Notes: Mientkiewicz admires Jeter
Now a Yankee, first baseman sees captain from other side
TAMPA, Fla. -- Doug Mientkiewicz can remember channel surfing through a seemingly endless parade of sitcoms, news programs and sporting events, landing every now and again on Derek Jeter's grinning image.
In a long-running television commercial for Major League Baseball, Jeter summed up life as a Yankee by saying, "You either love us or you hate us."
As an opposing player, Mientkiewicz agreed with the sentiment. Now that Mientkiewicz has found his way into pinstripes, he takes it to heart even more.
"You know you have to bring your 'A' game every night," Mientkiewicz said. "I've been on the other side. I've been with the Twins, trying to see where we stand up against the Yankees. You get everybody's best, every single night."
Mientkiewicz, 32, is in his first Spring Training with the Yankees, and he now lockers just a few stalls away from the shortstop at the Legends Field complex. But from afar, Mientkiewicz has long admired Jeter's professionalism.
Mientkiewicz recalls rifling through the New York tabloids as a visiting player with Minnesota, noting Jeter's press savvy. Most quotes had the same underlying meaning -- the Yankees were going to try to beat you -- but they always seemed acceptable to opponents, never rankling or delivered with ill intent.
Mientkiewicz said he has even tried to emulate Jeter's commentary and demeanor, with mixed results.
"You've got to respect a guy from whom you never hear an 'I.' It's always 'We,'" Mientkiewicz said. "I think that's genuine, that's class. That's why he's the best. He kills you with kindness.
"There's just a good group of professionals here. It's hard not to fit in. Not only are they great players, but they enjoy the game and they have fun doing it. If you can't fit in with some of these guys, you shouldn't be playing."
In line to serve as the Yankees' first baseman against right-handed pitching, Mientkiewicz is coming off a campaign in which he batted .283 with four home runs and 43 RBIs in 91 games for the Royals.
Even through a losing campaign in Kansas City, Mientkiewicz said the Royals were able to keep their positive demeanor, reinvigorating for the lefty-hitting glove man. He has been pleased by his first experiences in the Yankees' clubhouse, which has not seemed nearly as stuffy or corporate as some might portray it to be.
"It's been a lot more laid back than I expected," Mientkiewicz said. "It's a nice atmosphere. We cut up, but when it comes time to work, you work. That's why these guys are accustomed to winning. They know how to balance the two. You have a good time, but you work your rear end off.
"So far, it's been everything I wished it could have been. I'm extremely happy."
Second time around: The last five days have been something of a different experience for right-hander Phil Hughes, who is generally regarded as the Yankees' top pitching prospect.
Hughes, 20, was kicking himself after his 2007 Grapefruit League debut Thursday, when he allowed one run and two walks in 1 1/3 innings against the Twins at Legends Field. The effort was originally planned to be a two-inning appearance, but Hughes ran up against a pitch count and was lifted after recording one out in the fourth.
Manager Joe Torre opined that Hughes, who was a combined 12-6 with a 2.16 ERA in 26 starts between Class A Tampa and Double-A Trenton last season, may not have dealt with much adversity in his standout Minor League career.
Told of Torre's assessment, Hughes said he could agree.
"I really never hit a road where I just struggled and struggled," Hughes said. "I've had a fair amount of success along the way. In Spring Training, facing big-league teams, you have a chance to get used to what it's going to be like getting into jams against good hitters. It's helpful."
Part of the equation might have been that Hughes was too amped up -- he laughed when told that the crowd for the Yankees' spring opener had been tallied at 10,231 -- saying that the attendance for some Tampa Yankees games in the Florida State League had been "more like 10."
During Tuesday's game against the Indians in Winter Haven, Fla., Hughes allowed just one hit over two scoreless innings. Hughes said he is appreciating the challenges of facing Major League batters in games -- he noticed a marked difference when he made the jump to Double-A last season is beginning to pick up finer points of transition this spring.
"I was never going out there thinking, 'This is too easy,'" Hughes said. "If you made mistakes, they were going to hurt you. Double-A hitters aren't bad hitters at all, and these guys are in another league altogether.
"In A-ball, you could get away with throwing a 2-0 fastball. If it's not in the spot you want it, you're going to get hurt a lot more often [at the higher levels]."
Take five: Josh Phelps has four hits in six at-bats, a good first baseman's physique (6-foot-3, 225 pounds) and a tight stroke that produces hard drives both in games and batting practice.
But as a Rule 5 Draft selection from the Orioles, Phelps also has an uncertain future ahead. He even could be losing in his race to be the right-handed-batting half of a first-base platoon, despite the fact his competitor isn't in camp.
Torre said recently that Andy Phillips has not lost any standing in his bid to make the Major League roster as he tends to his severely injured mother in Alabama. If anything, Torre said, Phillips may hold an edge because he has 142 games of Yankees experience "in the bank."
"It's a tough deal," Phelps said. "We all really feel for Andy and his family. It's such a hard situation to deal with, and we hope to see him back soon. As far as baseball goes, I think that stuff will all take care of itself."
In the meantime, Phelps can do little but continue to slug. He said he is "pretty happy" with the way he has squared up some pitches early in camp -- he narrowly missed a home run against the Devil Rays in St. Petersburg on Friday, hitting the wall with such force that the ball bounced back and held him to a single -- and said he is hoping to make the most of his opportunity.
As a Rule 5 Draft pick, the Yankees must keep Phelps on their Major League roster for the entire season or offer him back to Baltimore for $25,000. The possibility exists that his Yankees career could just be a spring fling.
"That's the unsettling part, but there are worse things than that," Phelps said. "I've got a uniform on and I've got an opportunity to show these people what I can do. You know [going back to the Orioles is] a possibility, but I haven't gone too deep into thought about it."
Coming up: The Yankees play this spring's first game under the lights at Legends Field on Wednesday, facing off against the Cincinnati Reds in a 7:15 p.m. ET contest. Left-hander Andy Pettitte (0-0, 0.00 ERA) makes his second start of the exhibition season, facing southpaw Bobby Livingston (0-0, 0.00 ERA).
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.