Bird Doesn't Want It To End

Greg Bird battled minor back issues seemingly all year long during his transition to becoming a full-time catcher and it kept him out of the lineup for most of the season, so much so that he and the Yankees abandoned the idea of catching in an effort to get him more at-bats. The plan seems to be working too as he's found a consistent groove at the plate and now he doesn't want the year to end.

"Oh, it was so frustrating," Bird said of the back issues that plagued him. "It being my first year all I wanted to do was play.

"It was tough to just sit there and watch, especially all of my friends and all of the guys my age down there playing, and I just wanted to get out there more than anything. Now that I'm out there I don't want to go back."

Staten Island manager Justin Pope, a former player who battled his own injury problems over the years, saw Bird's inability to stay on the field first-hand during Extended Spring Training earlier this year.

"It's very frustrating," Pope said. "That's why we play this game, to be on the field. The biggest thing is to stay consistent and the only way you can stay consistent is by playing. You don't get any better by being in the training room.

"I remember one year I was on the DL off and on for the whole year and it's very frustrating. One day your body feels good and the next day your body feels like garbage.

"In his case it's tough to find his swing [and] it's tough to get any work done because you're more worried about trying to get healthy than trying to get your work in for the day."

Last year's fifth round pick out of Grandview High School in Colorado, Bird was considered a potentially high impact bat behind the plate and signed for $1.1 million bonus, the largest amount of the Yankee draft class last year.

And while he certainly showed some great abilities on both sides of the ball, even defensively, the fact is his nagging back injury never allowed him to be in the lineup consistently this year, essentially his first pro season after amassing just twelve at-bats in the Gulf Coast League a year ago.

"I think it was just a mix of catching a lot and just the wear and tear of that everyday -- up down, up down -- I just had no strength," Bird said. "I just felt really weak and I think that just led to a poor performance as far as hitting. Without your back you can't do much."

Always considered a potential long-term first baseman even when he signed just because he had that kind of bat, the Yankees decided to move him there now in an effort to get him healthy and receive some much needed at-bats. It's a move many consider a permanent one.

"I believe so," Bird said. "For the time being it is and as far as I know it is, but I guess time will tell.

"I'm enjoying [not catching]. I miss it. I loved catching in games but I really enjoy hitting and not catching has given me an opportunity to work on my hitting more and stay healthy longer. I'm really enjoying it so far."

He missed nearly six straight weeks of the Gulf Coast League season after opening up the season playing in just four games and when he returned to the team back on August 4th he had traded in his catcher's mitt for a first baseman's glove.

He then proceeded to hit .324 in his 13 remaining games with the GCL Yankees before earning a promotion to Staten Island on August 24th.

"It's going good, I really love it up here," Bird said. "It really makes you appreciate it more [after] being down in Tampa at the facility. It's really a lot of fun playing in front of fans, playing in stadiums, being able to do that whole gig. It's been great."

Refreshed, renewed, and more importantly "healthy", Bird has finally been able to get the consistent at-bats he so desperately needed and he's responded incredibly well, hitting .400 in his first eleven games with the Staten Island Yankees.

"He's got a big league bat," Pope said. "He's been very competitive every time he goes up there [to hit]. You expect big things from him. It's very simple when he goes up there; he's working on keeping his balance and getting a good pitch to hit.

"Especially for young hitters, take what the pitcher is giving you. If they don't throw you a strike, don't swing at it and take your walk. If they give you a pitch that you can drive, go ahead and drive it. Right now the biggest thing is learning himself, learning what he can do, and taking what the pitcher gives him."

So far the back has held up quite well especially considering he has endured incredibly long bus rides, longer trips than he had been exposed to prior to his promotion, and it hasn't hurt not having to squat behind the plate for nine innings either.

"This game is 80 percent mental, maybe even 90 percent," Pope said, "so if that's the way you're thinking in your head then automatically it makes you feel better.

"If he feels squatting everyday is going to take a toll on his back and take a toll on his hitting ability then it is. This game is all mental. He definitely has the ability to do it but if he's not thinking right then he's going to struggle."

A first baseman for all of a month so far, Bird has looked exceptional in the field defensively for a player with so little experience manning the bag.

"He's been very, very good," Pope said emphatically. "I've been very surprised -- it's only been a few games -- but I've been very surprised how good he's been over there.

"The first day he came here we hit him ground balls over there and has good form, he's gobbling up balls around the bag, he's not afraid to get in front of the ball, and he's been picking the ball very well over there. It's not a concern at all over there."

Whether it's making the needed defensive play at first base, hitting for average or extra-bases, or even posting a 1.139 OPS through his [albeit] limited time in Staten Island, the fact is Bird has put his health struggles behind him.

"I feel very good," Bird said with a huge grin. "I've felt very good for the last three or four weeks since I started coming back [from the injury]. I think I played for about two and half weeks down there and I felt great.

"I feel great up here. It's a shame it's towards the end of the season because I feel really good. I've been feeling really comfortable at the plate."

