Our Trips To Other Ballparks: Part 8 – Legends Field (Guest Post)
by Joe Lopes
Originally published here: Crystal Clear Photo
It all started with a birthday gift idea from my wife Suzanne in 2001 – “How about we go to Spring Training in Tampa to see the Yankees”? So we went and had a great time, and then went again the next two years, too. In 2004, she couldn’t go because of her Massage licensing test, so I asked my brother Rudy to join me instead. With her blessing, this began an annual brother-bonding experience – both of us fanatic baseball and Yankee fans.
In 2007, we enjoyed a unique treat. Billy Crystal, a lifelong Yankee fan, was turning 60 years old in 2007, and had grown up hoping to play for the Yankees, but, like many boys including me, never made it to the big leagues. So, as a thank you for his long-time support, the Yankees decided to give him a special birthday present – a one-day Yankee contract that would mean he could play in a Spring training game.
Of course, while healthy, Billy was still 60, a bit old to be playing with 20 year-olds, so the plan was to have Billy be the DH and lead off, so he wouldn’t be playing the field, and that would allow him to bat. So, as Rudy and I settled into our seats in right field, we noticed Billy warming up before the game, doing goofy handshakes with Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano and making everyone near him laugh.
When the Yankees came to bat in the first inning, there was #60 – Billy Crystal, strolling to the plate to face the Pirates’ Paul Maholm, an established young lefty pitcher who started 30 major-league games the year before and so far had a good 12-year career – he was no slouch. The crowd was going wild as Billy stepped in the box and swung at the first pitch… and made contact..fouling it down the first base line.
Of course, I was taking pictures with my zoom lens and caught each pitch.
The crowd whooped in delight and the buzz increased as Maholm threw the next 3 pitches out of the strike zone. Maybe on base with a walk?
The 3-1 pitch was a nasty slider – swing and a miss. Then the full count pitch was another slider – swing and miss. Struck out.
Billy got a standing ovation as he shuffled to the dugout after his one career professional at bat.
Editor’s note: It was a cool experience, and one I’d gladly do myself. If I can somehow launch a huge comic and film career over the next few years…
Fast forward 5 years later…
Billy was signing books at a local bookstore we frequent. So, I printed out a few copies of the photo I took of his at bat and got on line for the book signing. I was buying 4 books, for me and for gifts, but the signs all said “Only books would be signed”.
When I got to the front of line, I said hello and put down my books, and then placed my photo of Billy’s foul ball swing in front of him. His eyes lit up – “Wow, I remember this.. my one at bat for the Yankees, I don’t have a picture like this.” His “handler” immediately stepped in and said “Nothing signed except books”, to which I responded “I just wanted him to have it”.
So Billy thanked me and placed the photo behind him as he signed my books. Then he said “Do you have another one of that photo?”. Of course I did and handed it to him, which he signed “Billy Crystal #60” for me.
I thanked him and now have the picture framed on my wall at home. Quite a unique moment.
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