Didi Gregorius
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

Didi Gregorius is nearing a return, which could mean truly great things for the New York Yankees once he’s back.

Every New York Yankees fan worth their weight in gold misses Didi Gregorius.

Your favorite Yankees columnist does too, and why wouldn’t I? Didi Gregorius has gone from prospective bust to fan favorite since arriving in 2015. He plays great defense and his lefty bat is perfect for Yankee Stadium.

And yet, thanks to a freak elbow injury suffered near the end of last season, Gregorius hasn’t played in 2019. His recovery from Tommy John surgery has kept him out, but he’s on his rehab assignment and should be back in a couple of weeks. Given how injured the Yankees have been this year, with both Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton also on the injured list, the timing is perfect.

This is because once Didi Gregorius returns, the Yankees could very well go into overdrive.

Zero to hero

Oh, how we all remember Didi Gregorius’ first year in New York. He was acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks ahead of the 2015 season and was immediately under the microscope. He wasn’t just a shortstop, but future Hall of Famer’s Derek Jeter’s successor. Those are big shoes to fill!

And here was 25-year-old Gregorius, arriving with his 191 career games and .243 lifetime batting average from 2012-2014. He wasn’t much better in his first full season in New York, though he did set new career-highs in batting .265 with nine home runs and 56 RBI. Sure, he wasn’t terrible, but was he really the man to fill The Captain’s spot?

Well, thanks to patience, Gregorius broke out the following year, and the year after, and again the year after. He has hit .277 with 72 home runs and 243 RBI the last three seasons.

Throw in a career UZR of 12.2 at shortstop, and Didi Gregorius clearly does great work on and off the field. His knack for clutch hits, especially in the playoffs, is just an added bonus.

However, for all his accomplishments on the field, it isn’t the big reason why Gregorius’ return means a lot to the Yankees.

Rather, his role as the team’s hype man is.

Clubhouse cheerleader

We all know Didi Gregorius is the Yankees’ main hype guy. I even mentioned it last season. The man is just naturally great at rallying his teammates and getting everyone motivated.

That isn’t to say the Yankees aren’t motivated right now. Constant injuries aside, New York is first in the AL East with a record of 34-18. The team has won eight of its last ten games and has fully embraced the “next man up” philosophy. Considering the team basically gave up on winning the division after Judge broke his wrist last year, this is a great sign.

Now, think of how adding a natural cheerleader to the mix could further help the Yankees. The positive attitude is already there and adding Gregorius to the mix will only help reinforce it. This was in plain sight last year when he drew smiley faces on what looked like a paper plate after big hits in one game.

And even the best teams need this energy in the clubhouse. Remember Nick Swisher in 2009? That team was stacked from top to bottom, but having his 24/7 smile and infectious positivity helped even in the worst of times. He became a fan favorite and anyone who says they didn’t get excited over the Swisher Salute is just plain lying.

Make no mistake, Yankees fans. If Gregorius can both play at a high level and bring his big personality back to the clubhouse, this team could do great things.

Final thoughts

And when push comes to shove, is Didi Gregorius being the team’s hype guy the end-all and be-all of World Series dreams? Of course not. Everyone else has to keep playing well, both in the lineup and on the pitcher’s mound. Gregorius can’t really control either of the results there.

But this isn’t about Didi Gregorius’ attitude controlling the results. It’s about him just being there and supporting everyone with his million-dollar smile, just as he has done the past few years. This alone should fuel more spirit than Torrance Shipman and the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders combined. If he keeps raking at the plate, even better!

Didi Gregorius is an integral member of the Yankees’ lineup. Nothing can ever take away from that truth.

Still, with the AL East race getting competitive early, his return as hype man could wind up mattering more.

If the Yankees win the division and more, it could very well be the reason.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.