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Mar 15 2000: Spring Training Day Three – Clearwater


Among the games we did NOT see in our week in Florida were the Red Sox game in Fort Myers and the Braves game at Legends Field. Despite my best and earliest efforts, both games were sold out before I could get tickets. So technically, Day Three of our vacation was a Day Without Baseball, as the team went to Fort Myers and we didn’t. Dad played golf–Julian and I explored the sun coast searching for a water park, didn’t find one, and played mini-golf and went to the beach instead.

The next day, though, we were scheduled to see the game in Clearwater, where my mom went to high school (graduated in 1960). Now, if any of you have read the rest of my web site, you know I’m a professional writer. Most of what I do is fiction, but I do the occasional journalistic endeavor, like interviewing author Octavia Butler for Sojourner, or writing a feature for Publishers Weekly magazine. What you probably don’t know is I started my freelance writing career when I was still in high school, writing for teen magazines like Superteen and Teen Machine. It would take a long time to explain how all of that came about, but suffice to say for now that I did a lot of celebrity hounding in those days,and got to meet and interact with a lot of pop stars who I (and teen girls across America) idolized. (I mentioned Menudo and Ricky Martin many entries ago, and I worked at radio stations, too.)

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I got bitten by the Derek Jeter bug back in 1999, and I thought, well, if I’m going all the way to Florida, what is the chance that I might be able to do some journalism regarding the Yankees and Jeter, and possibly meet him?

I won’t go into all the details here, but I got in touch with my old magazine, Superteen, about whether they would be interested. The editor is now working on a new magazine, special feature on teen health and fitness, and she LOVED the idea of a Q&A with Jeter, his fitness regimen, and so on, for that magazine. I had been faxing the Yankee Media Relations office for weeks about it, but had not been able to confirm anything, and was getting quite anxious, as you can probably guess.

What ended up happening was, in Clearwater, which is another tiny high-school size stadium (in fact, the parking fee went to benefit the C.H.S. marching band boosters…), I met up with the media relations director for the Yankees. No, I still didn’t get the interview, but they had me sit in the dugout for about an hour during BP, and take all the candid photos I could.

As it turned out, that wasn’t as many photos as I would have liked, because something happened to me that has never happened to me before. Not backstage at Madison Square Garden, not in the air studio of WPLJ, not backstage at MTV, or any of the many other places my reporting has taken me. What happened was: I was starstruck. At first, I was OK, talking with Don Zimmer about his knee operation and a nice fellow named Arthur, who had started his journalistic career as a copy boy in the 1940s for $11 per week, and now works for the Yankees. I was sitting next to the rack of bats as Bernie Williams, Chuck Knoblauch, and a lot of other players came in and out. Bernie smiled and said hi and I said hi back.

Then Jeter came in from the field, and it became impossible to speak.

I’d never felt anything like it before. My heart was pounding so hard, that I felt like if I opened my mouth my tongue was going to swell up like a balloon. I had several opportunities when I could have stood up, held out my hand and introduced myself. But I couldn’t even move. I managed to squeeze off a few shots with my camera, but with the bright sky behind him and the dark dugout around me, they didn’t come out very well. Plus, my hands shook. (Here’s one of the Jeter closeups. I retouched the glare with Photoshop a bit.)

Wow.

When I told this story to my mother she couldn’t believe it. “After all you’ve been through, you got starstruck? I guess it’s nice to know you’re not jaded.”

Yup. Now I’m trying to follow up and do the teen fitness interview, which they wouldn’t have let me do that day anyway, by phone. Professionally speaking, I still haven’t fulfilled my obligation to the editor. But speaking as a fan, what an incredible privilege it was to sit there and watch the greats walk by. No, I didn’t ask for autographs, and I didn’t really take many other pictures, though I have a nice one of Joe Torre and Don Zimmer conspiring about something, and two good candids of Jeter getting a cup of water and picking out a bat. I got a not too bad one of Reggie Jackson coming in to the dugout as well. Then BP was over, and I went back to the stands to sit with Dad and Julian.

I’d heard the details of the Yanks win over the Sox in Fort Myers while I was in the dugout. Pettitte retired ten batters in a row, apparently. At last! Th-e-e-e-e-e Yankees win! But we hadn’t been there to see it. Could they do it to the Phillies, too?

Apparently not. Although El Duque pitched two shutout innings (one walk, two strikeouts) and the Yanks had scattered hits throughout the game, the only Yankees to cross the plate were in the fourth, Bernie Williams tripled and then came in when first base prospect Nick Johnson doubled immediately after. Johnson went to third on a wild pitch and scored on a sac fly (I think it was Posada who batted, but it might have been Pagnozzi–I forgot to note when they changed the lineup. See, it’s spring training for spectators, too–each successive game the scorecard got neater and more organized…). With the game now 2-0 Yanks, the Phillies woke up, and hammered poor Darrell Einertson for five earned runs–a double, a single, another single, then a home run from Rob Ducey. Still, he didn’t look as bad as Jeff Juden had the other day–we’d heard by then that Juden was being released from his major league contract. Jeff Nelson, Mariano Rivera (again!), and Domingo Jean combined to keep the Phillies scoreless the rest of the game, but the Yanks offense was never able to come alive. Ricky Ledee went 0 for 4–Jeter was the only batter to get more than one hit. Ah well, it’s only the spring.

What it looked like to us was that the Yanks weren’t really playing as a team. With each guy working on his own individual stuff, getting ready, learning new skills, et cetera, the team doesn’t really pull together. Also it looked like when you mixed stars and prospects together on the field, there were various miscues. The rookies looked a lot better when they all played together, as they would show us the following night in Sarasota and held Ken Griffey, Jr. 0 for 3. But you’ll have to wait to hear that story tomorrow.

(Did you enjoy reading this blog entry? Please consider buying me a hot dog.)

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