TRENTON, NJ – Greg Bird was going about his business in Tampa a week ago, glad he was feeling good at the plate and his at-times balky back was not bothering him.
Suddenly came a call to manager Al Pedrique’s office.
It turned out Pete O’Brien, his good friend and two-year roommate in the Yankees system, was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks. As a result, the lefty swinging Bird, hitting .277 (76-for-274) with seven homers and 32 RBIs in 75 games with the T-Yanks, was taking over O’Brien’s spot in New Jersey.
“We talked right after the trade,” said the 21-year-old Bird, who was drafted in the fifth round in 2011 out of Grandview High in Aurora, Colo. “”Pete was kind of sad in the beginning, leaving all his friends, then excited by his new opportunity with Arizona.
“It’s ironic. I got to take his place here. It’s all good.”
Actually it is all good for both. While Bird went 4-for-4 with two home runs in Tuesday’s 7-5 Trenton Thunder Eastern League win over the Altoona Curve, O’Brien had already powered the Mobile Bay Bears, his new team, to a 6-3 Southern League win over the Mississippi Braves Monday night.
Bird then had his Double-A breakout game Tuesday afternoon, hitting towering flies over the both the right- and left-field fences, a double to the left-center field wall and single to left.
“I’m really feeling good at the plate right now, swinging well,” said Bird, whose could be Mark Teixeira’s successor in a few years of all goes well. “What’s great is I know most of the guys who are in our clubhouse and they are all my friends. I am relaxed, not pressing at all.
“Every promotion is an honor. It shows all the hard work you are putting in is paying off.”
Both Bird and O’Brien are power hitters. Bird is more athletic, plays solid defense at first base and has a plate approach far advanced for a Double-A hitter.
“Greg does things at the plate major-leaguers do, as far as recognizing pitch sequences and taking a patient approach,” said Trenton manager Tony Franklin. “He is going to be successful. I saw him some in spring training, but this is the first time I’ve seen him hit on a daily basis.
“He has an excellent plan when he steps into the batter’s box.”
Last season, playing at Class-A Charleston, Bird led Minor League Baseball with 107 walks while hitting .288 (132-for-458 with 20 home runs and 84 RBIs. He earned South Atlantic League and Topps All-Star honora and was an M;b.com Organization All-Star.
He has developed a simple theory about hitting.
“I try to swing only at good pitches and pitches I can hit,” Bird said. “Like any hitter, I will certainly swing at some bad pitches, but I try to not to. I have learned to recognize pitching sequences, and that has helped me.”
Last year at Charleston, Bird hit home runs in a pitcher’s park. With a promotion to Trenton, he’s in another ballpark that leans toward the pitchers. That has not been an obstacle.
Nor have pitchers throwing him off-speed stuff. He hit a curve for one of his Tuesday home runs and a slider for the other.
“If you put in the work, you’ll be successful,” Bird said. “I still have a lot of work to do to get better. I’ve really put a lot into my defense as well as my offense this year.
“As you get to higher levels in the system, everybody gets better. You have to keep working at it.”
And he knows where he wants to end up.
“Coming back from Portland (Maine) on the bus Sunday night, we went right past the city (New York),” he said. “That’s the goal.”
Chances are he’ll attain that goal by 2016.