Ask Chris Stewart how he became a catcher and he might start off the answer by saying “that’s a funny story.”
It turns out he’s right. Since he’s 6-foot-4, catching is not necessarily the most natural position for someone of that height and until 11th grade at Canyon Springs High School in Moreno Valley, Calif., it was not for Stewart.
But when the regular catcher joined the cheerleading team and the backup got appendicitis, Stewart began putting his good hands and feet honed as a shortstop into becoming a full-time catcher.
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“I was a shortstop until my junior year and then I started catching,” Stewart said before making his 20th start last night. “One of the small things that goes into being a good shortstop [is] the hands and feet working together.
“Learning the mental part of the game took a while and it’s just a matter of listening to all the coaching, all the ideas, watching video and trying to come up with hitter’s tendencies and formulate a game plan. It takes a lot of studying, a lot of research [and] a lot of time.”
The life of a backup catcher is not glamorous. They often don’t now when they’re playing until the lineup is posted, but the preparation remains the same.
“I watch video and see if [the starting pitcher] has thrown against a team early on in the year or maybe last year and how he attacked their hitters and what kind of game plan he used,” Stewart said. “If I don’t have that, I just use maybe a pitcher similar to our guy who threw against their team recently to try and come up with a game plan in my mind to prepare myself to what we might be throwing to them.”
Stewart, who’s become somewhat of a personal catcher for CC?Sabathia — though not named as such — was acquired from the Giants on the last day of spring training, mainly for his defense.
“Being sent back to New York isn’t a bad thing either,” he said. “I was happy to come back and help this team get back to the playoffs and go from there.”
Happy Birthday to the Captain
Joe Girardi has marveled at Derek Jeter’s performance as he went from the age of 37 to 38 yesterday.
“To think that he’s still doing it at that age is really, truly amazing,” Girardi said last night. “I told him, ‘At our age, Derek, we don’t have to have birthdays anymore.’”
Girardi was referencing Jeter’s defense and his batting average, which is at .304 through Monday. A month ago it was .342 and although Jeter is hitting .232 (22-for-95) this month, he is the oldest player currently hitting over .300.
“You have more experiences,” Jeter said of differences between previous birthdays and now. “The more you play, the more experiences you have, the more you learn about the game, the more you learn about the game, the more you learn about yourself. That comes with age.
“I think when you’re younger you just go out and basically get by on ability. I think as you get older you learn your body more, you learn your abilities more and you learn different ways to improve. I think that comes with experience.”
Jeter also has 3,181 hits, which puts him 11 ahead of all-time hits leader Pete Rose’s pace on his 38th birthday. Rose turned 38 on April 14, 1979 when he was with Philadelphia.
“It’s amazing when you think about it and the age we’re getting to,” the 40-year-old Andy Pettitte said. “It’s amazing to see what he’s been able to do.”
Along with Ty Cobb (3,666) and Hank Aaron (3,272), Jeter has the third-highest hit total of anyone at this age.
“I don’t think about it; I really don’t,” Jeter said of his hit total. “I try to figure out ways to get hits today and not think about what has happened in history or how many hits I have now. Every single day you just try to do your job.
“I don’t come in here today thinking about what I did yesterday. I don’t come in today thinking what could happen tomorrow. It’s just what you can do in that particular day. Otherwise, I don’t think you could play this game because it’s a day of ups and downs.”
Slumps withstanding, Jeter’s status at his age is better than some of the previous Yankee standouts at shortstop.
Tony Kubek, who played from 1957-1965, was out of the game for nine years when he turned 38 in 1974. Mark Koenig, who starred alongside Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, played his last game for the Yankees at the age of 25 in 1930 and played until 1936.
Phil Rizzuto played as a 38-year-old in 1956, but only played in 66 games and for all nine innings just nine times. He received just 52 at-bats in 66 games before heading to a broadcasting career.
That still is better than Frank Crosetti at Jeter’s age. Crosetti turned 38 on Oct. 4, 1948, which was the day after his final game with the Yankees. In his final season he played just 17 games and started one game at shortstop, where he had started 1,481 games during a career that started in 1932.
Even with the limited playing time over his final three seasons, Crosetti was still actively involved with the Yankees as he was in the beginning of a coaching career that lasted with the Yankees until 1968.
Hall of Fame shortstops have fared better in the season they turned 38. Six Hall of Famers at the position received at least 400 at-bats in those seasons, including Honus Wagner (.324 in 558 at-bats for the 1912 Pirates), Luis Aparicio (.257 in 436 at-bats for the 1972 Red Sox) and Ozzie Smith (.295 in 518 at-bats for the 1992 Cardinals).
Cal Ripken Jr. and Ernie Banks also fared well during the year they turned 38, but both had moved from shortstop. Ripken hit .271 in 161 games for the 1998 Orioles at third base, while Banks hit .255 in 155 games for the 1969 Cubs while playing first base.
HOPE Week comes to Queens
Tuesday’s edition of the four-year Yankee community service initiative went to Woodhaven, Queens to visit with Jorge Munoz.
Munoz, 48, is known as the “Angel in Queens” and since 2004 has been cooking up to 140 meals per night for Latino day laborers who stand underneath the elevated tracks at the intersection of Roosevelt Avenue and 73rd Street in Jackson Heights.
Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Hiroki Kuroda and Boone Logan honored Munoz’s efforts by surprising him in the kitchen and helping him cook the daily meal. After the game, general manager Brian Cashman joined Munoz in distributing the meal.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.