Can Anthony Volpe Be the New Pride of the Yankees?

Photographs: Getty Images; Collage: Gabe Conte

One morning this winter, Anthony Volpe peels a gray peacoat from his lithe, compact frame and shimmies into a booth for brunch in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. Volpe, 22, has spent the morning engaged in a familiar activity to many 22-year-olds in NYC: apartment hunting with his parents. Volpe, however, happens to be the starting shortstop for the New York Yankees, which changes the dynamic somewhat. No three-roommate Murray Hill hovel for this guy.

He spent his rookie season living in midtown, near Columbus Circle, but decided to leave because nothing stays open late. (If first pitch is at 7:10, players typically don’t get home until after midnight.) And so, like any good twentysomething living in New York, he’s heading downtown. “I want to move to the West Village,” he announces. “I’d love to just, after a game, walk around the corner, and get the best slice of pizza that my teammate from Oklahoma is ever going to have.”

Volpe tells me he genuinely loves living in the city, and says the veterans of the team encouraged him to live here, rather than in a mansion in the suburbs.

The upside to living in the city is real. There is a special sort of celebrity reserved for New York athletes who love New York—Clyde Frazier, Keith Hernandez, and Carmelo Anthony can all attest to the way the city embraces athletes who want to be in the mix. And that’s before we even mention the last guy who turned playing shortstop for the Yankees into the biggest job on earth. As a potential Yankee centerpiece for years to come, Volpe could become our first Gen Z New York sports hero.

It helps, of course, that he is a certified Yankee fan. He giddily tells me a story of trekking across the Hudson from his hometown in New Jersey to attend a 2018 playoff game at Yankee Stadium. “We were all texting, and we decided at school, We’re going to the game tonight. Me and all my buddies were literally sitting with our backs to the top of the stadium.” He also geeks out when I ask if he has Derek Jeter’s phone number. The instant blush that fills his cheeks tells me everything I need to know.

But the off field stuff will only click if he and the Yankees straighten things out on the diamond. Last year, the team missed the playoffs for the first time since 2016, and posted the franchise’s worst record since 1992. Volpe’s season was up and down: he won a Gold Glove, stole 24 bags and socked 21 dingers, but also batted .209 and struck out in more than a quarter of his plate appearances.

When I ask for his assessment of last season, Volpe sounds more like someone calling into talk radio than an actual player on the team. “Very, very, very poor,” he says. “It was one of the rockiest, toughest seasons that I’ve been a part of, and I don’t know anything else at the big league level. It was super crushing to know that we didn’t get the results we needed to get. But I think the team grew together. Going through one of the toughest seasons in the recent era, it lit a fire in a lot of people.”

To be clear, most 22-year-olds struggle in their first taste of the big leagues, and more than half the teams in the league miss the playoffs every year. It’s just that the Yankees usually don’t—and that Volpe has the unique burden of playing Jeter’s old position. But, as he is well aware of, wearing the pinstripes every day comes with outsize attention. I bring up the idea that, if he were, say, the shortstop for the Colorado Rockies and he hit .209 as a rookie, GQ would not be hitting him up for an interview.

“Yeah, I guess I don’t necessarily look at it from the outside,” he says. “It’s frustrating because I feel like I know what I’m capable of and what my own expectations are for myself. I was super grateful for all the things that I went through and the foundation that I was able to set. You don't know how you're going to react until you're in the fire, until you experience it. I think it will make me a better, stronger player. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

For now, that means figuring out where, exactly, he’s going to live. When we meet, it’s still a few weeks before the Yankees’ first spring training game. He’s not quite in full baseball mode yet, but he’s getting there. As such, he lets his mom, Isabelle, handle real estate agent duties. So, how did today’s apartment hunt go? “I think it was haunted!” Volpe tells me with a can you believe it? glint in his eye. The building’s address, he explains, begins with 666. A fit dwelling, maybe, for the circumstances of his rookie season. Not this year, though.

Both Yankee fans and Volpe are hoping to see more of this smile in 2024

Minnesota Twins v New York Yankees

Both Yankee fans and Volpe are hoping to see more of this smile in 2024
Elsa/Getty Images

Throughout our hour-long conversation, I can’t get over how optimistic, how bubbly, how not beaten down by the world Volpe is. This is somewhat rare in a sport that, by nature, breeds cynicism: thanks to the monotony of a 162-game schedule, and the fact that even the best hitters in the game’s history fail to reach base more than half the time, baseball players skew a bit more sardonic than other athletes. This kid, though, still has the sheen of a 22-year-old enjoying independent life in the big city for the first time. It’s hard to imagine Volpe with facial hair, or what he might look like in his thirties. He’s a little disarming in his precociousness, breaking out a massive smile while reliving what was objectively the worst professional year of his life. (Digging through a plate of French toast and scrambled eggs maybe helped lift his spirits a bit.) It’s all very precious. But if this youthful optimism doesn’t soon breed better results, the sharks will start circling. You see, no matter how realistic, the Yankees expect to win the World Series every year. That’s why the 2023 season was an unmitigated disaster, and a pretty stark departure from the conditions Volpe was used to. Because, up until then, he had been living an extremely charmed life.

