Changing Of The Gardner

Mike Gardner saw all the familiar signs on the highway on his drive up to New Jersey.  He knew what to pack, too.

Having spent the last two seasons of his career pitching in the state with the Trenton Thunder, Gardner’s familiar with the area and the weather this time of year…but now, he’s trying to get familiar once again with a pitching mound.

A once-promising reliever with the New York Yankees who was tantalizingly close to the big leagues after being a Rule 5 draft pick of the San Diego Padres, Gardner missed all of last season after undergoing right shoulder surgery, and was not brought back by the Yankee organization this year.

Finally back on a field and in a uniform, Gardner’s grateful to be pitching anywhere, whether it be on the independent circuit or elsewhere.

“It feels great, honestly,” Gardner said.

“This has been a long road getting back. It’s good being out here and being around all the guys again and I’m just getting ready to take the field for the first time in a year and a half. It’s a good feeling.”

Former special pitching instructor for the Yankees, Rich Monteleone, referred the 28-year-old righty reliever to pitching coach and director of player procurement Brett Jodie. Coincidentally, Jodie underwent the same shoulder surgery in 2004 that Gardner did last season.

“I feel great,” Gardner told me.

“I’m in good shape and I want to get my arm worked a lot and get my shoulder ready to go. I haven’t pitched competitively since the ‘08 season, so I’m eager to see how I’ll bounce back on a day-to-day basis with the daily grind that we all endure here. That’s my main question, to see how I do in the recovery process as far as strength goes.”

While Gardner had played with players who had spent some time in the Atlantic League before, such as current teammate Noah Hall and Scott Patterson, he hadn’t really heard too much about the league before signing.

“I did some research online and talked to a couple guys,” he told me.

“I saw they have pretty long schedules and that’s kind of what I was used to. Other than that, I’d heard nothing but good things about the Somerset Patriots. When they day came to sign with them, I was excited.”

Gardner will likely be used similarly to how he was in the Yankees organization, as a late inning reliever and setup man.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

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