Isiah Kiner-Falefa admits to having stage fright in his first games with the Yankees while occupying the position of his childhood idol, Derek Jeter.
But he assures New York that the successes are coming.
The imported shortstop had just one hit in 14 at-bats in his first four games in the Bronx, but Kiner-Falefa said he learned how things stabilized on a long season after a quick start with Rangers in 2021.
“I started off amazing until almost the all-star break, the best I’ve ever played in the big leagues,” Kiner-Falefa said ahead of Wednesday’s game against the Blue Jays. “From then on, I kind of sank.
“So going through this now, I’ll say I won’t panic until at least 100 at-bats. I went through a two month crisis last year. And I was able to overcome it and end the last month of the year very strong.
The 27-year-old Hawaiian was batting .291 with six homers and a .745 OPS in 70 games through June 19 last season, but hit a 35-for-171 skid (.205 with a .505 OPS) until mid-August.
After bouncing back with a bang – hitting .303 and with a .709 OPS – in the last 43 games of last season, Kiner-Falefa is confident his first hot pinstripe streak is only a matter of time.
“Having only 14 or 15 at bats right now, that’s definitely not how I wanted to start here,” Kiner-Falefa said. “But just knowing that I went through a lot worse last year for a two month period – after feeling like one of the best shortstops in the league – and then being able to finish and get [my numbers] up there last month, it really gives me confidence.
“It’s adversity that comes with New York and I know I have to play better. It happens, I don’t know when, but I hope soon. I’m going to keep working and stick to what I’m doing and hopefully those multi-hit games start piling up.
Kiner-Falefa, who played in 43 multi-hit games in 2021, lives up to his reputation as a capable defender at shortstop. He erred in his first four games where Jeter played in the Bronx for 20 seasons before retiring in 2014.
“It definitely hit me the first game. I didn’t think it was going to hit me like that, but I felt like a 12-year-old there,” said Kiner-Falefa, who won a Golden Glove at third base for Texas in the pandemic shortened 2020 season. “It took me a few innings to calm my nerves, but the Friday and Saturday games were pretty surreal for me.
“I went out and visited [Monument Park] and it put me into perspective of where I am and how lucky I am to be here. It’s definitely a more positive perspective to try to do too much or try to prove myself to the fans or the organization. I know they really believe in me because otherwise I wouldn’t be here.
New York Post