Jim Hendry, Yankees executive, took Anthony Volpe and his parents out for dinner a few weeks before the 2019 major league draft. Volpe was a passionate Yankees fan and, more importantly, a star high school shortstop out of New Jersey who was about to help Delbarton win its second state title in three years.
Hendry wanted his employers to take the teenager with their first-round pick, No. 30 overall, and yet a considerable hurdle needed to be cleared before that was even possible because Volpe had verbally committed to go to Vanderbilt. If ever a kid seemed a perfect match for the academic and athletic rigors of a prestigious Division I university, it was Anthony Michael Volpe, the son of a urologist and an anesthesiologist who put a high value on higher education.
“Anthony profiled from Day 1 to be on the campus of Vanderbilt University,” his Delbarton coach, Bruce Shatel, told The Post. “He was a very high-end academic young man. He never got a B at Delbarton, and we are a very good school.
“Anthony was always on time for class and always presented himself well. His shirts were tucked in, his hair was always combed, he was bright-eyed and always ready to learn and enthusiastic about school, baseball, everything. He was all squared away.”
Oh, and his dear friend, teammate, and fellow top prospect Jack Leiter was heading to Vanderbilt. They planned on winning more championships together.
“I know that if that dinner did not take place,” Shatel said, “we would have had a different script to this story.”
And man, what a story it has been. Now 21, the local shortstop who grew up idolizing New Jersey-born Derek Jeter is about to become the Yankees’ youngest Opening Day starter since Jeter in 1996. Volpe won the job with a dazzling spring season that he punctuated Tuesday in Washington with another hit and two diving stops in the field.
“His upside is he can be a really good player for a long time,” Hendry told The Post. “He’s earned this, but it’s still a chance of a lifetime to play shortstop for the New York Yankees at a very young age. He’s got the ability and the insides to do it. Hopefully he’ll be the kind of great long-term Yankee you can win championships with.”
But back to that fateful dinner at Roots Steakhouse in Morristown, N.J. Though Yankees scouts Matt Hyde and the late Kelly Rodman had put in most of the work on Volpe, and scouting director Damon Oppenheimer was making the final call, Hendry was no mere middleman in this pursuit. Hyde called him “a huge part of Anthony’s story.”
When Yankees general manager Brian Cashman hired Hendry in 2012, he said of the former Cubs GM: “He’s as connected in the game as you can possibly be. Everybody loves this man.”
Hendry’s communication skills paid off that night in the steakhouse. As the former coach at Creighton, who had taken his team to the 1991 College World Series, Hendry had only positive things to tell Volpe, his mother, Isabelle, and his father, Michael, about the college baseball experience.
But Hendry compared Volpe to one of the prospect’s favorite players, Astros All-Star Alex Bregman, who had played three years at LSU before being drafted second overall in 2015.
“So this is probably your only chance to be a Yankee,” Hendry told Volpe. “If we’re right and you become what we think you’ll become, then when you come out of Vanderbilt you’re going to be drafted way too high to be picked by the Yankees. We’re not going to be picking where Bregman was drafted.”
Hendry said money was never discussed at the restaurant. He said that when he left after three or four hours of healthy, honest conversation: “I felt really good about the human being the kid was, and how mature he was. There was no game plan. It was a perfect night of meeting great people and finding out why the kid is the way he is — because of how his parents raised him.
“I wasn’t trying to sell the Yankees. Anthony and his family were Yankees fans way before I worked here. … And I couldn’t promise him that it was going to be us for sure, because we weren’t picking until 30.”
Suddenly, Volpe had a life-altering decision to make.
“I just remember [the dinner] was my first introduction to the behind-the-scenes of the Yankees organization,” Volpe told The Post’s Greg Joyce in Washington. “To this day, what stuck out to me the most was how honest and how authentic Mr. Hendry was. …
“He had such an amazing career in baseball. … For him to give me his different perspectives and just be honest — it wasn’t any bias, it was for me. He just gave me information to allow me to make the best decision. It was definitely a great night.”
Volpe told Yankees Magazine that the dinner meeting ultimately “made me change my mind about going to Vanderbilt.”
So the Yankees used their first-round pick on this grandson of a Mickey Mantle fan who was raised on the Upper East Side and in the Jersey burbs.
Not even three years later, Jim Hendry was there in Tampa to congratulate Volpe and his family after manager Aaron Boone delivered the great news. It was an occasion worthy of something more meaningful than a steakhouse dinner.