Josh Donaldson on being a Yankee, tough childhood, playing with an edge

New Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson, who was acquired from the Twins last month in the Gary Sanchez trade, takes a swing at some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby. 

Q: What message would you give Yankees fans about what they should expect from you as a player? 

A: They can expect somebody that’s gonna grind out at-bats … to not give an at-bat away … to make plays defensively. I’m not the most fleet afoot anymore, so I’m not probably gonna do a lot of things that are too exciting on the base paths. But for myself, I like the big moments of games. And to be able to come up in big situations in games and hopefully provide the outcomes that are gonna help our team win. I don’t shy away from that moment, that’s something that I enjoy. … I’m gonna come and I’m gonna play hard every day, I’m gonna compete and leave it on the line and hopefully have some success along the way, which I believe that I can. I feel like my reputation across the league is that I play to win. That’s what I try to focus on, is how can I help the team win? 

Q: Why are you not afraid to fail? 

A: Probably just because I failed so much (laugh) in life and in baseball itself. To me, if you’re not failing at some point then you’re not really pushing yourself hard enough. Obviously when the game-time situation comes, you don’t want to fail, but the more opportunities you get, there’s gonna be good and there’s gonna be bad. And once you have the realization of that, and once you’re comfortable with what allows you to create your own success, then the result is the result. There’s only a few things that you can really control in this game, and I try to stay on those. 

Josh Donaldson
Josh Donaldson
Robert Sabo

Q: What is the biggest obstacle you are most proud of overcoming? 

A: There was a point in my career where I was kind of borderline, like 4A player, where I was getting sent up and down a lot, and to be able to kind of overcome that obstacle and solidify myself as an everyday guy, and then not to just do that but then becoming an All-Star, doing that as well from where a lot of people probably didn’t see me as that. But I saw myself as that type of player, I just had to figure out what it was gonna take for me to get there. 

Q: You thought about quitting the game at one time. 

A: That was when I was probably more in like Double-A. I was catching at the time. I was hitting well, but I really took it to heart if one of my pitchers did bad, and wasn’t really finding a lot of happiness or joy playing the game that I kind of had given my life to at that point. When you’re not finding much joy out of it, you kind of question what you’re doing. And obviously I’ve learned tools and figured out ways to kind of get past that. 

Q: Did you enjoy proving the doubters wrong? 

A: I think I enjoy more proving myself right. 

Q: There were plenty of doubters though, right? 

A: Yeah, I think we all have doubters, right? I think even when you look at LeBron James, the guy was a superstar by the time he was 16, 17 years old and he still has doubters to this day. To each their own. I think people are gonna have people that support them and people that doubt them. At the end of the day, I don’t concern myself with really other people’s opinions, I concern myself really about how I go about my work, and really at a point in my career where I didn’t really know how I was gonna become the player I was gonna be and figuring that out and identifying the things that I needed to do to become better and to be the guy that I saw myself as. … I think that’s more where I get pleasure out of than anybody that’s ever doubted me. 

Q: Have you used a sports psychologist? 

A: I have. … I think it’s been very helpful, not just for just sports in general but just in life, like being able to have tools and to access different ways to handle different moments in time, and create more awareness not only what I’m thinking but communicating better what I’m thinking. 

Q: How do you feel about playing on the New York stage? 

A: The fan base is passionate. I think what’s great about being a Yankee is that there’s expectations to win, and that the front office does a great job of helping and developing our team to do that to the best of our ability. 

Q: Have you hit well at the Stadium? 

A: I don’t think that I have. I don’t think that I’ve necessarily hit well there. I give credit to the pitchers how they’ve been able to perform against me there, so I’ve had to face some pretty good arms. 

Josh Donaldson is mobbed by his Yankee teammates after his game-winning hit against the Red Sox on Opening Day.
Josh Donaldson is mobbed by his Yankee teammates after his game-winning hit against the Red Sox on Opening Day.
Robert Sabo

Q: Describe your on-field mentality. 

A: You play to win the game. My big focus every game is make sure that I can help contribute at least in one way for that game. And whenever I do one thing I want to do two things and just try to keep it simple that way. 

Q: Where does your edge come from? 

A: I think that’s just part of who I am. I don’t necessarily know why, I don’t know if I have the answer. I enjoy competing, I love competing and at the end of the day I play hard, and sometimes that edge I guess it comes off as being intense in that moment. 

Q: When you would from time to time early on rub teammates or opponents the wrong way, was that difficult to adapt to for you? 

A: No, as long as I’m staying true to myself and not just reacting for no reason. If I have a reason for what’s going on or my actions, teammate-wise to answer that question first, I want him be the best teammate that I can, and sometimes it might be addressing moments that aren’t particularly our best moment, if it’s something that’s occurring more than once. We want to try to learn from those moments just to have a conversation about that. For the opponent, kind of when I first came into the big leagues, I didn’t really want to step on anybody’s toes and just kind of wanted to just be in the major leagues. And then finally, Jonny Gomes, one of the guys who helped me kind of break out of that shell, was telling me, he said, “Hey dude, don’t worry about what anybody thinks, and play as hard as you can.” 

Q: Tell me why your mother means the world to you. 

A: Growing up, single parent, we developed a pretty close bond early on, and she’s always been my biggest supporter and provided the avenues for me to go out there and become the man I am today … working two jobs, putting food on the table, making sure I had opportunities to go out there, and also just being there for me. 

