The Yankees didn't officially announce Brett Gardner's new contract until this past Tuesday, but a return to pinstripes always seemed to be the most likely outcome for 37-year-old outfielder.
Gardner spoke to reporters on Thursday morning for the first time since signing his new deal, a one-year contract with player and club options for 2022.
And while he was told from the start of the offseason that it may take some time for things to work themselves out with the Yankees, he's excited to now officially be back in the fold.
"I wouldn't say a lot of exploring," Gardner replied when asked about his free agency experience. "Obviously, it took a long time for things to get worked out and for me to officially return here and be a Yankee again, but I was hopeful the whole time and I was never shy about my desire to finish my career here, and obviously very, very excited that it all worked out.
"I was asked kind of from the get-go to be patient. Obviously, I was pretty patient and just excited to be back, excited to be part of this group of guys, and excited to get down here to Tampa and get spring training underway."
Selected by the Yankees in the third round of the 2005 draft, Gardner has spent his entire career in pinstripes, making his major league debut in 2008. Since then, he's established himself as a key part of the Yankees' outfield, playing in 1,548 regular season games while earning an All-Star nod in 2015 and a Gold Glove the following season.
Now entering his 14th big league season, Gardner looks to continue being a leader for the rest of the clubhouse.
"It's been along ride, for sure, but to be honest, it's really flown by. It's hard to believe that 13 years have gone by that quickly," Gardner said. "I was just talking to one of our trainers, Mike Wickland. He was in the dugout just now and he was my trainer here when I played in the Florida State League in 2006, 15 years ago. So, I just told him it's hard to believe that we're both still here. Crazy how time flies.
"So, not necessarily the label as the longest tenured Yankee, but just as one of the leaders in that room, I take that very seriously. We've obviously got a great group of guys in that clubhouse, some guys that I really expect to take their games to new levels this year, and it's going to be really fun to watch."
One of those players that he expects to see a leap forward from is Clint Frazier, who Aaron Boone has said will likely be the team's starting left fielder come Opening Day.
Gardner mentioned how he once had to fight for playing time as a younger player against the likes of veterans such as Melky Cabrera, Johnny Damon, Nick Swisher, and Bobby Abreu. Now that he's in their shoes, he's ready to do whatever it takes to help younger players like Frazier thrive, while staying ready for whenever his own chances come.
"The tables have turned and now, obviously, and I'm that veteran player and guys are fighting to get those at-bats," Gardner said. "For me, I obviously knew kind of what the outfield picture looked like in coming back here and kind of knew what to expect coming in. Really just trying to embrace that role and come in with an open mind, and whatever the teams needs me to do to help out on a daily basis, I'll be ready."