NEW YORK — Andrew Benintendi wouldn’t say whether he will get vaccinated for COVID-19 now that he’s with the first-place New York Yankees rather than the last-place Kansas City Royals.
A day after New York acquired the 28-year-old All-Star from the Royals for three minor league pitchers, Benintendi went 0 for 4 with a strikeout in hs Yankees debut, a 1-0 win over his former team on Thursday night. Benintendi hit leadoff and played left field, receiving a roll call from the fans in the right field bleachers.
“Felt the love from everybody,” Benintendi said. “It was just a very cool experience.”
He was among 10 Royals who missed a four-game series at Toronto from July 14-17 because he was not vaccinated and could not enter Canada. He lost $186,813 of the $8.5 million salary.
The Yankees have a three-game series at Toronto from Sept. 26-28.
“Right now, you know, I’m still positioned in the same spot. I’m open-minded about it,” Benintendi said. “I’m not against it, but time will tell as we get closer, but for now I’m just focused on getting here, getting comfortable, getting to know the guys and winning baseball games.”
Benintendi had not yet discussed the issue with his new team.
“We’ll cross that bridge if and when we have to but I have not had that conversation,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.
Benintendi had arrived with the Royals in New York and was in his hotel room when Royals manager Mike Matheny told him of the trade at about 11 p.m. Wednesday night.
“It’s a weird situation,” Benintendi said. “Obviously lacing it up with them yesterday and now I’m going against them today.”
Matheny was aware the trade was possible before the flight but kept the possibility to himself.
“We couldn’t do anything and tried to honor the rules that the league puts in place and letting the medicals go through,” Matheny said. “We landed and still couldn’t say anything, so I kind of hunkered down outside his door and kind of made sure he didn’t escape.”
Matheny got general manager J. J. Picollo and team president Dayton Moore on speakerphone when he told Benintendi.
“Fortunate and grateful to the Yankees for holding that down as long as they could so we could have that conversation in person,” Matheny said. “He deserved to have that conversation in person.”
As word spread amongst the Royals, many who found out from Twitter and other social media, several players gathered in Benintendi’s room to wish him well. Some even stuck around to play cards with their old mate. One well-wisher was Bobby Witt Jr., whose locker was positioned directly next to Benintendi’s at Kauffman Stadium.
“I got to talk to him a lot about baseball,” Witt said of their time as teammates. “He’s a great person both on and off the field so just really anxious to see him continue his success.”
Benintendi had to switch from No. 16 to No. 18 with the Yankees — 16 is retired for Whitey Ford.
Hititng .320 with three homers, 39 RBIs and a .788 OPS coming into Thursday, Benintendi should fit in nicely with an offense that has scored the most runs in the majors.
“Been a guy that’s got a championship, battle-tested. Obviously played a key part in the Red Sox run in ’18, was a key figure for them,” Boone said. “He’s had an All-Star caliber season, a guy that gets on base, great bat-to-ball skills, good defender in left field. I’m real excited to have him.”
Tim Locastro was optioned to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to open a roster spot.
Boone plans to slot his new addition in left field for the most part, a position where he won a Gold Glove last year. Aaron Judge could see more time in right field rather than center, and Aaron Hicks could see time in center rather than left.
“I think he makes us more versatile, gives us some more balance,” Boone said of Benintendi.
For now, Benintendi was remaining in the Royals hotel.
“I don’t know what’s going to go on there,” he said prior to the game. “Still getting a lot of information right now so just trying to process everything.”
The newest member of the Yankees was asked after the game if he was planning on sleeping there Thursday night, and what it might be like walking into the same place his former teammates are staying.
“I am. I am,” a laughing Benintendi confirmed. “Yeah, but I’ll go straight to my room. I’ll go straight to bed.”