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Greg Bird has been waiting for this moment a long time.

ATLANTA — Greg Bird watched Opening Day last year from Tampa, where he still was in the early stages of rehabbing from shoulder surgery. Now, he’s ready to start at first base and bat third when the Yankees open the regular season Sunday against the Rays at Tropicana Field. When he hit low points while...
Time: 01:21     Date: 01.04.2017
Last US Sport News: Greg Bird has been waiting for this moment a long time. NY Post 24 - US News

Now, he’s ready to start at first base and bat third when the Yankees open the regular season Sunday against the Rays at Tropicana Field.

When he hit low points while stashed at the team’s minor league complex during the long slog back, Bird kept one thing in mind.

“This,” Bird said Friday before he smashed the first homer in the history of SunTrust Park in an 8-5 loss to the Braves, in the first game played at Atlanta’s new stadium. “Opening Day, the start of the season, finally being healthy again. That’s all I thought about.”

Even he couldn’t have predicted how well this spring would go for him, as he more than picked up from 2015, when he hit 11 homers in his 46 games as a rookie, filling in for the injured Mark Teixeira.

“I wouldn’t call it doubt, but was it tough to see it at times? Yes,” said Bird, who hit a team-high eight homers this spring. “It wasn’t that I didn’t think I would play again. It was just that I wanted to get to the end and know I’d be all right. Deep down, you’re confident, but sometimes it’s tough to see that. You’re impatient, you’re frustrated. You just want to fast-forward the whole process.”

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Since that wasn’t feasible, Bird just kept working.

The effort paid off, as he said he feels better now than he did even during 2015, when his shoulder already was an issue.

“When we spent time in the cage two years ago, he had some limitations,” hitting coach Alan Cockrell said. “He didn’t talk a lot about it, and he obviously did well that year, but he didn’t swing as much as he does now because he was in some pain and wanted to save his bullets. You could see him wince.”

That doesn’t happen anymore.

“He has the confidence to let it go,” Cockrell said. “At the time, I think he may have been protecting a little bit.”

That bodes well for his future production.

Asked if Bird reminded him of anyone, Cockrell pointed across the field to Bird’s first-base counterpart in Atlanta.

“He’s got a similar stance and swing to Freddie Freeman,” Cockrell said of the Atlanta first baseman, who homered off Michael Pineda on Friday. “Both of them are very direct to the ball. There’s not a lot of movement.”

Bird joins fellow young guns Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge in the lineup as the Yankees figure to get a good look at how far their youth movement has progressed.

Greg BirdN.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg

“The potential upside is really big,” manager Joe Girardi said of the trio. “They have a high energy level. It’s exciting.”

Especially for Bird, who tuned into the first handful of Yankee games last season but quickly stopped.

“It just wasn’t fun for me because I wanted to be out there so badly,” Bird said. “As things moved along and I felt better, I was able to watch again, but for a while there, I definitely wasn’t in the mood for it.”

After returning for instructional league games and the Arizona Fall League, Bird arrived healthy to spring training and hasn’t looked back.

“I’ve learned a lot from going through it, but I’m ready to get to the finish line,” Bird said. “I want to be back.”

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