Chuck Knoblauch walked into Yankee Stadium on Tuesday and made a left for the first time in five years. On his way to the visitors' clubhouse, Royals catcher A.J. Hinch asked him if it felt strange to walk away from the clubhouse he called home for the last four years.
Knoblauch, who played in pinstripes from 1998-2001, said it wasn't that strange, given that he played in the Bronx as a visitor as a member of the Twins from 1991-97. He did notice one big difference from the last time he came here with the Twins.
"The clubhouse on the visiting side is definitely nicer than it was five years ago, that's for sure," Knoblauch said.
In his four years in New York, Knoblauch played in four World Series, winning three titles. He signed with the Royals in the winter, moving from the biggest of big-market teams to one of the smallest, but he said he's just happy to be playing at all.
"Playing every day, it's tough to get caught up in missing somewhere," Knoblauch said. "You have to focus so much on where you are, playing for Kansas City, things like that. When I come back here, I miss the city, and I'm sure I'll miss it when the game starts."
His time with the Yankees was most notable for two incidents: a fielding mishap in the 1998 ALCS, when he argued with an umpire while allowing the winning run to score in a game against Cleveland; and his throwing yips in 2000 and 2001 that forced him to move from second base to the outfield.
"He had one thing happen to him in 1998, when he let the ball lay out there, and he never lost that tag. It's unfortunate, because he did so many good things. We were in the World Series every year he was here, and that's not bad to put on your resume," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "He was under the microscope all the time. I think he was very uncomfortable with it. He played hard for me every day, I know he got frustrated a great deal, and I think it was very tough or him to play here."
Knoblauch has had a tough time in 2002, missing about seven weeks with a left forearm strain. He has played in 54 games, batting .196 with three home runs, 16 RBIs and 17 stolen bases.
Coming from the Yankees, it was an adjustment for Knoblauch to play for a small market team. He had some experience with it in Minnesota, but he also had the experience of winning a world title with the Twins. In Kansas City, that hope was nothing more than a pipedream when the season began.
"If you're going to have a $40 or $50 million payroll, you just go get 'em," Knoblauch said. "It's been tough. It's a battle, a struggle every day. It's tough to be on a small-market team, but it is baseball, and you have to go out there, do the best you can and hope you win. You play to win, it just doesn't always work out that way."
Last season, Knoblauch had a negative experience when he returned to play the Twins, as fans in Minnesota pelted him with garbage and batteries while he played left field. He didn't anticipate any such problems during his return to New York, calling the Yankees' crowd a "knowledgeable" one.
"They're a little off in Minnesota. I give the New York people more credit than them," Knoblauch said. "I'm looking forward to it. It's been tough playing the Twins. I found out in Spring Training when we played the Yankees that it's a little different, because I've already played against the Yankees. I'm really looking forward to this. It's good to be back."
Knoblauch still has an apartment in Manhattan, and he spends a good portion of the offseason in New York. His fiancie is from Staten Island, and has lived in Manhattan for the last decade. He said people around the city have always treated him well, and he looks forward to his return trips in the winter.
"They've been great, they always have been from the day I became a Yankee," Knoblauch said. "I've had a very positive experience with people in New York."
Going from perennial contender to perennial rebuilder can be tough, but Knoblauch said that despite his team's poor record, the attitude in the clubhouse is remarkably upbeat. Although the Royals don't have much to play for over the season's final two months, Knoblauch said he's excited to get to the field every day.
"I look forward to today and the rest of the season. I have six good weeks to go, and I can make a difference now that I'm fairly healthy," Knoblauch said. "Tony Peña has made a big difference here. We're 20-something games under .500, and it's still a good environment. It's not a depressed team even though we're losing."
He admits that it will be strange for him to watch the postseason on television rather than playing in it, but he said that he wishes his former teammates well.
"I enjoyed my time here. The Yankees are about winning, so it would be more surprising if they weren't sitting where they're sitting now," Knoblauch said. "Having played with the majority of those guys, I still root for them and watch them, follow them, watch the games when they're on. As of right now, I don't have any jealousy or anything like that, but it will definitely be different having the whole month of October off this year."