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Pinstripes Plus Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\n\"Oh, it was so frustrating,\" Bird said of the back issues that plagued him. \"It being my first year all I wanted to do was play.
\r\n
\r\n\"It was tough to just sit there and watch, especially all of my friends and all of the guys my age down there playing, and I just wanted to get out there more than anything. Now that I'm out there I don't want to go back.\"
\r\n
\r\nStaten Island manager Justin Pope, a former player who battled his own injury problems over the years, saw Bird's inability to stay on the field first-hand during Extended Spring Training earlier this year.
\r\n
\r\n\"It's very frustrating,\" Pope said. \"That's why we play this game, to be on the field. The biggest thing is to stay consistent and the only way you can stay consistent is by playing. You don't get any better by being in the training room.
\r\n
\r\n\"I remember one year I was on the DL off and on for the whole year and it's very frustrating. One day your body feels good and the next day your body feels like garbage.
\r\n
\r\n\"In his case it's tough to find his swing [and] it's tough to get any work done because you're more worried about trying to get healthy than trying to get your work in for the day.\"
\r\n
\r\nLast year's fifth round pick out of Grandview High School in Colorado, Bird was considered a potentially high impact bat behind the plate and signed for $1.1 million bonus, the largest amount of the Yankee draft class last year.
\r\n
\r\nAnd while he certainly showed some great abilities on both sides of the ball, even defensively, the fact is his nagging back injury never allowed him to be in the lineup consistently this year, essentially his first pro season after amassing just twelve at-bats in the Gulf Coast League a year ago.
\r\n
\r\n\"I think it was just a mix of catching a lot and just the wear and tear of that everyday -- up down, up down -- I just had no strength,\" Bird said. \"I just felt really weak and I think that just led to a poor performance as far as hitting. Without your back you can't do much.\"
\r\n
\r\nAlways considered a potential long-term first baseman even when he signed just because he had that kind of bat, the Yankees decided to move him there now in an effort to get him healthy and receive some much needed at-bats. It's a move many consider a permanent one.
\r\n
\r\n\"I believe so,\" Bird said. \"For the time being it is and as far as I know it is, but I guess time will tell.
\r\n
\r\n\"I'm enjoying [not catching]. I miss it. I loved catching in games but I really enjoy hitting and not catching has given me an opportunity to work on my hitting more and stay healthy longer. I'm really enjoying it so far.\"
\r\n
\r\nHe missed nearly six straight weeks of the Gulf Coast League season after opening up the season playing in just four games and when he returned to the team back on August 4th he had traded in his catcher's mitt for a first baseman's glove.
\r\n
\r\nHe then proceeded to hit .324 in his 13 remaining games with the GCL Yankees before earning a promotion to Staten Island on August 24th.
\r\n
\r\n\"It's going good, I really love it up here,\" Bird said. \"It really makes you appreciate it more [after] being down in Tampa at the facility. It's really a lot of fun playing in front of fans, playing in stadiums, being able to do that whole gig. It's been great.\"
\r\n
\r\nRefreshed, renewed, and more importantly \"healthy\", Bird has finally been able to get the consistent at-bats he so desperately needed and he's responded incredibly well, hitting .400 in his first eleven games with the Staten Island Yankees.
\r\n
\r\n\"He's got a big league bat,\" Pope said. \"He's been very competitive every time he goes up there [to hit]. You expect big things from him. It's very simple when he goes up there; he's working on keeping his balance and getting a good pitch to hit.
\r\n
\r\n\"Especially for young hitters, take what the pitcher is giving you. If they don't throw you a strike, don't swing at it and take your walk. If they give you a pitch that you can drive, go ahead and drive it. Right now the biggest thing is learning himself, learning what he can do, and taking what the pitcher gives him.\"
\r\n
\r\nSo far the back has held up quite well especially considering he has endured incredibly long bus rides, longer trips than he had been exposed to prior to his promotion, and it hasn't hurt not having to squat behind the plate for nine innings either.
\r\n
\r\n\"This game is 80 percent mental, maybe even 90 percent,\" Pope said, \"so if that's the way you're thinking in your head then automatically it makes you feel better.
\r\n
\r\n\"If he feels squatting everyday is going to take a toll on his back and take a toll on his hitting ability then it is. This game is all mental. He definitely has the ability to do it but if he's not thinking right then he's going to struggle.\"
\r\n
\r\nA first baseman for all of a month so far, Bird has looked exceptional in the field defensively for a player with so little experience manning the bag.
\r\n
\r\n\"He's been very, very good,\" Pope said emphatically. \"I've been very surprised -- it's only been a few games -- but I've been very surprised how good he's been over there.
\r\n
\r\n\"The first day he came here we hit him ground balls over there and has good form, he's gobbling up balls around the bag, he's not afraid to get in front of the ball, and he's been picking the ball very well over there. It's not a concern at all over there.\"
\r\n
\r\nWhether it's making the needed defensive play at first base, hitting for average or extra-bases, or even posting a 1.139 OPS through his [albeit] limited time in Staten Island, the fact is Bird has put his health struggles behind him.
\r\n
\r\n\"I feel very good,\" Bird said with a huge grin. \"I've felt very good for the last three or four weeks since I started coming back [from the injury]. I think I played for about two and half weeks down there and I felt great.
\r\n
\r\n\"I feel great up here. It's a shame it's towards the end of the season because I feel really good. I've been feeling really comfortable at the plate.\"
\r\n
\r\n

\r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n\r\n
\r\n

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\r\n

\r\n

Become an annual subscriber today!

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