For Michael O’Neill, playing for the Staten Island Yankees is not about following in his uncle’s footsteps, rather creating a path all his own.
But when the uncle is one of the most favorite Yankees of the Joe Torre era, that’s easier said than done.
“Obviously you want to represent our family like he did,” Michael O’ Neill said about his uncle Paul. “As far as living up to what he did, I’m my own person, so I’m either going to make it on my own or I’m not going to make it.”
The University of Michigan graduate, who was drafted in the third round by the Yankees, was perceived as an above-average hitter by scouts who controlled the bat well. Now two games into the Single-A short season, Michael is hitting 3-for-8 with a .375 average.
“Michael’s got a lot of talent,” Yankees manager Justin Pope said. “He’s going to do some things offensively. He’s going to help out defensively and he can run, so he’s going to do some damage on bases.”
Uncle Paul, known for being a fierce competitor (ask any batting helmet) and a clutch player, finished his career with a .288 batting average and 281 homers.
“I think if you asked a New York fan how to define the way he played, they would say he was tough, hard-nosed, gave it everything he had and if someone can say that about me, then you know that you’re doing something right,” Michael said.
“You don’t want to be the guy dogging it, not running hard, not diving for a ball,” he said.
Although Michael has been working with Paul to become a better hitter, he acknowledged he was still a work in progress.
“He told me to just be myself and it helped,” Michael said. “You can’t put too much pressure on yourself to live up to what he did. Our games are completely different.
“He’s 6-foot-5. I’m 6-1. I could run a little bit faster than he did. He hit for more power. It’s like comparing an apple to an orange.”