Vernon Wells said he's admired the Yankees since facing them as a minor leaguer in 1999. / Jake Roth, USA TODAY Sports
TAMPA â?? The Vernon Wells secret can be revealed.
Not that he's a Yankee â?? he is, and in the lineup tonight for a spring game against Houston â?? but rather that he's been a closet Yankee since he was an impressionable minor leaguer.
"I remember the first time I played the Triple-A Yankees when I was 20 years old," Wells says of playing in the Blue Jays system in 1999. "(Darryl) Strawberry was on the team. It was the first time I actually got goose bumps from another team. From that day, I've quietly been a Yankees fan."
Now, Wells is more than a fan. He's the left fielder for the time being, acquired from the Los Angeles Angels in a deal approved Tuesday afternoon by the commissioner's office.
The Yankees will send minor league pitcher Kramer Sneed and outfielder Exicardo Cayones to the Angels, who will also pay about $29 million of the $42 million owed Wells this season and next.
"I'm here and I'm honored to be," says Wells, entering the final two seasons of a seven-year, $126 million deal he signed with Toronto in 2006. "The numbers side of it is way above my head. They got that all squared away. It just came as a shock."
That Wells has been traded once, let alone twice, in the midst of one the game's most onerous contracts as his performance steadily declined still remains the biggest shock.
But the Yankees need offensive help â?? badly, with Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez all injured.
And Wells, 34, is batting .361 this spring with a re-worked swing that he â?? and now the Yankees â?? are counting on.
"There's great expectations," Wells says. "There's great responsibility. But to have that and be in this uniform, I couldn't ask for anything more."
Wells had to approve the trade but that was easy.
"They told me the team and I tried not to smile too big," he says. "Anytime the Yankees were in the playoffs and I was at home, I was cheering for the Yankees. It's somewhat a dream come true."
So much so that Wells' father, sports artist Vernon Wells Jr., was with him when he learned of the trade and responded, "I guess I can die soon."
"That's not exactly what you want to hear your father saying," Wells says.
But the significance of wearing the pinstripes is at the root of father's and son's emotions.
"This is baseball, this is the center of it all," Wells says. "There's no other place like it. This is a fun way for things to go toward the end of my career."
How close he is to the end of his career and whether the Yankees will want to keep him around â?? or even can afford it â?? will depend on a reversal of his .222 performance his two seasons with the Angels.
"This is probably the best time for me to be in this situation in the past five or six years," Wells says. "My goal has been to get back to basics, just put the barrel on the ball, shortening my swing and using the other field. I forgot what right field was like for a couple of years. I got into hitting home runs and seeing how far you can hit them and your swing changes."
If the changes work, Wells might be able to make good on a message he left with the Angels.
"I'm going to try to Napoli them when I play them," he said.
Napoli, the former Angels catcher who went to Toronto when Wells was acquired, moved onto Texas and has hit .396 with 12 homers and 25 RBI in 32 games against the Angels.
The Yankees would settle for something resembling the Wells who led the AL in hits and total bases -- a decade ago.
How Wells feels is at least a start â?? "It's like I'm a kid again," he says.
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Read the original story: Vernon Wells joins Yankees, calls it 'dream come true'