When Didi Gregorius was growing up on Curaçao, his friends used to laugh at how, no matter how steamy the weather was on the Caribbean island, Gregorius always showed up to play ball in a long-sleeve shirt.
It is a habit that still persists. Whether he’s deep in the humid heart of Texas in July or sweltering in Kansas City in August, Gregorius takes his position at shortstop for the Yankees wearing long sleeves.
On Tuesday, Gregorius found himself in conditions for which he was appropriately equipped. With those long sleeves — and a booming bat — nobody looked more comfortable in the drizzling, dank and bone-chilling weather than Gregorius, who belted two home runs and drove in a career-high eight runs in the Yankees’ 11-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
Gregorius’s home runs gave the Yankees a win despite another hiccup from their bullpen, a five-strikeout performance from Giancarlo Stanton in his Yankee Stadium debut and dreadful conditions for their home opener, which was postponed by snow on Monday.
Stanton was booed after his last strikeout, but he only has to look to Gregorius for proof that one does not have to be defined by a grim Bronx debut.
Gregorius was also booed, and jeered with chants of “Der-ek Je-ter,” when he was thrown out trying to steal third when the Yankees trailed by several runs late in the 2015 season opener.
He has since developed into one of the best shortstops in baseball and a beloved figure in the Bronx. On Tuesday, he was showered only with love by the fans who braved the elements. Gregorius received a curtain call after each of the home runs, and the crowd chanted “Di-di” after he turned in two slick defensive plays.
“Fans are always going to boo you, and the reason they boo you is because they want you to do good,” said Gregorius, who also hit two homers in the Yankees’ Game 5 win over Cleveland in a divisional series last fall. “It’s not because they hate you.”
He added of Stanton: “It’s a bad day today, but tomorrow if he gets five home runs, everybody’s going to forget about it.”
For most everyone at the stadium beside Gregorius, it was a miserable day for baseball.
The temperature at the first pitch, which was delayed 14 minutes by the weather, was 40 degrees. There were perhaps 10,000 fans in the stadium by then, and most congregated under the overhangs of the upper decks. Those who did not have shelter sat under umbrellas or wore ponchos in the mist.
The wretched weather prompted the Yankees to skip the traditional pregame introductions of the teams along the baselines and scrap plans to unfurl an enormous American flag in the outfield. The ceremonial first pitches — thrown by two members of the 1978 World Series champions, Mickey Rivers and Bucky Dent — were performed in hurried fashion.
Once the game began, it occasionally looked as though the players were throwing a spherical ice cube. Third baseman Brandon Drury, wearing a balaclava under his cap, fielded a routine grounder from Matt Duffy in the third inning and threw far wide of first baseman Tyler Austin.