Born in New York City to two doctor parents, Volpe was indoctrinated into Yankee fandom while growing up on the Upper East Side. The family decamped for Wachtung, New Jersey, when Volpe was in fourth grade; as a senior in Morristown, he was named New Jersey High School Player of the Year. A full-ride baseball scholarship was waiting for him at Vanderbilt University, but when the Yankees grabbed him in the first round of the 2019 draft and offered a $2.7 million signing bonus, he signed with his boyhood team.

The book on Volpe is that he possesses an enticing combination of speed, power, and intangibles. What he lacks in size (Volpe is listed at 5’9” and 180 lbs on the Yankees’ official roster) he makes up for with “sneaky pop”, a phrase baseball heads have long used to describe a player who packs a surprising amount of power into a relatively slight body. A 2022 scouting report aptly described his power as attention-grabbing but “not anything monstrous”, noting that he also possessed baseball instincts “well beyond his years in every aspect of his game.”

All this helped him become a certified phenom during the entirety of his ultimately very brief ascent through the Yankees’ minor league ranks. In 54 games with the Tampa Tarpons of Low-A ball as a 20-year-old, he hit .302 with a .623 slugging percentage that would make even the most seasoned slugger blush, knocking a home run every fifth game. That earned him a promotion to the Hudson Valley Renegades of High-A, where he hit 15 more homers in 55 games to cap off the season. Another promotion came in 2022, where, playing between Double-A and Triple-A, he totaled 21 long balls and 50 stolen bases, making him the first minor league player to post a 20-50 season since Andruw Jones in the mid-90s.

His minor league stats tell the story of a man who was fishing with dynamite. But he dismisses that idea, swearing that his success did not come quite so easily. “It takes a lot of work, and what's cool about the Yankees is that there's no complacency. I think you see it with guys, the higher you get, the smarter they work, the harder they work.” They work hardest of all, of course, in the big leagues.

And though Volpe was up and down during his rookie year, he wasn’t the only Bronx Bomber who struggled. It was a strange year for the Yanks, who suffered the following: a debilitating injury to superstar Aaron Judge that essentially tanked their season; one of their starting pitchers flipping a couch and demolishing a TV during a drunken locker room rampage; a two-month span in July and August during which they lost 33 of 53 games; a highly-touted free agent acquisition blowing kisses to fans who were heckling him; Judge himself plainly stating that “there’s some bigger picture ideas and philosophies that I think maybe need to change”; and non-stop rumors about their manager, Aaron Boone, potentially getting fired. (He was not, and returns this season.) “It was a crazy year,” Volpe nervously chuckles. “Everyone’s like, ‘Dude, you’re getting literally everything out of the way!’” While stories tailor-made for Page Six are always part of the experience of playing in New York, the amount of on-field turmoil the squad endured is, definitively, not the Yankee way. But everything about Volpe screams Yankees. Perhaps he’s just the guy to help them get out of this mess.

There were, to be sure, bright spots. Volpe allowed himself to really enjoy his first Opening Day, rather than downplaying it or trying to act like it was just another game. He recounts the story of driving to his first MLB game, cruising up the Westside Highway toward the Bronx and passing the fields he grew up playing on. “It was crazy,” he says. “Goosebumps. The whole ride it was like, Is this actually happening?” Similarly, his first home run was also truly cinematic: In his first home game as the Yankees’ leadoff hitter, Volpe opened his account with a moonshot that sent the Bronx faithful into a tizzy. There was also a two-out, ninth-inning home run that tied a game in Detroit, an impressive defensive highlight reel that led to the Gold Glove, and an entire baseball season spent in the vicinity of Judge, who he absolutely reveres. “I’ve never met a person in my entire life that is, like, him in every sense of the word,” Volpe marvels.


The new Yankees captain has the eye of the tiger.

Hoping for a more normal state of affairs this summer—at least, as normal as things can be for a Major League Baseball player who is younger than Ice Spice—Volpe says he spent the offseason sharpening the arrows in his mental quiver. “My focus is to help myself be more consistent,” he says. “It’s frustrating when you swing and you feel like you're on time, and then you look down at your bat and there's a foul tip right on the barrel of the bat. You know you’re on time, you recognized the pitch, but then there’s something that’s a little bit off. I want to feel like my swing is putting me in the best position to have a margin for error.” He takes a brief pause here to construct his next sentence. “It’s just…no one’s going to be perfect.”

That last sentence comes off almost as a plea to Yankee fans, who celebrate success but can be particularly brutal in failure. The fact that he was one of those fans makes him uniquely equipped to handle the vitriol from people who, at the end of the day, want what’s best for him. They just happen to express it with their own New York flavor. Even when Volpe was struggling, he says the fans didn’t bother him too much. Part of the reason for that? A blissful ignorance of the social media trolls. “I don’t go on [social media],” he says. “I just never have.”

He didn’t even know about the concept of athletes searching their own names on social media, looking for a fight, until he got to the majors. So if you’re furiously screaming online about how Volpe needs to put the ball in play more often, or improve his footwork on defense, well, save your energy. He simply will not see it.

He’s learning from up-and-comers in similarly public professions that the best way to handle pressure is to focus on what you can control and largely ignore the rest. And while he’s not exactly Spider-Man, he’s maybe a little closer to that than he thinks.

“My friend showed me this Tom Holland interview,” Volpe says, beaming. “He said, ‘If you have a problem with me, text me. And if you don't have my number, then you don't know me well enough to have a problem.’ That’s so true!”

Originally Appeared on GQ