OpinionMarch 26, 2008

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The Yankees Visit Virginia Tech

By Kyle Collins

As many know, the New York Yankees traveled to Blacksburg, Virginia last Tuesday to play Virginia Tech’s baseball team. Demand for tickets was high, while supply was low as there were only 3,000 tickets available for nearly 40,000 eligible students. I was lucky enough to win a ticket in the lottery, and it was an experience I will never forget.

The night before the game was a long one, as I was hardly able to sleep in anticipation. I woke up pretty early with nothing to do that morning except wait for the game. I had already decided I was skipping all of my classes that day so that I could be sure to get good seats at the stadium. The game was set to start around 3:00 PM, and the gates would be opening at noon. With my Hokie-colored Yankee hat, Alex Rodriguez t-shirt jersey, and Virginia Tech hoodie, I was at the gates by 11:30 AM. Reports indicated that people were there as early as 6:00 AM, and there were probably about 200 people in line when I got to the gate.

I kept glancing at my watch waiting to be let into the field. It was probably five minutes to twelve when I saw the Yankees’ police escort pass the field and I knew they were in town, finally. By the time the gates opened up, there were easily 500 people in line. When I got through the gate, I was given a seat cushion commemorating the event, as well as a scorecard program. Along the left field line where the Yankees bench was and where they were entering the field from, was a newly installed terrace. I sat down on the first row in shallow left field with my bag of brand new leather balls. The terrace was located about ten feet away from the fence, and we were told that we would not be allowed to stand at the fence once batting practice was over.

I decided at this point that I would take the chance of losing my seat to stand along the sideline during batting practice and have the chance to get some autographs. I left my bag of baseballs and seat cushion to attempt to reserve my spot put four balls in my hoodie pouch to try to get signed. I did not know a single other person who had a ticket to the game, so I chatted it up with a couple Yankee fans who seemed pretty knowledgeable about the team. Around 12:30 PM, I could start to see some navy blue jerseys in the distance and my heart started to race.

A group of regulars finally entered the field, including Abreu, Cano, Damon, Giambi, and Cabrera. As they entered the field, I could barely breathe. For my entire life professional baseball players have been mythical gods to me, completely untouchable. I never in my wildest dreams imagined I would be 20 feet from some of the players I had idolized. Jeter, Rodriguez, and Posada had not yet come out onto the field at this point. The players started their stretching routines, and Damon came over near me and started signing autographs.

I have never been a big fan of Damon, but he completely turned me around that day. He smiled the whole time he was signing and chatted about anything while he was signing, and I really got the feeling that he wanted to be there. Unfortunately, he stopped signing right before he got to me; I really think I would have been the next ball he signed.

After some running to loosen up, the Yankees got in a large circle with their trainer in the middle leading the exercise. There was a lot of chatter going on amongst the guys, and our Hokie Bird decided to join in on the fun. He got into the middle of the circle mocking all of the exercises, and then going from player to player messing with him. Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera seemed to have the most fun laughing at the Bird, as I would imagine they are not as familiar with the colleges in the United States or their mascots. It was great to watch the players laughing and talking to each other, since the media would have you believe that none of the Yankees like each other and they are all just there to play baseball.

A group including Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada entered the field during the exercises to loud ovations from the crowd, and then a couple minutes later Derek Jeter entered the field to the loudest ovation. Joe Girardi started signing some autographs and chatting it up with the fans around this time, but sadly he stopped signing before he got to me also. Long overdue, Shelley Duncan made his entrance to some surprising cheers. I heard a couple people shouting, “Cleats down today, Shelley!”

Batting practice started next for the first group of hitters, while others loosened up their arms along the sidelines. Melky and Cano threw right in front of me and I got several good shots of them throwing back and forth. I really could have watched the whole pre-game routine for a couple hours. A couple reserve players started signing autographs, and I got Chad Moeller, Jason Brown, and Scott Patterson to sign a ball for me.

After taking some batting practice, Jason Giambi started signing pretty far down the fence from me, and I really did not think I would have a chance of him getting to me. Giambi seemed to be the type to me that would just sign a couple balls and get away, he had never seemed to be that personable to me. Surprisingly though, he signed a lot of autographs and made it to me. I handed Jason a clean ball, since I decided the former MVP deserved his own ball. I thanked him as he moved along and signed a little while longer after me.

At this point, I figured no one else would be signing and I was a little disappointed that I was so close to Girardi and Damon, but was not able to get their signatures. I could see all the way down to the Yankee dugout that there were rows and rows of people stacked up trying to get Jeter and Posada’s autographs. Posada did not sign that many autographs and he never really made it close to me. However, Derek Jeter started making his way down the line.

I had to keep calming myself down; since I knew he would probably stop at any moment and not make it to me. The closer he got, the more my ribs were squished into the fence. By the time he got down near me, I could hardly even move people were shoving me so hard to reach out to him. All I could manage was to hold my breath and stick my arms out as far as I could. When Derek Jeter took my ball, he dropped it in the dirt; he could do whatever he wanted to it as far as I was concerned as long as he signed it. Derek Jeter has been an idol of mine since his rookie year, many a time I got in trouble for emulating his patented jump throws at baseball practice when I was younger. I grew up watching Jeter lead the Yankees to their dynasty run from 1996-2000, and believed they could never lose. I’ve since grown up and realized how special and rare those years were, and appreciated the time I spent watching the Yankees with my father before he died in 2002. He may not be a gold glove caliber shortstop anymore and he probably never was, but he is everything a ballplayer should be and plays the game the way it was meant to be played. To get his autograph meant everything to me, and my heart races still thinking about it.

Jeter went on signing autographs until he got to the end of the stands, he must have signed a thousand autographs. After batting practice ended, all of the Yankees exited the field and went back to their changing quarters. Virginia Tech’s batting practice was pretty uneventful, while I called everyone I knew to tell them that I got Derek Jeter’s autograph.

After batting practice came the time I really had not wanted to think about, the real reason the Yankees were there. As the people walked out along the warning track with the balloons, the field grew silent. I could feel the emotion around the field during the moment of silence. I thought of the two people I knew who had been killed so mercilessly, Ross Alameddine and Professor Jocelyn Couture. I had been in Madame Couture’s French class the semester before the shootings with Ross.

The game was not of high quality, Virginia Tech walked a lot of Yankee hitters and the outcome was really never in question after the first inning. All of the Yankee starters were out of the game by the fourth inning, and most retreated to the locker room to avoid the cold Blacksburg weather. After the game ended, I was able to call Morgan Ensberg over for an autograph. It was easy to get his attention, since I do not think more than five people even knew who he was.

All in all, it was probably one of the best times of my life, an experience few will ever have. People got to see the Yankees as human beings rather than paid mercenaries, and they really seemed like they wanted to be there to help any way they could. Congratulations Yankees, you did help and there have been nothing but stories of good times had by all in attendance.

Kyle Collins is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Kyle in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of KCollins1304.
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