TAMPA, Fla. -- Shelley Duncan charged several strides to his left, losing his cap on a full extension grab and thudding to the outfield turf at newly-christened George M. Steinbrenner Field on Thursday.
Duncan's exuberant style of play has helped him become a fan favorite in New York, going all-out on moments like his diving catch to rob the Pirates' Adam LaRoche. It also won him favor in consideration for the 2008 James P. Dawson Award, issued annually to the top Yankees rookie in Spring Training.
"It's pretty cool when you get any award," Duncan said. "This is my first Spring Training over here, so I really can't grasp the significance, but you go out there and do what you do every day. You stay focused and work hard. Sometimes it's fun when you get accolades like that and you don't expect them."
The 28-year-old Duncan has batted .364 (16-for-44) this spring, with five doubles, three home runs and 14 RBIs. Though it has been a strong offensive spring, Duncan said that he never really looks at Grapefruit League results as an indication of the season to come.
"I'm not saying they're meaningless, but they're not as important as the work you put in and how you feel when you leave Spring Training," Duncan said. "As a whole, I feel that I've improved light years and gotten myself ready for the season. That's more important to me than numbers."
While Duncan has done everything possible to cement a spot on the Yankees' Opening Day roster, his spring was far from uneventful. Duncan earned a three-game suspension and a fine for his actions in a March 12 game at St. Petersburg, when he slid spikes-high into the Rays' Akinori Iwamura, setting off a benches-clearing incident.
"That was probably a big part of a learning experience for Spring Training," Duncan said. "Not the incident itself, but the stuff that came around it. I take everything as a learning experience. I think our team is in good shape for the start of the season and I'm happy the way the things are right now."
The James P. Dawson Award was established in honor of a late sportswriter of The New York Times who died in Spring Training while covering the Yankees. Two winners of the award, Tony Kubek in 1957 and Tom Tresh in 1962, went on to win American League Rookie of the Year Awards. Last season's winner was left-handed pitcher Kei Igawa.
The award was first presented to rookie Norm Siebern by manager Casey Stengel in St. Petersburg at the conclusion of Spring Training in 1956. The Yankees beat writers vote on the winner.
In conjunction with the award, Duncan received an engraved Burberry watch from William Barthman Jewelers.
"I always need a new watch," Duncan said. "It's funny. You can joke around and say, 'Some people say Spring Training doesn't mean anything.' Well, now it means a watch to me."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.