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The lesson every Yankee can learn from Gerrit Cole

The Yankees ace brings an unparalleled intensity to everything he does; his new teammates should take note

Pittsburgh Pirates v New York Yankees Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Coming off of a light workout on Monday, the Yankees edge one step closer to Opening Day 2.0. With nine more days of summer camp, the Yankees still have much work to do to get all components firing on all cylinders. This abbreviated ramp up period, in addition to the lack of game rep opportunities due to the limiting of exhibition games, make the next week-and-a-half critical in starting the regular season off on the right foot.

In place of the normal exhibition games we would see during spring training, the Yankees have held multiple intrasquad scrimmages to give a semblance of game speed scenarios. The problem with these teammate-versus-teammate setups is the lack of competitive intensity as one would get playing against a different club. Add on top of this intrinsically-flawed system the absence of fans from stadiums, and one can too effortlessly fall prey to a lack of focus and effort.

During practice, it is easy to fall into the trap of taking a play off or going through the motions. It is even easier to let these moments form into a bad habit. Take away fans and the adrenaline-inducing environments they generate and these habits can carry over into games. Without the added pressure of performing in front of one’s supporters, complacency can settle in. That is why it is imperative for the Yankees to snuff out these tendencies before they develop. It’s that old mantra from way back during youth sports: “practice how you play.”

I understand that there is a fine line that must be walked during these summer camp scrimmages, as the Yankees want to balance ramping up for the season with taking precautions against injury. Given the Yankees’ extreme misfortune in this department, it is prudent to have a measured approach in getting guys back to game speed. However, I still maintain that there is a difference between caution and a blasé attitude.

One thing that this Yankees team has been missing in the postseason disappointments of the last three seasons is a little bit of nastiness, a bit of an edge. This is where Gerrit Cole comes in. He epitomizes maximum effort with the intensity he brings on the field as well as the intensity of his devotion to his craft.

Cole appreciates how the hard work one puts in during practice will produce results come game day. He spoke with reporters on YES on Sunday. Coming off of a 5.2-inning, 84-pitch nine-strikeout outing on a hot day, Cole was visibly tired, taking moments to catch his breath to answer questions.

“I was kinda tired in the sixth,” explained the Yankees righty. “It was good to push the limit a little bit, especially being hot. It was a fun challenge.” He was also asked about how he treats increasing his workload during these ramping up periods. “I would normally say continue to push,” Cole detailed. “Certainly not backtrack... build off of that. Maybe push it slightly so that maybe you feel like you have just a little bit extra rope for Opening Day.”

He is the Yankee with the highest job security, with the least to prove, and yet he is the man working the hardest on the field. Ultimately, he shows how the mentality that you carry over from training is just as important as the improvements to your physical tools.

Perhaps more impressive than his physical intensity is his utter dedication to his craft. He is the ultimate disciple of the game. There are few if any players with a more intricate understanding of what makes them tick than Gerrit Cole. He gave us an insight into this aspect of his personality speaking with David Cone and Jack Curry on YES about pitching analytics.

My first five, six years in the big leagues, spin was not talked about. At least from 2013 to 2016 it was not a focal point. The bottom of the zone and locating fastballs was a focal point, but never really trying to create tight spin... For me the biggest thing is the understanding of the landscape. You can see where the entire league is analytically and their profiles, and then what makes you unique. So it can really in a sense narrow your focus on what your strengths are... So there is ultimately a balance that you have to both take the information to make yourself better but not forget that the craft is one-on-one.

This shows us how devoted a student of the game he is. He takes it upon himself to absorb everything from the micro level of hand positioning and release point, all the way up to the macro level of league-wide trends.

There could not have been a better time for a natural leader with these qualities to step into the Yankees clubhouse. With CC Sabathia retired, they needed someone to reintroduce the chip-on-the-shoulder attitude the big man carried. Every one of his new teammates would do well to model their training and preparation after the example set by the Yankees’ ace.

In this 60-game regular season sprint, every contest will count for more than double. There is no room for taking a game off here or throwing in the towel early there. Sluggish starts will be punished, lapses in concentration exploited. The Bombers need to treat every pitch, every at-bat, and every routine play as if it is their last. And Gerrit Cole is the one man to bring that mindset to the Yankees.