TAMPA, Fla. -- The Bronx is Vernon.
Vernon Wells arrived at Steinbrenner Field on Tuesday afternoon, was immediately inserted into the New York Yankees' lineup for that night's exhibition game, and said what so many other players in his position have said upon donning the pinstripes for the first time.
"When they told me the team, I tried not to smile too big in the office," he said of his meeting with Los Angeles Angels general manager Jerry DiPoto when Wells learned he had been traded to the Yankees. "I'm honored to be here. This is somewhat of a dream come true."
After two days of negotiations, the Yankees and Angels completed the deal for Wells on Tuesday afternoon. New York sent two low-level minor league prospects, outfielder Exicardo Cayones and left-handed pitcher Kramer Sneed to the Angels while agreeing to take on $14 million of the $42 million remaining on the seven-year, $126 million contract Wells signed while a member of the Toronto Blue Jays before the 2007 season.
Wells went 0 for 3 with two flyouts and a groundout on Tuesday night.
Wells, 34, is a career .273 hitter with 259 career home runs and 908 career RBIs in 14 major league seasons, the first 12 of which were spent in Toronto. But Wells said he has been a Yankees fan for nearly 15 years.
"I remember the first time I played the Triple-A Yankees when I was 20 years old and [Darryl] Strawberry was on that team," he said. "It was the first time that I actually got goose bumps playing against another team. From that day, I've quietly been a Yankees fan. Obviously not when we played against the Yankees, but every time or any time the Yankees were in the playoffs and I was sitting at home, I was cheering for the Yankees."
Now, he will be their everyday left fielder until Curtis Granderson returns in early May from a fractured right ulna, and perhaps beyond if he can return to the form he showed in his last season in Toronto, when he hit 31 home runs and had 88 RBIs.
In two seasons with the Angels, Wells batted .222 and averaged 18 home runs and 47 RBIs a season. Last year, he played in only 77 games after suffering a ligament tear in his right thumb. He batted .230, and his 11 home runs and 29 RBIs were career lows.
Wells attributed his drop off less to injuries -- over the past five years, he also suffered a shoulder injury that needed surgery, a broken wrist, and several hamstring strains -- than with having gotten into some bad habits at the plate, including becoming home run happy after hitting a career-high 33 for the Blue Jays in 2003.
"You get away with it in Toronto just because if you hit a ball well, it's going to go out," he said. "You start trying to hit fourth and fifth decks instead of just worrying about getting hits. Even my last year in Toronto, I think I hit 30 homers, but I still hit .260 something. From that point, it just gradually got worse. These last three weeks have been a matter of trying to stay inside the ball and hit the ball hard and still hit a few homers. When I am consistent with this approach, I'm a much better player than I have been the last couple of years."
Wells said that he expected a combination of some offseason swing analysis -- he has a batting cage in his home in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area -- and the trade to the Yankees to rejuvenate his career.
"I'm like a kid again," he said. "I got goosebumps driving down the road a couple hours after they told me about the trade. I started thinking about the roll call. I won't be the guy that gets picked on by the bleachers this time, even though I enjoyed it. Now it's going to be a little bit different hearing my name and being in pinstripes. This is the center of it all and this is a fun way for things to go toward the end of my career."
Wells was warmly greeted by his new teammates when he arrived in the clubhouse shortly after 1:30 p.m. The first Yankee to shake his hand was pitcher David Phelps, who had a vivid memory of his first meeting with Wells.
"I gave up my first hit-slash-home run-slash-run to him," Phelps said, recalling a shot Wells hit off him last April 14 at Yankee Stadium.
And he was hugged by Lyle Overbay, a teammate for five seasons in Toronto who was released by the Red Sox Tuesday morning, then signed to a minor league deal by the Yankees.
"I'd show you around the place," Wells said, "But I have no idea where anything is."
Wells was given a locker next to Bobby Wilson, a teammate in Los Angeles, and temporarily issued number 56, formerly worn by bench coach Tony Pena, although Wells was assured he would be given a lower number before Opening Day.
"I'm going to wear Lawrence Taylor for a little bit," showing some savvy by invoking the name of a New York sports icon.
"He's got a big opportunity here," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We believe he's a much better player than he's been the last two years. I still think there's a lot of good baseball left him."