Andrew Velazquez lived his dream last season as a Bronx-born shortstop who got a chance with the Yankees and made it all the way to starting the AL wild-card game against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
This season, Velazquez is living a better dream, even if it is taking place all the way across the country.
Velazquez was back in the Bronx on Tuesday night as the starting shortstop for the Los Angeles Angels.
Sure, the 27-year-old with the nickname of “Squid” had goosebumps when he walked back into Yankee Stadium.
Of course, he had so many ticket requests for this series that he “had to say no a lot.”
But this time, Velazquez’s story isn’t just a feel-good one. It’s a playing-good one, as the switch-hitter has a firm grip on the Angels' job even though he is batting just .203 after going 1-for-4 and making the final out of the Yankees’ 9-1 victory.
Velazquez is such a defensive whiz that, even with his offensive struggles, he has a WAR of 1.1. He didn’t start the season in the majors, but was called up on April 12 to replace injured shortstop David Fletcher and grabbed the job with both hands – or all five of them.
That’s an inside joke in the Angels clubhouse that has gone outside. Angels players had T-shirts made that showed a squid with five arms, all of them with baseball mitts, and the saying, “70% of the world is covered by water. The rest is covered by Squid.”
(Older readers may member Ralph Kiner being erroneously credited with coining a version of this when he said of Phillies centerfielder Garry Maddox, “Two-thirds of the Earth is covered by water. The other third is covered by Garry Maddox.” Kiner did say it, but he didn’t say it first.)
“Kind of gives you a little boost of confidence,” Velazquez said. “You can get it from family, friends, but from your peers in the locker room, getting the respect is the biggest thing.”
Further proof of Velazquez’s popularity in his own clubhouse: The Angels (27-23), who have lost six in a row, had a “Dress Like Squid” day on Sunday as they flew from California to New York.
The players’ ensembles included a fake fur coat, football jerseys, and baggy pants. A lot of baggy pants.
“Some guys went a little over the top,” Velazquez said, “which I liked.”
Velazquez was plenty popular with the Yankees, too. But when the team tried to sneak him through waivers on Nov. 5, he was claimed by the Angels.
“I think I’ve been around long enough to know the business side of it is kind of unpredictable,” he said. “No animosity or nothing. I loved it and I kind of soaked up each moment.”
Velazquez lived at home when he played for the Yankees. He appeared in 28 regular-season games (20 starts) beginning on Aug. 9 and hit .224 with one home run and six RBIs.
Stats didn’t tell the whole story, though. Squid brought spunk, speed and defense to a Yankees’ squad that lacked all those attributes for most of 2021.
Velazquez’s hit on Tuesday was a line single to right in the eighth. Even though the Angels were trailing 7-1, Velazquez stole second. That’s spunky.
Velazquez said he spent Monday walking around SoHo, and is staying at the Angels hotel in Manhattan with his teammates.
You can take the Bronx kid to SoHo or SoCal, but Velazquez will always be a hometown hero to folks who recognize what it meant for him to get his chance – albeit a brief one – with the Yankees.
That’s probably why Velazquez got as large a hand as superstars Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani during pregame introductions.
“I think it’s been, like, tangible for local people,” Velazquez said. “Because I am local.”