Yangervis Solarte may not quite be a household name for Yankee fans but he does have a connection to a player who thrilled Met fans.
Roger Cedeno, who led the National League with 66 stolen bases for the 1999 Mets, is Solarte’s uncle. Cedeno returned to the Mets three years later after being dealt to Houston in the Mike Hampton trade though his second stint did not go as well.
Eleven years after Cedeno appeared in his last game for the Mets, Solarte is seven games into his major league career with the Yankees. So far it’s been an eye-opening beginning for the native of Venezuela, whose father is a brother of Cedeno.
“He feels very proud of me, more so than when he made it to the big leagues,” Solarte said through an interpreter Wednesday. “Likewise, when he was in the big leagues, I was equally as proud.”
So far, Solarte has 11 hits in his first 24 at-bats. Six of those hits have been doubles and, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the first player since 1900 with at least six doubles in his first six games.
Cedeno currently lives in Miami and spent about two hours talking to his nephew about topics including the type of fans in New York.
“The fan base is pretty passionate and it’s kind of like it is back home in Venezuela,” Solarte said. “They’re always paying attention to what’s going on with the team so that’s something that motivated me as well.”
Solarte actually could have been in the majors a year ago. The Rangers told him they planned on keeping him but toward the end of a spring training in which he batted .234, they decided to go in a different direction. Solarte wound up hitting .276 with 12 home runs and 75 RBI for Triple-A Round Rock.
After parting ways with his second organization, 13 teams sought Solarte but only three pursued it to the end. The end came Jan. 16 when he elected to sign with the Yankees on a minor league contract that included an invite to spring training.
Solarte went for .429 (18-for-42) in spring training and three months after signing with the Yankees sat in a locker between Ichiro Suzuki and Alfonso Soriano talking about his path to New York.
“I appreciate it,” he said. “I always said that once I reach Yankee Stadium that will be dream come true and everything I’ve experience so far motivates me even more.”
As for his unique first name, it comes from combining the names of his mother, Yanmili, and father, Gervis.
Even though Yankee fans have seen Masahiro Tanaka during his introductory press conference, spring training and in one regular season start, they still might not know much about him.
He has not been very revealing in brief interviews, but behind closed doors there seems to be another side to Tanaka, who made his Yankee Stadium debut Wednesday night.
“He seems to fit right in,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He needles people. I’ve seen some of that. I’ve seen him smile, I’ve seen him laugh. I think he fits in really well and I think he’s been a really good teammate.”
In terms of the unfamiliarity aspect of Tanaka, that might not be drastic since there is video. But differences exist between tape and the actual thing.
“I think video tells you what a guy’s got, but it doesn’t tell you how you see it,” Girardi said. “You can go over scouting reports all day long and say the guy throws 89 [mph] to 92 [mph], well is it a sneaky 92 [mph]? Does it get on you quicker? Do you see it split? So I’ve always felt that if someone hasn’t seen a pitcher they [the pitcher] have a slight advantage, bottom line is you got to make your pitches.”
So about the Red Sox
Though Thursday’s series opener with the Red Sox will be the 10th game of the season, there will be two somewhat significant aspects to it.
It will mark Michael Pineda’s introduction to the rivalry and even more noteworthy it will be the first time Jacoby Ellsbury faces the Red Sox after signing a seven-year contract with New York.
Girardi’s hope for Pineda is that the right-hander will not get caught up in the extra attention of the Red Sox.
As for Ellsbury, it might not be as interesting as his first trip to Fenway Park, where he might get booed for leaving but also cheered for being on two championship teams.
One thing Girardi confirmed is that it’s a more comfortable feeling with Ellsbury in New York.
“From a mental standpoint, it’s a lot easier,” Girardi said. “He was a guy that gave us trouble and if he was on base he even gave you more trouble. I used to look across the field — this was a guy that can change the game in a lot of ways and you had to be concerned about what he was going to do next. So it’s really great having him on our side and not have to worry about that.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.