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Gardner on Ellsbury signing: “I was surprised at first”

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photo [2]Brett Gardner is coming off a pretty nice year, so it’s easy to understand his sense of surprise when the Yankees went out and signed a more expensive — and more established — version of himself to play center field this season.

“I was surprised at first,” Gardner said tonight at the Munson Awards Dinner. “I didn’t really see that coming. But, listen, he’s a great player. You put him on our team or any other team across baseball, and he makes them better. I look forward to playing beside him and really learning from him. I’ve got a feeling he knows a thing or two about some pitchers, especially in our division, and I’m looking forward to playing alongside him and pushing each other and getting the best out of each other.”

Gardner said that Joe Girardi reached out to him, making it clear that, despite rumors of trade possibility, the Yankees envisioned him playing a big role going forward.

“He called to check in and see how I was feeling mentally, how I was feeling, where I was at,” Gardner said. “To explain that it didn’t necessarily mean that they didn’t want me around, or didn’t see a spot for me. That was really it. I didn’t feel like I needed to reach out to anybody, and I didn’t expect anyone to reach out to me, necessarily. I’ve always been a big believer in controlling the things I can control, and this is something I didn’t have control over.”

Gardner said he did his best to ignore the talk of a possible trade. He had a healthy and normal offseason — last year’s oblique injury was mostly gone by the end of the season — and he prepared as if he would still be with the Yankees, still playing regularly.

“You hear about (trade rumors),” Gardner said. “It’s hard to ignore it. I don’t go digging for information on a daily basis, but when you talk to people, I try to tell my wife and parents and people like that not to bother me with it, but other people say, ‘I heard this’ or ‘I heard that.’ You can’t help but try to run from it, but it always follows you. You try not to let it bother you. It’s definitely something that’s beyond my control, especially in the offseason. Just prepare for this season mentally and physically and get ready to go. … I like the moves that we made, and I look forward to getting to know these guys and playing with them.”

Brett Gardner [3]A few other topics of discussion with Gardner tonight…

On the Alex Rodriguez decision
“I don’t want to say shocked. I didn’t really know what to expect. It could have gone 211 or zero or anywhere in between, and we ended up somewhere in between. I guess the only thing I really say, I wish it had been handled differently by everybody involved. I think it was kind of bad for everybody: the player, the team, baseball in general, fans, everybody. Hopefully we can put that past us and look forward to a good season.”

On the possibility of A-Rod in spring training
“Well, my locker is always right beside his. My locker is usually between him and Robbie Cano, so maybe I’ll have a whole row to myself. We’ll see. I don’t know what to expect with that. I haven’t even thought about that. I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. … I’m guessing it will be exactly like what it was when his locker was right beside mine in Chicago last summer. It’s not like I’m coming over from a different team. I’ve been here. I’ve seen just about all you can see. I doubt it will be much different than anything we’ve already seen.”

On the expectations for Derek Jeter
“I expect him to be back to himself. Last year, everything he went through was really, really tough for him. I think (I) played in the same number of games two years ago as he played in last year, 15-20 games, something like that. That’s no fun. Trying to get back on the field, falling back down, and getting back up, and it’s tough. Hopefully he’s back to 100 percent, can be our starting shortstop, and can hit .320, .330 like he always does.”

On receiving the Munson Award
“It means a lot. I didn’t grow up a Yankees fan when I was little, but I grew up as a Yankee. I got drafted by the Yankees, so I’ve never been anywhere else. Early on, you know who Derek Jeter is, and you know A-Rod and those guys are, but you learn real quick who Thurman Munson is and how much respect everybody within the organization had for him, not only the way he played the game but the way he treated people and the things that he did away from the field. It’s a very good honor, and I’m very humbled by it.”

Cell phone photo, and Associated Press photo