Q: How difficult was it for you as a child knowing how difficult it was for her when she was a victim of domestic violence from your father? 

A: It’s a situation that was difficult for our family, and obviously for her. She never played the victim to where I should expect something for nothing. She always ingrained in me to work hard, everything that I get in life I’m gonna have to go out and outwork people, and not to make excuses for what’s going on. We still have an opportunity every day to make it whatever we choose for that day. 

Q: Were you filled with anger because of what she was subjected to? 

A: No, I was not. … I definitely think there were times as a kid to where I was probably more emotional than other kids, but I really wasn’t around my dad long enough to really get that. … It is close to home, and it’s not a good situation for anybody … and I don’t wish that on anybody. 

Q: You sound at peace with yourself. 

A: I think so. There’s a lot of things that have to transpire to get that, right? First off, I think it’s knowing yourself, and being confident in who you are but not arrogant to the fact that we’re not learning, I think we’re always learning different things and being able to have perspective of these moments of time to where you have clarity, I think that’s ultimately what peace is. 

Josh Donaldson
Josh Donaldson
Robert Sabo

Q: Whatever comes to mind: Aaron Judge. 

A: Great guy, first off. Obviously watching him from afar, he has all the tools that you want in a baseball player, and … he’s enormous (laugh). 

Q: Aaron Boone. 

A: Booney, he has perspective. He understands that the game is difficult. And he also understands the guys that are getting after it, and enjoy playing the game, and I think he has a good understanding of his ballclub, and how to get the best out of them. 

Q: What makes Gerrit Cole, Gerrit Cole? 

A: Gerrit has the ability to do a lot of things very well. I’m excited about being his teammate, having one of the best pitchers in baseball on our staff that’s gonna give us a chance to win every fifth day. 

Q: What was it like winning the MVP in 2015 while with the Blue Jays, when you hit 41 home runs? 

A: It’s the highest award that we can win as an individual player, but at the same time, we had a great team that year to where the opportunities for me to be successful were plentiful. So as much as it meant for me individually to win that award, we were able to win the division that year, make a run in the postseason. Not just myself, but a lot of guys on that team had success that year. 

Q: Have you ever talked about 50 home runs as a goal? 

A: Honestly I don’t even think of numbers as far as goals are concerned. Probably some of my buddies back home have said to me like, “Hey, do you want to hit 50 or whatever?” Yeah, that’s great, but to me, to put numbers and goals statistically, they’re limitations. I try to stay away from that. 

Q: If you could face one pitcher in MLB history, who would it be? 

A: Randy Johnson, that’s always kind of been my guy who I wanted to face. Obviously he was one of the great left-handed pitchers of the day, threw hard, had a nasty slider. Plus I liked how he competed in the game, so I feel like it’d be a fun battle. 

Q: If you could pick the brain of any MLB hitter? 

A: I think Ted Williams would be a guy, but fortunately for me one of my favorite guys to watch swing was Barry Bonds, and I’ve had the opportunity to talk to him. 

Josh Donaldson celebrates after his game-winning hit against the Red Sox.
Josh Donaldson celebrates after his game-winning hit against the Red Sox.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Q: What drives you? 

A: Obviously winning and playing for a World Series, that’s what drives me. That’s one thing that I haven’t yet to accomplish in my career. 

Q: What drove you as a young boy? 

A: I had an ability at young age to play sports, and to be able to change my family’s direction and to play at a major league level. 

Q: How good of a football player were you? 

A: Pretty good. Led the state [Faith Academy in Mobile, Ala.] in interceptions my senior year, I was third or fourth in the state receiving yards. Probably could have went and played somewhere. And I was second in the state in punting average. 

Q: You’re a scratch golfer. 

A: Yeah, I enjoy playing golf. I probably was around scratch this past offseason. 

Q: Three dinner guests? 

A: Kevin Costner, Mickey Mantle, Tiger Woods. 

Q: You were not a Yankees fan growing up, right? 

A: I wasn’t necessarily a Yankee fan, but I guess the allure of Mickey Mantle in his days and times has always kind of intrigued me. 

Josh Donaldson
Josh Donaldson
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Q: Favorite movie? 

A: My favorite baseball movie is “Bull Durham.” 

Q: Favorite actor? 

A: Kevin Costner. 

Q: Favorite singer/entertainer? 

A: Drake. 

Q: Favorite meal? 

A: It used to be my favorite meal was my mother’s pork chop casserole. 

Q: Favorite athlete now, other than Tiger Woods. 

A: Joe Burrow. 

Q: Is this a World Series team? 

A: It’s kind of hard for me to say since I’ve never been, but I believe that we have the opportunity to beat any team that’s in front of us. 

Q: When you put on the pinstripes for the first time, what were your emotions? 

A: There’s definitely a lot of history in our uniform, right?. A lot of great players have come through here, played for this organization, won a lot of World Series for this organization — and there’s a reason that the uniform hasn’t changed. 

Q: If you had to sum up your life in one word, what word would you use? The word I think of is “turbulent.” 

A: Turbulent … interesting. There’s definitely been some hot times, I guess you could say, early on, but … I think I would use the use the word more “relentless” than anything. … Just because things in life happen, and the desire to want to achieve and want to have success and be better and create a better life has stayed at the center focus. And not relenting to what life brings you, not just accepting the status quo.