Yankees: Twins Rookie Talks Yankee Stadium Atmosphere in 2019 Playoffs
By Adam Weinrib
Minnesota Twins pitcher Devin Smeltzer spoke with Yanks Go Yard’s Adam Weinrib about his playoff debut at Yankee Stadium.
The Minnesota Twins have done an admirable job of competing over the past 20 years, but they haven’t been able to tame the top beast standing in their path: the Yankee Stadium playoff atmosphere.
Year after year, exemplary Twins teams have arrived in the Bronx looking for vengeance, and not only haven’t found it, but have instead fallen victim to new and interesting ways of torture, dropping their last 13 playoff games to the NYY going back to a Game 1 win in the 2004 ALDS (hey, Twins, we’ll give you that whole series if you want it, actually!).
But, amid last year’s chaos, one young Twin managed to block out the noise — rookie lefty Devin Smeltzer threw 3.1 shutout innings with 4 whiffs in enemy territory in New York’s Game 2 win back in October. Courtesy of the Double-A Pensacola Blue Wahoos, I caught up with Smeltzer this week to ask him what…exactly…went right? How does a young pitcher deal with our particular brand of menace?
According to Smeltzer, he loved the energy from well before the first pitch. After all, he’s the kind of guy who embraces insanity.
“I pitched that game a million times in my head,” Smeltzer said. “I grew up a South Jersey guy, and Philly and New York hate each other. Growing up, too, I always found myself on the team that was hated and I always thrived off that. You roll up to a city and you’re hated. Yankee Stadium, they hate you no matter who you are.”
Um…can confirm, yes, we do. Smeltzer entered the game following the struggles of starter Randy Dobnak, an experience he remembers quite clearly, a half-year after the fact.
“I’m pretty good at blocking stuff out, but I get the sign from Rocco,” he continued. “I throw my last pitch and I start jogging in, and I hear, ‘Hey Smeltzer! You know why you’re going in? Because we’re up 7-0 and you suck!'”
“I’m like, you’re right, I guess, buddy,” he quipped.
Smeltzer gained a new appreciation for Yankee fans that day, too, for the way they adapted their wildness to help take care of a surprise visitor.
“It’s funny, my dad surprised me at that game. I was shagging BP, and he was in left field,” Smeltzer recalled. “I was like, ‘Where are you sitting?!’ and he was like, ‘Right here!’. He was with the Bleacher Creatures. I was like, ‘Dad, take your jersey off. I know you’re here for me. I don’t want to meet you in a hospital.'”
“Then, some random rowdy Yankees fan starts giving him crap. He’s like, ‘I’m not a Twins fan, that’s my kid.’ And for the rest of the game, every time anyone yelled at my dad, this drunk guy was like, ‘Hey, shut up, that’s his kid!’.”
Yes, it may have been a blowout Yankees victory in a series sweep that ended an otherwise-promising season, but for Smeltzer, it was the perfect introduction to the next level of what it means to be a big leaguer.
“I jog in, they’re playing walk up music and they show Jerry Springer and the whole stadium starts chanting. I get how that atmosphere can eat people up, but I thrive off that. I get how fun it could be to be a Yankee fan. They’re throwing beer and chicken nuggets. Just to see it that crazy every night.”
Bottom line: Even as an opponent, Smeltzer got what makes this place so special. He thrived off it. Some don’t. But if the Twins can find more people to fill their clubhouse that share his mentality, they’ll be a rightful challenger in the very near future.