Andrew Velazquez grew up idolizing Derek Jeter and dreaming of one day donning the pinstripes. Well, those dreams have turned to reality as the Morris Park native has taken the MLB by storm and helped catapult the Yankees to the top of the AL Wild Card playoff picture.
From making flashy plays in the field to a memorable home run, the youngster is slowly making a name for himself. Velazquez told the Bronx Times that playing in the house that Ruth built is surreal.
“There are moments on the field where I’ve had the chance to look around and absorb the energy,” he said.
Signed by the Yankees in the spring, Velazquez, 27, spent most of the year in the minors until shortstop Gleyber Torres went down with an injury. He finally got his chance on Aug. 9, when he was called up to the majors.
In his second game with the Bronx Bombers, he scored his first run on a wild pitch and has continued to perform in limited time. So far this season, Velazquez has 13 hits, one home run, six RBI, three stolen bases and has scored nine runs while batting a respectable .245. On Aug. 21, he hit his first career home run in front of his family at Yankee stadium.
Andrew Velazquez grew up in the Bronx and just hit his first career homer at Yankee Stadium in front of his family 🙌
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 21, 2021
For Velazquez, it’s always been all about family.
He was raised by a retired NYPD detective and a teacher. Even with his dad, Ken, working long hours as a cop, he always made time for his son. They went to hockey and baseball games and grew quite close. “He was the one who instilled the love of sports in me,” Velazquez said.
But it was his mother, Margaret, who was the glue that held the family together. She showered Velazquez with unconditional love and support, and in return, he touted her as a great cook with a specialty of lasagna.
While he played football, hockey and ran track, America’s pastime has always been his passion. “Before I was able to even walk, I was swinging a bat and ball,” he said.
He first stepped on the diamond around age 5 or 6 and as he got older, quickly realized he was good at the game. Velazquez attended Fordham Prep high school, where he soon saw he had the talent to play at the next level. Fordham didn’t just help him with baseball though, it also showed him how to act as a young man, he said.
“I think the kids who went there were taught how to be better people in society,” he said.
Heading into his junior year, he participated in a baseball tournament in Georgia and soon after began receiving emails from colleges looking to recruit him. He played center field until his senior year, when he became the team’s starting shortstop. In his senior year, the New York Post named Velazquez their All-Bronx Baseball Player of the Year.
George Pisanti, Velazquez’s JV baseball coach at Fordham Prep, said Velazquez could play any position and he always envisioned big things for him. “He was a rare commodity,” he said. “He was a switch hitter at such a young age. He had more speed than anyone on the field.”
Pisanti had many players go on to play at the collegiate level, but Velazquez is the first to make it to the majors.
While he received an athletic scholarship to play college baseball at Virginia Tech, he decided to skip college when was selected in the seventh round of the 2012 Major League Baseball Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“In the back of my head I know this was what I always wanted to do,” Velazquez said.
Velazquez spent several years in the minors before abbreviated stints playing for the Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians and Tampa Bay Rays. He made his major league debut in 2018, but he still hadn’t broken through.
Everything changed on Dec. 16, 2020, when he signed a minor league contract with the Yankees. On July 16, Velazquez was released by the Bronx Bombers, but re-signed with the team the next day on a new minor league deal.
Since then, the rest is history.
“Even before I signed, I was getting word that [the Yankees] were interested and that was pretty awesome,” he said. “I’m taking it one pitch and one day at a time.”
Pisanti, 45, told the Bronx Times that while his speed and defense have always been there, Velazquez’s issue in the minors was consistent hitting. Now that he appears to have conquered that, the sky is the limit, he said.
“He chose the Yankees because he wanted to take that chance and play for his childhood team,” Pisanti said. “He really did everything on his own. He’s a special kid.”
Reach Jason Cohen at [email protected] or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter @bronxtimes and Facebook @bronxtimes.