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Players Weekend means Yankees break with uniform tradition

New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge hands a ball to fans wearing a jersey with his nickname on the back before a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners on Friday, Aug. 25, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II) NYY106
New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge hands a ball to fans wearing a jersey with his nickname on the back before a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners on Friday, Aug. 25, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II) NYY106
Published Aug. 26, 2017

NEW YORK — Batting cleanup and playing rightfield: All Rise.

Hitting fifth, the shortstop: Sir Didi.

Over at third base: Toddfather.

No, these were not your father's New York Yankees. Matter of fact, not Joe DiMaggio's, either.

But there they were, playing ball in the Bronx wearing blue jerseys with gray sleeves and catchy nicknames scrawled across the back. Some players even sported flashy, one-of-a-kind cleats.

As part of Players Weekend all around the majors, the buttoned-up Yankees broke with tradition Friday night and ditched the famous uniforms they had worn exclusively for more than a century.

That interlocking NY logo? Stitched onto a gray cap.

The only pinstripes were on the pants.

"I'm not that crazy about it, man. I'm more of an old-school guy," veteran outfielder Brett Gardner said before the Yankees hosted Seattle. "It'll be weird not wearing pinstripes. But I understand the reasoning behind it, the initiative. And I know a lot of young kids and a lot of young fans are excited about it."

Looking for ways to appeal to new fans, Major League Baseball and the players' association decided to let big leaguers display their personalities and individuality this weekend by wearing unique and colorful gear on the field.

"I think it's going to be awesome," Atlanta Braves infielder Brandon Phillips said. "I try to play with a lot of flair and personality every day, so I feel like this day is for me."

The jerseys were inspired by youth league uniforms and included a patch on the right sleeve with a blank space for players to write the names of people or organizations essential to their growth and development.

Game-worn jerseys will be auctioned for charity, with proceeds going to help amateur baseball and softball programs.

And of course, some of the special jerseys with nicknames on the back — like "Mr. Smile" for Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor — were already available to buy online for $199.99.

"I want a Mr. Smile jersey," Jimmy Adams, 11, of Solon, Ohio, said before Cleveland's game against Kansas City. "I love watching him play because he always has fun out there."

The nicknames were as colorful as the crazy socks and shoes worn by several players.

Cleveland right-hander Carlos Carrasco, who pitches Sunday against the Royals, opted for "Cookie," his usual clubhouse moniker for his affinity for the chewy treats. Cubs infielder Javier Baez was "El Mago" — Spanish for the magician — and Phillies infielder Freddy Galvis went with "Toco," a nickname that his brother gave him in Venezuela.

"It's a made-up word, but everybody calls me that at home," Galvis said.

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Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier, a proud New Jersey native, had special cleats made with Frank Sinatra's face on them, along with a nod to his Little League World Series championship and an image of Frazier holding the Home Run Derby trophy he won in 2015.

Didi Gregorius, knighted in Curaçao, designed three pairs of Looney Tunes spikes.

Aaron Judge? All rise.

Fitting, at least. But a few decades late for The Bambino, The Iron Horse, Joltin' Joe and The Chairman of the Board.

That's why the significance of eschewing their stately old digs — even for just a weekend series that began with Star Wars night — was not lost on the Yankees, a team that's never put players' names on the backs of jerseys even though it was the first franchise to assign individual numbers.

Even now, the Yankees prohibit beards and long hair. They don't wear alternate tops on Sundays or black ones every so often to be fashionable, as many other teams do.

Gardner said he didn't want anything written on the back of his jersey, but was told that wasn't an option. So he opted for his full last name.

Simple.

"My thought is, it's a three-day thing so it doesn't really change the tradition of the Yankees," manager Joe Girardi said. "It doesn't really change what the pinstripes stand for and not having your name on the back of your jersey."

Girardi was asked if he has a nickname.

"I don't really have one. I'm sure the players probably have one for me, but they didn't share it so I didn't put it on my jersey," he said with a chuckle.

Marlins manager Don Mattingly, a former Yankees star, planned to wear a tribute patch for Pete Studer, his Little League coach from ages 9-12.

Mattingly said Players Weekend is cool and fun, but also sounded like a traditionalist regarding such events.

"There are so many. It used to be Mother's Day, Father's Day and the Fourth of July. Now it's weekends and three or four days of it. Some of that seems a little over the top," he said.

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