Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Inside Yankee Experience

Steinbrenner Field
So I normally head down to Tampa each year to catch at least one game during Spring Training. I check in at the Comfort Inn at Raymond James Stadium (which is only about a 10 minute walk to Steinbrenner Field), have a nice dinner at Lander's Steakhouse (located on the hotel's property), catch the game, sleep, and then make my way back to NYC the next morning. In the past, this was all I needed to get me geared up for the oncoming season, but this year I took my visit a step further.

From the goodie bag
The Yankees have started what they call "The Inside Yankee Experience." For those fanatics, like myself, willing to pay a "little extra" to be in on what every true Yankee fan would dream of, you get an opportunity to meet a Yankee player(s) from the current roster, a member of the team's personnel, field seats and entry to early batting practice where, if you're lucky, you might be able to talk to the players while they warm-up. You also walk away with some cool items including a Yankees cap, replica WS Championship ring and an official Rawlings baseball.

So my day at Steinbrenner Field began at 7 am. Those of us who signed up for thr "Experience" were registered, given our goodie bag, and taken in to one of the stadium's meeting rooms for a complimentary breakfast buffet. It was a nice spread--scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, french toast, bagels, omelets made-to-order and a selection of fruits. While the food was the first thing we noticed as we stepped in to the room, it was the memorabilia on the walls that made everyone say, "Wow!"

Yogi's jersey and gear
There were glass cases with signed jerseys of CC Sabathia and Tino Martinez. Mariano Rivera's jersey case included a pair of his Nike sneakers. And then there was Yogi Berra's jersey case, which included his old baseball glove and face mask; to see Yogi's gear gave me goosebumps. There were also cases with more signed balls and bats from other notables like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte. One signed ball that I really got a kick out of seeing was that of "Goose" Gossage. When I was a kid, "Goose" was one of my favorite pitchers because I went to a game (don't remember which) where he almost hit the batter in the head and knocked him to the ground. "Goose" was ferocious and I loved that about him.

Raul Ibanez
So after taking pictures and filling up on breakfast, we were greeted by three Yankee players: Ivan Nova, Raul Ibanez and Rafael Soriano. Sure, it would have made my entire year if A-Rod, Mariano or Jeter had walked in, but that would have been too good to be true. But to see Nova, Ibanez and Soriano was actually a nice surprise. The group sitting at my table all believed that we'd probably get minor league players, so to have those guys come in--particularly Nova who is becoming big with the Yankee faithful--amazed all of us. They signed our baseballs and took photos with us. We didn't get much time to hold a conversation with them, since it was close to the time of their practice, but I did manage to sneak in a question to Ibanez. I asked him if he was ready for the fans in New York. He looked at me smiling and laughed, "I hope so!" That drew laughter from many in the room.

Suzyn Waldman
After the players returned to practice, Suzyn Waldman, who covers Yankee games with John Sterling on WCBS Radio came in and spoke to us. It's been said by many that Waldman is not a great radio personality because of her perceived lack of baseball knowledge. Well, that is far from being true. Waldman knows baseball! She spoke about the team and some of her thoughts on different players; about up and coming minor league players that she believes will be called up at some point this season; about the situation with Joba Chamberlain, and what improvements she's seen with A-Rod regarding his motion at the plate. Waldman also pointed out that her style of reporting is to focus on the personality of the players and talk about moments, while Sterling calls the game and talks stats. She took questions from us and afterward, I found myself having a whole new respect for her.

Next stop was to head out to the field for early batting practice. We were told that someone from Yankees personnel would be waiting to greet us. I immediately thought that perhaps one of the trainers would be talking to us about what the players' workout regimens were and so on, or maybe one of the coaches like Tony Pena or Larry Rothschild would talk to us. We were already told that the "legends"--Yogi, Ron Guidry, Reggie Jacson, etc.--had already left training camp, so we knew that opportunity had already passed. I really didn't want to get my hopes up for this, but found myself having an "Oh my God!" moment when I saw who was waiting for us. It was Tino Martinez!

Me and Tino
Trying not to get too giddy and prevent an embarrassing moment from happening, I pulled myself together while waiting on line for Tino to sign my ball, and tried to think of a good question to ask him. Besides his greatness as a player, one of the things that I enjoy about Tino is when he's in the booth as a commentator. So when it was my turn to have my ball signed and take a photo with him, I asked him if he would be in the booth for any games this year.

"No, not this year," Tino said. "[YES Network has] so many guys covering so, they don't need me {laughing}." I went on to tell him that I enjoy him as a commentator, and he thanked me graciously, seemingly surprised that he was impressive enough to deserve the compliment.

Being able to see, touch and talk with Tino was the biggest thrill for me at that point. I'm like most fanatics that revere great players from the past, and Tino was one of my faves from those teams in the late '90s. I was good for the day by then and wasn't expecting much more after that. That was until the players took the field  and our group got up close and person with The Captain.

Left to right: A-Rod, Jeter and Russell Martin
It's sometimes the little things about Jeter that make him so loved by Yankee faithful. As the guys were doing their stretch exercizes, directly in front of us, of course some people from our group called out to them to get their attention. "Hey, Alex, how ya feeling?" "Good morning, Jeter!" "Hey there, Robbie!" These were just some of the cries from impatient fans that wanted "their" team's attention. I chose not to say anything, realizing that these guys were focused on their workout, and weren't interested in having conversation. Some of them waved at us acknowledging our presence, but a wave is never enough for Yankee fans. The shouts persisted, but to no avail, as the players ignored the cries and continued to stretch. As the cries not only became even more persistant but louder, Jeter decided to do what any Captain should do: represent his team by saying some kind words on their behalf. Jeter walked up to us--as we were standing in the front row--and greeted us.

"Hello everyone," he said, his greeting reciprocated. "On behalf of the team, I'd just like to thank you all for coming out today and I hope you enjoy the final game. We really appreciate you guys for always supporting us. Thank you."

The greeting came with many thanks from us, and it "calmed down" the shouts. Great move by Jeter, who always remembers how important Yankee fans are to the team and organization. I was just thrilled to actually hear him say anything in person. It was a cool moment, and I can forever tell everyone that Derek Jeter spoke to me up close, and expressed his appreciation for me.

Andy on the mound.
Afterward, Joe Girardi came over to us and thanked us all for coming out while signing some of the kids' baseballs. He ran off after a few minutes of shaking our hands and taking some quick questions, and by then, it was time for us to settle in and get ready for the game. Turned out to be a good one, as our boys beat the Mets with a score of 8-3. And of course, the biggest thrill being the return of Pettitte, who pitched a scoreless sixth inning.

It was a great "Experience" fanatics, and I'm looking forward to signing up for another one next year. The Yankees organization has always come up with ways to provide their fans with events to remember, and this was no exception. The Yankee's staff in Tampa took great care of all our needs, and treated us like friends. I'll remember this forever, and who knows, I may sign up for the "Experience" here in New York. Stay tuned...

Follow Rasheeda Cooper on twitter: @ra_cooper


  1. What an amazing experience, thank you for posting cool how you make it a yearly ritual!!! Let's Go Yankees, the Quest for 28 is at hand.

  2. Thank you for posting Carlos!! I love my time down there and the staff at Steinbrenner Field really take good care of their guests. I look forward to this!!!

    And now the season begins!! This is the year...Let's Go Yankees!!!!!!!!