With 27 World Series championships and 40 American League pennants, there isn't a more prestigious baseball franchise than the New York Yankees.
October baseball is almost an annual tradition in the Bronx, and Canadian coach Rob Thomson has had a front-row seat for the past 28 years.
"A young kid coming from Corunna, Ont., — about 2,000 people when I was growing up — getting the opportunity to spend [almost] 30 years with such a great franchise is very humbling and I've met a lot of great people and players along the way," Thomson said.
Thomson has spent the last 10 years on the Yankees' coaching staff, first as the third base coach and since 2013, the team's bench coach. Last Saturday, the club clinched its 52nd post-season appearance with a 5-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.
The 54-year-old has coached Yankee legends such as Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, and worked alongside respected former Jays bench and third base coach, Brian Butterfield.
But Thomson admits it was never easy walking into a clubhouse full of respected veterans.
"I've always taken the approach that you don't gain respect, you earn it by giving it," Thomson said. "You start off by keeping your mouth shut, listening, and asking questions.
"Eventually you get a rapport, a relationship with players, and eventually the respect is going to come back to you."
Yankees bullpen catcher Jason Brown can attest to that, having known Thomson from his playing days in the Yankees' minor-league system.
Brown said Thomson treats everybody the same — veteran or rookie — and is very honest and direct in his approach.
"If you're talking to him, you know you're going to get what's on his mind and I think guys appreciate that," Brown said. "I always have as a player and now in the position that I'm in.
"I know that if I ask him something I'm going to get an honest answer. That's something that I think everybody respects. They know that [and] they respect that about him."
With Thomson's wealth of experience, players don't hesitate to seek advice.
Infielder Tyler Wade sees Thomson as a father figure and says he'd be the guy he would look to for any off-field help.
"He showed me the ropes. Anything I needed, he's been there for me to lean on," Wade said.
"Anything I needed to ask — whether I thought it was a good question or bad question — he helped me."
Starters like Didi Gregorius know how fortunate they are to have a coach like Thomson.
"He has a lot of knowledge about the game so you always gotta ask him questions," Gregorious said. "He'll help you prepare and get ready for the game. He's there to help, that's what he's there for."
One key Thomson has learned working with manager Joe Girardi is preparation, and he applies that when putting together the team's spring training plan each year.
"He's in charge of the timing of different groups. He pretty much does the whole schedule. He makes sure everyone is prepared so we could do our jobs," reliever Dellin Betances said.
Thomson spends lots of time gathering input and answering questions to ensure the ideal blueprint is mapped out.
"I may put the plan together on paper [but] the ideas come from the other coaches," Thomson said. "Everybody's got their piece of the puzzle and I ask questions to get information on things that they want to do and then put a timeline on it."
Judge, 'Baby Bombers' rejuvenate Thomson
The injection of talented youth into the Yankees' roster has been rejuvenating for Thomson.
"Last August and September, we were fighting to go to the playoffs [but] we didn't get there. It was a lot of fun because of the youth and the energy those guys bring everyday," Thomson said.
"This year especially has been fun watching these guys day in and day out preparing, competing, [and] the leadership we have in the clubhouse with not only the veteran guys but some of the young guys that are coming in."
Aaron Judge leads the "Baby Bombers" youth movement with 50 home runs, after besting Mark McGwire to set a new MLB-rookie record for home runs.
Thomson has coached some special players during his time in New York and he believes the 25-year-old is one of them.
"Everyone talks about his home runs, power, and hitting ability, and God it's really, really good," Thomson said. "But his athleticism for a man his size astounds me — the way he plays defence every day, the way he can throw, the way he runs the bases — he impacts the game in a lot of different ways and those are the things that make him special in my mind."
Thomson notes Judge's defensive positioning, ability to read swings, route running and base-running instincts are often overlooked for not being the flashy things that show up in the boxscore.
Similarities with Votto
Teammate Todd Frazier also noticed other attributes about the Yankees' slugger.
The two-time all-star infielder played five seasons with 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto and sees some similarities.
"Joey Votto was one of the best I've played with. He's a guy that does his homework. Everyone has their own attributes that they bring. Judge is bringing that power," Frazier said.
"He's starting to understand that they're not going to throw him many strikes. Votto understood that. He looked for one pitch every time he's up there and if he didn't get it, he's going to walk. He had over 125, 140 walks every year [and so] your on-base percentage is going to be around .400, .500. Judge understands that."
Frazier added that it's a testament to Judge's ability to make adjustments in order to further elevate his game.
"[He's] a guy that wants to be great, not good — he wants to be great. He's trying to figure out who he is and I think he's starting to do that even after just a full season this year," Frazier said.
Aaron Judge has 142 walks in his MilB career so patience is a big part of his game. Solid AB here to draw walk. pic.twitter.com/kPq2J6kkDm— @YankeeSource