Didi Gregorius arrived in New York with impossible shoes to fill. He was traded to the Yankees in December 2014 as the heir apparent at shortstop to Derek Jeter – the biggest star in the game in the biggest market. Jeter spent two decades in pinstripes winning five World Series, serving as Yankees Captain and securing a first-ballot Hall of Fame induction with countless memorable playoff moments.
Gregorius, 27, has a long way to match Jeter, but the Netherlands-born shortstop notched his own place in Yankees playoff history last week with a three-run home run in the first inning after the Yankees fell behind 3-0 in a winner-take-all Wild Card game against the Minnesota Twins. “The best moment of my career so far,” said Gregorius in a video on Jeter’s Players’ Tribune website.
He gets another chance in a winner-take-all playoff game Wednesday night when the Yankees face the Cleveland Indians Wednesday night in Game 5 of the American League Division Series.
It was a breakout season for Gregorius on and off the field. He set career highs for batting average (.287), home runs (25) and RBIs (87) despite missing the first three weeks of the season with a shoulder injury. His home run tally set a Yankees record by a shortstop previously held by Jeter. The strong showing by the Yankees and Gregorius, plus his infectious personality, made a Didi a hit with marketers this year.
Gregorius inked deals this season with Wix.com, Delta, Banana Republic, Stance and Planters, in addition to his endemic sponsors Nike, Mizuno and Louisville Slugger. The new pacts should push his estimated annual off-field income north of $500,000, on top of his $5.1 million salary from the Yankees.
Gregorius offers sponsors a unique package. He speaks four languages and has a growing social media presence where he celebrates Yankees wins on Twitter with emojis representing different Yankees stars. His Twitter following has more than tripled since last year to nearly 140,000 fans (he has a comparable following on Instagram). His Sir Didi nickname is the result of members of the Dutch national team bring knighted after winning the 2011 Baseball World Cup.
Michael Neligan, who handles marketing for Didi at Excel Sports Mangement, says Gregorius reminds him of another Excel client with how he interacts with fans. “Didi does the small things,” says Neligan. “Derek could walk into a room and make you feel like you are best friends. Fans really do pick up on that very quickly.”
Gregorius has been a man of the people this summer in New York. He handed out tickets to fans at a midtown street corner in a promotion with Planters and Boxed. He was featured in a socks and selfies event at Stance’s SoHo location where Didi happily posed with Yankees fans. He handed out free swipes on the subway and made burritos in a digital campaign to secure an All-Star spot. Gregosius hugs and engages with fans through it all and has fun with the opportunities.
A World Series run by the Yankees this year or next will present even more opportunities for Gregorius and fellow stars like Aaron Judge. Gregorius is signed with the Yankees through 2019 and like a lot of Yankees fans, Neligan is excited for what is to come for Didi and the team. He says, “This Yankees team is built to be successful for a number of years and Didi is just getting started. He’s still young and the sky is the limit.”
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