A few weeks ago, in the lead up to the book being published, the guy in charge of publicity at Bloomsbury mentioned that the Yankees beat writer (the guy who follows the team around and writes about every game) from the Wall Street Journal was interested in doing an interview at one of the Yankees vs. Blue Jays games I’d told him I’d be attended here in Toronto. Sweet. It’s been a nice process so far doing bits and bobs of publicity here and there, and Jeremy, the aforementioned Bloomsbury guy, has done a marvellous job.
I told Dan, the WSJ guy, my seat number for Friday’s game, so we could say hello. We met, and he told me I’d have press credentials for the next day. Internal jump for joy. I was all excited, and found it very difficult to sleep, knowing that I could arrive at the ballpark early and hang out there before the game started. Ordinarily, I’d not tell you about a dream I’d had, but it seems relevant here: I dreamt I was at Fenway Park watching a guy build the Green Monster before a game. In the dream, the Monster was made from blocks of that corrugated plastic stuff that For Sale signs are made from. I was chatting to the guy, and he stopped talking, his eyes widened, and he nodded in the direction over my shoulder, and whispered, “Dude, there’s Kevin Millar!”
Up early on Saturday morning. Quick email with Dan re. where we’d meet. He told me we should meet “on the field.” On the field!? It’s funny how normally he mentioned it. And funny how my brain spiralled wondering how the hell that sort of thing works. I showered, dressed, put on my cap, and walked to the SkyDome. At the place where I was supposed to pick up my pass, I told the guy my name, he gave the me the pass, and directed me to take the elevator down to field level. Spoke to another guy there: go that way until you get to the big curtain. Got there, and another guy scanned the barcode on my pass, and directed me down a tunnel. A tunnel which went right to the visiting team’s dugout. Two small steps up from there, and I’m on the field. On the field while the Blue Jays are taking their batting practice. On the field where Yankee pitcher A.J. Burnett was chatting to Blue Jays player, Aaron Hill. It’s very difficult to describe the sense of forced calm one has to hang on to at a moment like that.
Dan arrived moments later, thankfully. We shook hands, and he mentioned that I should take off my Yankee cap because I was today, for all intents and purposes, a member of the press. We chatted, I rubbed the artificial turf with my foot and touched it with my hand and noted that the warning track here is made of the same grade of AstroTurf as the green part of the field, kinda negating the “warning” part of its name. Dan gave me a brief idea of what he wanted to do for the day, which began with hanging around the visitors’ dugout until the Yankees manager Joe Girardi came out to do his pre-game interviews with the press. Right then and there I started to feel uncomfortable around the armpits. The YES camera set up, Kim Jones came out, a bunch of other dudes with notepads and tape recorders got into position as Dan beckoned me to stand next to him, just a few feet away from the Yankees manager. Sweat. So much sweat. I was so nervous. And I felt so uncomfortable. It wasn’t real. Why am I stood here? There’s Joe Girardi talking about CC Sabathia and I can hear him with my ears, not just on a web stream through a computer. Sweat, sweat, sweat. My back is like a waterfall. No exaggeration, sweat is streaming down my back.
At the end of Girardi’s interview, as we wandered across the field to the Blue Jays’ dugout, Dan noticed my nerves, and gave me his notepad and pen, and told me to just pretend to be a reporter; write stuff down. As all the Yankees writers got their turn to talk to the Blue Jays manager John Farrell, all I could do was scribble and notice how huge the man is. Marvel Comics thighs, that man. I looked around on the field. Jays players throwing balls around, Jays (and former Yankees) catcher José Molina chatting to former player and broadcaster Buck Martinez. As the Farrell stuff winded down, I introduced myself to Marc, another Yankees beat writer who I follow on Twitter. He, Dan and I had a chat back in front of the Yankees dugout. I tried to take it all in, what it was like to be on this side of things, looking out at the fans with cameras and balls waiting for player autographs. One thing to note: the area of ground right in front of the player dugouts, on the fake grass, is really sticky. That’s where they spit out their sunflower seeds and bubblegum juice. Moving your feet around is like when you’ve spilled Coca Cola on the kitchen floor. It’s kinda disgusting.
Our field time was up, so we left through the same dugout tunnel. This time, though, I passed by Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera. Just a few feet away. Mariano Rivera. Just sat there. Mariano Rivera. We were heading up to the press box. Dan suggested we go through the clubhouse. I get my pass scanned again, go through a door, and, oh, y’know, there’s Yankee left fielder Brett Gardner just looking at stuff on a laptop. There’s Freddy García buttoning up his jersey. There’s a bunch of other players sat on couches watching TV highlights of yesterday’s games, and there’s Jorge Posada with his trousers around his ankles. It most definitely isn’t every day that one sees one of the best offensive catchers in history in his underpants. But I did on Saturday. Taking it all in, Dan said we should go. I’m glad I hadn’t already looked at the other end of the clubhouse, cos there sat signing a bunch of merchandise was Derek Jeter. I’d managed to go past some of my favourite players without losing my cool, without even smiling. I had done good.
Up in the press box, the first thing I noticed was the smell of burnt popcorn. And the air conditioning was nice. And it was quiet. Men – and it was virtually all men – chatted amongst themselves, ate lunch, drank sodas. The whole time we were in there, you’d never have known it was Dan who was supposed to be asking me questions: I asked so many questions, about ballparks, teams, his job, players. What’s this guy like? Is that guy a dick? Who’s the nicest guy you’ve dealt with? Who’s the worst. Out of respect for Dan being honest, I can’t tell you what he said about who were the good guys and who were the dicks, but one thing he did say that it was okay to tell you: what you think about most players is probably true. There were only a couple of players that I was wrong about. But mostly, it was fun to hear someone confirm that players I think of as people who might be dicks are dicks.
I took advantage of my press credentials and went outside for a cigarette. Regular Blue Jays customers — like I usually am — can’t re-enter the stadium if we leave, but my fancy pass allowed me to do that. The game was about to begin, so we went into the stadium proper to find empty seats — something else the passes allowed — and watched the game and he turned his tape recorder on, and I started yakking about my book and infographics and the game. We watched a few innings from far and high above the outfield, down closer to the field. We moved around a lot, all the time chatting away. When his recorder was on, his sentences ended with a question mark; when it was off, mine ended in a question mark.
Sat up in the very back row above home plate, we baked in the sun, and stood up for the singing of Take Me Out to the Ball Game, and made our way back down to the press box. So nice and air conditioned. But so very, very quiet. Top of the ninth, Derek Jeter hit a single to center field. It was so difficult not to acknowledge. I wanted to clap, do something, but I put my hands on my knees and quietly tapped. This is the press box. No rooting. Quiet. The aforementioned CC Sabathia has been excellent, giving up one run in the first, but shutting down the Jays for the following seven. Entering the ninth, the Yankees had a 4-1 lead. Time to bring in Mariano Rivera. He strikes out the first guy. Tapping my knees. Quietly. Allows two singles. No reaction, Craig, keep it in. Another strikeout. Knee tapping. And he gets a groundout to win the game for the Yankees. Tap knees. Happy happy inside. It was the first win of the three Yankees games I’d seen so far in Toronto this season (they went on to win Sunday’s game too).
Dan had some post game stuff to do, so I went to meet friends who’d gone to the game as regular spectators, and excitedly relayed as much info as I could, as quickly as I could. We drank beer, and ate nachos in a bar. And generally had a ball of a night. Drinking, and talking about baseball. It was an utterly joyous way to end a ridiculously exciting day.