful and optimistic people — which sells for $29.99.
Cabrera’s, though, is one of a kind. It features two lettered beads that spell “OZ,” a fitting nickname for a player whose defensive wizardry has made him an instant fan favorite.
When Cabrera trotted out to second base Monday against the Mets, it was only his sixth career game in the majors. Having previously started at shortstop, third base and right field, Cabrera became the first Yankees player to start at four different positions in his first six appearances.
Outfielder Estevan Florial, who was promoted alongside Cabrera last week, said: “It doesn’t matter where he’s playing at. He’s ready all the time.”
At each spot, Cabrera has managed to make a mark.
He reminded people of Derek Jeter with a jump throw in the hole at short. He crashed into Yankee Stadium’s netting and rolled-up tarp while chasing a pop-up at third. He leapt and robbed what might have been a home run in the outfield. He showed off a slick glove flip on an attempted double play. And Tuesday against the Mets he threw out a runner at home from right field.
Of course, no rookie is perfect. Monday’s 4-2 win over the Mets featured some miscommunication on a pop-up. Cabrera ventured way out into the outfield on a pop-up by Pete Alonso as Marwin González was charging in from right field. The fielders collided and the ball dropped to the ground. Making matters worse, the next batter, designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach, made the Yankees pay for the error — charged to Cabrera — with a two-run homer.
Still, the Yankees appreciate Cabrera’s tenacity and flexibility, and can put up with a few rookie mistakes along the way.
“He’s fearless. You’ve seen him all over the diamond make some really good plays,” manager Aaron Boone said. “He’s kind of got that ice water thing. He feels like he belongs.”
Ask Cabrera to pick a favorite position, and he can’t. “I love it all,” he said, noting that each spot was different. The outfield, however, is the newest to him. He had logged just 43 professional innings there entering Tuesday, all of them this year.
Cabrera asked to start playing the outfield in the minors last season, but did not get the opportunity. This year, he didn’t say anything, but the organization took him up on the standing offer. And it was Cabrera’s versatility that helped lead to his promotion to the majors.
“I want to do different things like learn,” Cabrera said. “At the moment that they need me back there, I can play back there. It’s more opportunity to play, so for that reason, I was like, ‘I want to do this, too.’”
As valuable as Cabrera’s adaptability is, the Yankees also called him and Florial up last week because they were in search of a spark.
The team was .500 in July and 3-11 in August before Cabrera’s debut. With veterans like Aaron Hicks, Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Josh Donaldson struggling, the Yankees were willing to take a shot on some younger players.
“He’s someone we’re really excited about,” Boone said when Cabrera, the Yankees’ No. 14 prospect, per MLB.com, joined the team. “We’ve always kind of loved his makeup and really like what he brings to the table as a switch-hitter. Impacts the ball and really is a good infielder wherever you put him.”
While Cabrera’s bat hasn’t kept up with his glove so far — he was hitting .136 with a double through Monday, although he drew a bases-loaded walk Tuesday — he has brought some energy and joy to the Bronx at a time when such things have been in short supply (the Yankees won consecutive games Sunday and Monday for the first time since late July).
“He’s always just been like that free, loose player,” Marinaccio said. “It doesn’t seem like any moment’s too big for him, and it’s pretty impressive to see him just jump right in like this.”
So far, that approach has worked well for the Yankees and Cabrera. But they’re not the only ones benefiting from Cabrera’s rapid rise to notoriety.
“I already have a bunch of people hitting me up,” Ramos said, referring to a rush of necklace orders inspired by Cabrera. “It’s going really good.”