Omi

Why do you choose to live in Chicago during the offseason?

Chicago is home, no matter what. I was born and raised here so I’ll always be here in some form or fashion. Both of my parents are still here, a lot of my childhood friends are still here and I’ve gone to college here. They allow me to come back to UIC and work out there so everything just kind of ties itself into it. Whenever the season ends and however long it takes me to pack, that’s how long it will take me before I get home. I’ve learned over the course of the years as the season starts to trickle down to start packing so it only takes me a few more days before everything is all done.

Did you grow up dreaming of becoming a professional baseball player?

I actually did not. I wanted to play college basketball, that was my ultimate goal and dream. I was really close at UIC and the reason why I signed to go there was because they gave me the opportunity to play basketball but I ended up breaking my thumb in baseball practice and that shattered the dream. Now here I am playing baseball.

Before joining the Yankees in 2010 you played six seasons for the Detroit Tigers. Is there anything you miss about Detroit?

I think there’s a mix of things. First of all, it’s close to home. Second, we played Chicago three times a year so I got to go home and my friends got to come to Detroit a lot. I would say outside of that it was amazing the passion and the knowledge that people had throughout the entire state. Everybody in that state of Michigan is a Michigan or Michigan State, Pistons, Red Wings, Tigers and Lions fan and there is no questioning it. People are surprised when I say that to them because they feel like their city or their team is that dominate and I go, “Same is true in the state of Michigan.” Everywhere we would travel and play, anyone from the state of Michigan who may have relocated to these different cities and were there to watch us play had their Old English D’s on. They are letting you know that even though they live in this city or state now, “I’m from Michigan.” I see it in a lot of Michigan people here in Chicago.

Can’t believe this is your first root beer float. How is it possible that you have never tried one?

You know what I think it is? I think it’s the foam on top that has always scared me. I like ice cream and I like root beer so I don’t know why I’ve never put them together. It is good.

Yankee Stadium can hold up to 50,000 fans. With so many eyes on you, have you ever had any embarrassing moments on the field?

I drop my gum out of my mouth a lot. I get so mad because it’s one of those things I got comfortable with but then I can’t just go off the field and get a new piece of gum.

Will you pick up the gum so no one steps on it?

No but if I can catch it then I will, even though my hand at that point in time isn’t the cleanest. As long as it doesn’t touch the ground I’ll put it back in.

Do you have a most memorable fan experience?

I would probably say the biggest one happened when I was in Detroit and had an autograph signing. I looked up and there was this girl, she was probably 10 or 11 years old and she looks up at me and starts crying. I go, “What’s wrong?” and she said, “My parents surprised me and didn’t tell me where I was going and now I’m seeing you! You’re my favorite player!” I didn’t expect that so it threw me off. I came around and gave her a hug and she gave me an invitation to her recital that night. Unfortunately my signing went too long so I didn’t get a chance to make it but that was probably one of the most memorable fan experiences that I’ve had, the fact that I could affect somebody in that way.

You’re an eligible bachelor. What is the biggest difference between dating New York girls and Chicago girls?

In New York the girls wear a lot of flats all the time.

Do you prefer heels?

Not necessarily.

When you’re taking someone out on a date, what are the two of you going to do?

Let’s see, it seems like Friday night is date night here so it would probably be on a Friday. I would drive to pick my date up or meet my date there, whatever is most convenient, and have a reservation but enough time to sit at the bar beforehand to loosen up a bit. It would be at a restaurant that has great food and music that you can hear but not loud enough where you have to shout. I wouldn’t want to do dessert there, we’d go somewhere else for dessert and then cap it off with the option — since it is a Friday and you don’t have to go to work on Saturday — of extending the night and going somewhere else.

Sounds like you know what you’re doing. Can you cook?

Yes I can! I just don’t cook a lot so a lot of people doubt me. I get spoiled because everything delivers now for the most part and is open late. Breakfast is obviously the easiest to cook and I’ll do that often. I’ve done salmon, steaks and pasta.

If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?

I would say Jackie Robinson and it’s not a baseball thing per se. The reason being is everyone associates the civil rights movement with Martin Luther King Jr. but Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier before the civil rights moment. I’ve had slumps, I’ve been booed, I’ve been cussed at but to have racial slurs, to have environments like that and for him to play, be Rookie of the Year, win championships and end up in the Hall of Fame and doing amazing things is incredible. I’d love to just to talk to him about that and I think a drink would be long enough to get a lot of information and I’d leave with a lot knowledge.

Photography by Neal Agustin

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Omi