The Yankees formally introduced Gerrit Cole, their newly acquired 29-year-old All-Star pitcher, to the New York media Wednesday. But also in attendance in a way was 11-year-old Gerrit Cole, the passionate Bronx Bombers fan.
As he reached the podium at Yankee Stadium, Cole leaned down and then pulled out the sign he was photographed with at the 2001 World Series that read "YANKEE FAN TODAY TOMORROW FOREVER."
"I would just like to say I'm here," he said. "I've always been here."
The sign showed its age. The lettering had faded from blue to tan, and the pinstripes were no longer visible. But in undoubtedly scored points with Yankees fans.
Cole is a California guy, but he explained his father attended middle school and some of high school in New York, fell in love with the Yankees and then passed that down to his son.
"I'd like to thank God for blessing me with this amazing opportunity to fulfill my dream," Cole said. "I can remember as a little boy dreaming about being a Major League Baseball player, specifically a Yankee. And like (general manager) Brian (Cashman) said, it's the right time and the right place to take that step."
The Yankees officially announced Wednesday they signed Cole to a nine-year contract, reportedly worth $324 million -- a record for pitchers. The deal includes a full no-trade clause and allows him to opt out after five years.
His signing concludes the Yankees' decadelong pursuit of the right-hander. New York drafted Cole 28th overall in 2008, only to see him play for UCLA instead. The Yanks also tried unsuccessfully to trade for Cole after the 2017 season. He instead was dealt by the Pittsburgh Pirates to Houston, where he went 35-10 with a 2.68 ERA over two seasons.
Cole, who donned a No. 45 pinstripe jersey Wednesday, admitted it was an "extremely tough" decision to pass on the Yankees in 2008, but that he wasn't going to pass on a second opportunity to chase his dream. He also called the Yankees "the best organization ... in the league."
Last season, Cole, 29, went 20-5 with an American League-best 2.50 ERA and MLB-leading 326 strikeouts, finishing second in the AL Cy Young voting. He was 16-0 with a 1.78 ERA over his final 22 regular season starts and then went 4-1 with a 1.72 ERA in the playoffs, in which Houston lost in the World Series in seven games to the Nationals.
"I came eight outs away from getting a ring," he said. "I felt like I could see the light underneath the door, and then it was slammed shut in our face, where it was probably never really opened actually. But I'm as hungry as ever to finish that journey, finish that challenge, and in my opinion, there would be no better place to do it than New York."
Yankees manager Aaron Boone said he was extremely impressed by Cole during the team's 4 1/2-hour meeting with him in California earlier this month.
"We understand what a great talent that Gerrit Cole is. We understand what a great pitcher he is, and clearly in the prime of his career," Boone said. "But I was blown away by the person.
"He is going to fit in and add to that room, I have no doubts. His passion for what he does, his ability to articulate that passion, his understanding of who he is as a pitcher and what makes him a great pitcher is something that I was blown away by frankly."
Meanwhile, Cole is the latest Yankee to have to shave to meet the team's famous appearance policy.
"I have experienced razor burn now for the first in 10 years," he joked.
To make room for Cole on the 40-man roster, the Yankees designated pitcher Chance Adams for assignment.