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Our First Baseman: Luke Voit Is Adroit

“When I first got up here, I sucked. Now I’m getting Luke chants.” – Luke Voit.

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Gradually heating up until he was barrelling through the opposition like a steam train, launching home runs for fun and being unable to contain his beaming smile in the process, Luke Voit easily worked his way into the hearts of many. In a lengthy season that was full of highs, lows and injury woes, Voit was delivering powerful blows that helped solidify all-important wins for his team. The fan favourite quickly produced his own merchandise, profiting on his pinstripe prowess and giving us all the hoodie comfort that we needed heading into the long winter months without Yankees baseball. But how did he do it? How did he achieve this level of success so quickly?

Trades aren’t always easy. Especially if your name is Chasen Shreve, the former Yankees relief pitcher.

Once upon a time, Shreve’s optimism that he would remain in the iconic pinstripes, despite the arrival of LHP Britton, appeared adamant. “We’ve had more than two lefties in the ‘pen before,” Shreve noted. That didn’t matter. Signing off with an emotional leaving interview, in which the 28-year-old was evidently not beaming with happiness about his imminent move to St Louis, and a poignant Instagram post that pulled on the heartstrings of many, Shreve was on the next plane to Missouri. Finally, free to grow any length of beard that his heart desired.

In contrast, now facing the strict facial hair policy was 27-year-old Luke Voit. Upon his arrival in New York City, many articles ran the headline surrounding a form of the phrase: “who exactly is he?”. In a recent R2C2 podcast episode, the Missouri native mentioned that his arrival was something unexpected to himself, let alone Yankees fans. Being traded appeared seemingly the last thing on Voit’s mind, as he was slated in for an AAA game before teammates informed him that his name had been taken off the lineup.

The Yankees needed a first baseman. Yankees fans received just that, and a new cult hero. Step forward: Louis Linwood Voit III. The man who forced the Bronx to swap their initial booing into a series of “Luuuuuke” chants, albeit sounding relatively similar. He doesn’t seem to mind. The man who can bench press 135 pounds like there’s no tomorrow, surely solidifying his status alongside the muscled giants of Judge and Stanton. The man who plays the game like he genuinely enjoys it, breaking out into an infectious smile whenever he goes yard, rounding the bases with sheer joy. The man who claps his hands together with such emotion after he crosses home plate.

Voit’s emergence as the go-to first baseman came at an essential time. One that involved Greg Bird not living up to the high expectations that Yankee fans upheld of him once again, with more injury woes forcing him to have right foot surgery in March. Tyler Austin stepped up to the 25-man roster as Bird found himself sidelined for six to eight weeks, pencilled in as first baseman for the Opening Day game against the Blue Jays. A postponed home opener at Yankees Stadium eventually lay witness to Neil Walker deployed at first base against the Rays. Towards the end of July, a shocked Tyler Austin had suddenly been traded to the Twins in exchange for 2012 All-Star pitcher Lance Lynn. The move produced a flurry of awkward tweets from Austin’s father, expressing his fury over the favoured Greg Bird. “Tyler has more hits with the Twins in a week than Bird has in a month with the Yankees,” was only one of them. Boone’s praise of Brandon Drury’s versatility with various infield positions did nothing to give some stability to the first baseman role, with third-base-favouring Drury traded to the Blue Jays for J.A. Happ, and promptly placed on the 10-day DL in Toronto. Towards the end of August, Bird lingered in a 9-for-79 slump, only hitting .197, and became the subject of many conversations on Twitter after a ball from Torreyes should have been a standard out. “Should have” being the key phrase. It popped out of his glove, Sánchez reached first, and Bird was left dejectedly looking at the ball on the ground.

Making his debut as a DH against the Red Sox at Fenway, Voit went 0-for-4 at the plate. The four-game stretch was one to forget for the Yankees, unable to match the dominant Red Sox as they got swept by their rivals.

This would lie in stark contrast to his brighter future.

Against the Orioles on Players Weekend, the first baseman went yard twice, drawing in four runs to contribute to a 7-5 win, showered in a praise of “Luuuuuke” chants. Not only did the game mark his first home run as a Yankee, but his first career multi-homer one at that.

“He’s done it again! Another two-run home run by Luke Voit. Luke here. Voit is adroit!” came the eventually accustomed Sterling home run call. He’d made it.

On Voit went, crushing baseballs and solidifying his deserved role in the lineup. As their penultimate Red Sox series came around, Voit helped turn the tables. No Sox sweep awaited them here, as he went 4-for-4 in the second game, launching two homers off David Price and contributing to a 10-1 win.

The next day, he hit a monster shot off Rodriguez that prompted a monster reaction. “Let’s f-king go!” a pumped-up Voit hollered. His 10th home run for the Yankees had smashed not one, but two records in the process. He became the 12th Yankee to hit at least 10 homers this season, and broke their franchise mark from 2012, with number 246.

It was only fitting that the first baseman also picked up an impressive AL Player of the Week award towards the end of September, after batting an impressive .458, with three home runs and eight RBI to boot. He topped the rankings in slugging percentage (.958) and total bases, and tied for first in home runs, RBI, hits and extra-base hits. He ended the regular season with the Yankees batting .333, with 33 RBIs and a 1.095 OPS.

Leading up to the playoffs, Luke mentioned “I never got to experience the playoffs, and this is my chance to kind of show them what I’ve got. I’m just having fun with it.” In the sixth inning of the American League Wild Card game, he found himself staring down Treinen on a 3-2 count. Runners were on second and third. Demolishing the ball on the ninth pitch of the at-bat and beginning his run around the bases with a little hop, Voit instinctively raised his arm in the air. It came agonisingly close to being a three-run home run, but bounced off the wall for his first career triple instead.

From bench pressing, to hitting home runs, Voit went from strength to strength in 2018. Take this quote from Aaron Judge after the Yankees clinched a playoff berth: “We wouldn’t be in this position right now if it wasn’t for you. You coming over here, I know it was a slow start, but you picked it up and you picked us up and when we needed the big hit, you came through for us.” Strong words, from the person many consider to be the ‘unofficial’ Yankees captain. However, with the postseason well and truly over – ending in, frankly, miserable fashion with the one result Yankees fans didn’t want – the Yankees will soon be making more changes to their roster for next year. As for Luke Voit, it will be interesting to see how he fares throughout his first full season in pinstripes. There’s no doubt that he was the somewhat unexpected spark the team needed for 2018, and I hope he can prove all the “Shane Spencer” shouts wrong, and help in the chase for 28 in 2019.

 

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