Through Baseball, a Yankees Outfielder Found a Different New York City

Through Baseball, a Yankees Outfielder Found a Different New York City

Harrison Bader grew up in Bronxville, N.Y., and went to Horace Mann, but his time with the New York Grays introduced him to the city’s Dominican and Puerto Rican cultures.

Harrison Bader found most of his favorite meals and side dishes through baseball.

Pollo guisado, a flavorful braised chicken stew, holds the top spot on his palate. He also appreciates arroz moro — a seasoned rice with beans — and sweet plantains, also known as maduros, dishes that are popular throughout the Caribbean and Latin America.

“The spices are just really good, especially after long days of baseball,” Bader, the Yankees’ center fielder, explained. “You just load it back up.”

Bader, 28, was introduced to those dishes during his teenage years on the diamond. His travel club, the New York Grays, boasted rosters primarily made up of players from Dominican and Puerto Rican families, and players’ mothers and grandmothers would cook and prepare staples of their cultures at home or even in the backs of their cars so the kids could feast after games.

Bader, who is white, said he quickly “fell in love” with the food and the perks of being on a travel team. With Bader having grown up in a wealthy community that was almost entirely white, the tight-knit group of families that he got to know during his formative years with the Grays introduced him to a broader section of New York City, changing how he viewed his surroundings.

It also led to many lifelong relationships, with Bader still close with numerous teammates from those days. Those bonds helped lead to an overwhelming show of support at Game 1 of the Yankees’ division series against Cleveland on Tuesday, with Bader estimating he had more than 100 friends and family in attendance.

“The whole atmosphere was something that was just very — I don’t know if wholesome is the right word — but it was a true team,” Bader said of the Grays. “It was an effort more than just the players on the field.”

Bader grew up in Bronxville, N.Y., a Westchester County village. His father was Verizon’s lead legal counsel and his mother worked in marketing for Time Life publications. He attended Horace Mann School, a private institution that encompasses grades from the nursery level all the way through high school in the Bronx.

While in a New York City borough, Horace Mann didn’t exactly provide the same lived experiences that many of Bader’s teammates had. The Grays’ mission statement notes that the team is “primarily” made up of “children from the ‘inner city’ of the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan, although some of our kids come from more affluent environments.”

Bader made for an obvious exception, but he joined the team the summer before his junior year at the urging of David Owens, who coached Bader at Horace Mann and founded the Grays program.

“These guys loved baseball, and nothing else really kind of mattered,” said Owens, who is from the Upper West Side. “So if you’re coming from wherever you’re coming to play with us, you’re family right away. He fit in pretty quickly with everybody. They accepted him. He accepted being probably out of his comfort zone for the first time.”

With road trips up and down the East Coast and games nearly every day during the summer, the group had plenty of time to bond. Bader and company imagined what it would be like to play for the Yankees one day, and the Grays helped him expand his Spanish vocabulary. “I really only know curse words,” Bader admitted, but that was enough for the Grays to see him as one of their own.

“We always say Harrison is Dominican, too,” joked Kevin Martir, a Grays teammate who now happens to be the hitting coach for the Yankees’ Class A affiliate, the Tampa Tarpons.

“He’s played on all the bad fields. He went to practice in the gym. He did all that stuff with us,” Martir, who is from Brooklyn and Dominican, added. “Yeah, he’s from Bronxville, he went to Horace Mann, but he grinded it out with us.”

Bader and his Grays teammates, a group that also included the Kansas City Royals right-handed reliever Jose Cuas, became so close that the players still have a group chat. The contingent becomes particularly active during Bader’s plate appearances and was excited when the Yankees acquired Bader around the trading deadline in a deal that sent the left-handed pitcher Jordan Montgomery to the St. Louis Cardinals.

On Tuesday, Martir was in Yankee Stadium for Bader’s biggest at-bat in pinstripes thus far. Bader hit his first home run with his new team, a third-inning solo shot that started the scoring for the Yankees.

The Yankees ended up beating the Guardians, 4-1.

Owens wanted to bring his 2-year-old — Bader’s godson — by for batting practice, but ultimately didn’t make it. Still, Bader said family and friends packed the stadium in huge numbers.

“I feel badly. My parents and my sister are here, all my friends are here, but I didn’t respond to any of their text messages because we had stuff to do today,” Bader, who attended Yankees playoff games during the team’s 2009 championship run, said before echoing a lesson he first learned with the Grays. “This isn’t just about the person that gets to put the uniform on. There’s a massive team behind us that supports us every single day. When you have that behind you, it makes it a lot easier to go out there and play some ball.”

There is no doubt that Bader’s time with the Grays prepared him for college at the University of Florida and, ultimately, major league life.

He took to the cages relentlessly as a teen — “He would hit eight days a week,” Owens quipped — and practices in tiny gymnasiums with glass windows, lights and low ceilings taught Bader to pinpoint his throws.

But the Grays also gave Bader a taste of the diversity that occupies a professional locker room. Owens, whose father is Black and mother is white, began making that point as Bader grew stronger and displayed signs of big-league potential.

“In the long run, this is going to be good for you,” Owens remembers telling Bader, “because if you ever become a pro, the first day you step in the clubhouse, half the guys are going to be from the Dominican Republic.”

Looking back now, Owens believes that the Grays positively influenced Bader’s worldview.

“There are a lot of moving parts in this city. There’s a lot of diversity in this city,” Owens said. “You take all this in, and you build your outlook on the world. It’s a worldly look now. You’re not just some isolated bubble up in Bronxville Little League and it’s homogeneous. Now you’re dealing with the real world, people who did not grow up with your privileges — let’s call it what it is — but guess what? When it comes down to it, you guys are teammates, and then nothing else matters. You put on a Grays uniform, or any other uniform, you guys are brothers in arms, and it kind of makes everything else mean less.”

Bader knows exactly what his friend and former coach means. All these years later, he’s thankful that the Grays embraced him and gave him a chance to venture beyond his suburban roots.

He said that the program “definitely” changed his perception of what it means to be a New Yorker.

“I mean, it’s a different world deep in Brooklyn, deep in Queens. I went to private school at Horace Mann, so it’s just different,” Bader said. “Being exposed to other aspects of New York City, different foods, different friends, it was just awesome.

“I loved every second of it.”