Time to Lock In, New York

Jackson Krule/The Players' Tribune

For those of you out there who have been asking me….

The answer is yes.

100%. For sure. Yes!

The Nasty Nestor Café will be up and running in our clubhouse during these playoffs. 

No doubt about it! I mean, there’s no way I’m messing with things now, right? 

Everything is magnified in October, I get it. This is the playoffs in New York. It’s huge for the city. For my family, too. Everyone’s excited and on edge. But for me? The guy taking the ball? These games, the stage, the stakes, everybody watching … none of that makes a difference or has me feeling like I need to adjust what I’ve been doing all season. In terms of preparing for my start and going about my business … I’m really not changing a thing.   

I treat every start like it could be my last one. 

Nestor Cortes

I’ll get to the stadium at the same time I always do, check in with all the guys, maybe spend some time talking smack with our head clubbie. And from there it’s all about the Cuban coffee. I’ll brew a batch (sometimes two batches for a big game) and hand it out to everyone I see. And then we’ll all enjoy the best coffee in the world.

At some point, I’ll look up at the clock, and it’ll be an hour to game time. Then it’s like: O.K. Time to lock in. That’s when I start getting stretched out, and focused, and really develop that urgency. I want to make sure I’m ready to be at the top of my game from the first pitch. 

That pregame urgency, for me … it always comes. And it always feels the same, too. First game of the season, last game, random game against a bad team, huge rivalry game — it doesn’t matter. It’s always there. Always.

Because I treat every start like it could be my last one. 

Jackson Krule/The Players' Tribune

For me, any time I take the mound, I’m thinking, This game, right now … this just might be your last opportunity ever to prove what you can do. So you better be ready to go.  

That’s my mentality, no matter what. 

Heading into these playoffs, a lot of people have been bringing up pressure. And nerves. But I’ve already had to face so much adversity in my career, even just to get to this point. So I feel like I’ve prepared my brain and my body to deal with any stressful stuff that may come at me during this run. 

Yankees fans know what I’m talking about. They remember me from before. They realize I had to scratch and claw (and work!) to make it back to the majors after getting traded away a few years ago. Even some of the guys in our locker room now, they were around when I was with the team back then. Those guys — Aaron, D.J., Gleyber, Stanton — they saw me struggle. All those guys saw this 25-year-old kid trying to prove to himself that he belonged. They saw what a challenge it was for me at times. And now … it’s just really special because they’re all so pumped for me.  

I’m pretty sure none of them saw this coming back then. And to be honest with you, part of me can’t even believe this is all happening. If you would’ve told me in 2018 or 2019, “Hey, you’re actually going to be an All-Star in 2022. You’ll be one of the top starters in the league,” I would’ve said you were lying. Like, “Stop bulls***ting me, man.”

I remember getting DFA’d by the Orioles at one point a few years ago, and it was like, Nestor, your career is over. You’re done. You just got DFA’d by a last-place team. It’s over.  

So yeah, I’ve been down before. I’ve dealt with some stress.  

But what can I say? I put in work.

And now here we are. 

Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty

I’m excited as hell for these playoffs.

Ever since spring training, this team … we’ve had a different vibe about us. Our manager and GM, those guys had a bad taste in their mouths after how we ended last year. So they definitely came in and brought it to our attention, like: “If we’re going to make this year different, and do something special in the playoffs, we gotta have a little ‘f*ck you’ in us. Have that dog in us, ready to do whatever.” Like, “Sink or swim, guys … let’s go.”

And I think you really saw us take that message to heart at the beginning of the season. We were absolutely destroying everyone early on. And, yeah, we hit a rough patch at one point, but we never lost our cool. We knew how good this team was. We knew we’d weather the storm. That we’d turn it around. We believed in each other.

I’m convinced we’re about to do something special over these next few weeks. 

Nestor Cortes

I feel so fortunate to be around guys like Aaron, and Rizzo, and Cole, and Sevy, and just on and on. This group, I’m telling you … it’s special. We care so much about one another. Let me give you a quick example. So when we’re on the road, and we finish up that last game of a series and we’re packing up to leave? A lot of the players, myself included, we won’t leave the clubhouse until Aaron leaves. No one says anything. We don’t make a big deal of it. But it’s just like … that’s our guy. It’s a respect thing. 

And that’s the kind of team we have. I truly believe this year is different, and it’s because of all those little things like that. It’s because of our makeup, and because of the leadership we see in the clubhouse every day, from Aaron Boone all the way down. It really is like a family in there. 

I’ll give you another example. We’ve been doing this thing whenever we’re on the road —  I don’t even know how it started — but basically Judge or Rizzo will hit everyone up when we get back to the hotel after a game and it’s like … “team meeting, room 352,” or whatever.

But there is no team meeting. It’s more like — what we do is, we try to pack as many guys together in a single room. And then we all just hang out. That’s it. Nothing crazy happens. Room service, TV, some smack talk, some cracking jokes. It’s pretty boring, I’m sure some people would say. But me? I couldn’t love those times more than I do. For me, that’s what it’s all about right there. And I think that’s a big part of why we’ve had each other’s backs this year, and how we’ve become this unit. 

It’s funny, sometimes I’ll be sitting there in those hotel rooms, thinking back on my path to get to the big leagues and everything I’ve put in, and all of a sudden a big smile will appear on my face. Because I’m so happy, you know? Just being a part of it. Hanging with a bunch of guys who are MVPs, Cy Young–caliber guys, world champions, All-Stars, future All-Stars, probably even future Hall of Famers. It’s those guys … and me. Nestor.

Honestly, that’s even cooler to me than the success I’ve been having on the field. 

Man — I just love this group so much. I’m convinced we’re about to do something special over these next few weeks. 

And I’ll tell you what: The Nasty Nestor Café needs to stay in business a little while longer this year. I’m not looking to close it up anytime soon.