Going Out in Style at Yankee Stadium

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Going Out in Style at Yankee Stadium

Morning came on Oct. 5, 2009, with Yankee flags adorning shops and residents homes in the Bronx.  Traffic is scarce, a few cars can be seen driving on Main street, yet not one of them is a cabbie.

Businesses around New York declare a holiday in honor of the evening's New York Yankees-Chicago Cubs Game 7 World Series Game.

To make up for a lack of transportation to the game, bus drivers are volunteering their services for Yankee fans.

Sunday was actually scheduled as a make-up work day for many NY companies, making today off possible.  Most people ravingly agreed, considering the Yankees long anticipated return to the biggest stage in baseball.

What was supposed to be the finale season for the Old Yankee Stadium in 2008 was postponed in favor of helping tax payers save some money for one year.

Mayor Bloomberg decided that he would make extra-special preparations for the game, via extra policemen outside the stadium as well as inside it.  

These boys of blue would provide a presence around the perimeter of the stadium as monitors, making sure that no ticket scalper earned one dollar above market value for a ticket.

What was really strange about this surprise empathetic move proved to be Bloomberg's insistence that if a ticket goes over it's pre-determined price, that the proceeds must be donated to a charity on site.

The Mayor promised that a different charity would be situated outside of each of the gates to the stadium.

Yankee Stadium has a new shine to it on this day, much like a brand new penny.

Around 10 in the morning, I pull up in the only running cab in New York City.  The driver is actually a Yankees representative, and the cab is rented out for a few hours from the city.

Half a dozen reporters are awaiting my arrival, just outside the front gates to the House That Ruth Built.

As I open my door, I take notice to the carpet lain right before me, leading all the way to where the reporters are standing.  It's a royal blue color, with a pin stripes background just like the Bombers uniforms.  The Yankee logo appears embroidered in the center of this expensive looking carpet, jumping out like it was part of a 3-D movie.

To think all of this is a creation of Zander Freund and Bleacher Report makes me pinch my skin, wondering if this is reality.

Zander somehow managed to arrange this with the Yankees brass, with the premise that a winning essayist from the site, providing a report on New York Yankees history would be treated to a VIP experience for a day.  As Bleacher Report editor Rory indicated to me, 1 million hit the sweet spot for the Yankees GM.

Not just any VIP treatment mind you, a VIP athlete-like pampering with full-access.

Getting out of the cab I felt like I was Broadway Joe, just without the mink coat and a couple of girls on my arms.

Just like a flash, I walked down the carpet, some what dizzy from the spinning feeling in my head from the sheer awe of what was happening.

As I reached the end of the carpet and was about to enter the gates, a hugely familiar figure stepped in front of me.

"My sons are running the day to day operations now but I'm still the owner around here.  I want to show people that I'm not evil like Darth Vader."

"Plus the boys are busy with the series game looming and I'm the only one left to be your guide."

"Think of me as your buddy today, and please call me George and not Mr. Steinbrenner like I'm sure you'd be inclined to do."

It sounded phony coming out of Mr. Steinbrenner's mouth.  I wanted to call him George but how could I when his words seemed rehearsed, like they had been on a cue card he was reading before my arrival.

"Sorry, Mr. Steinbrenner, I have too much respect for you to call you by your first name.  Thank you for being so genuinely open with the gesture though."

"I understand.  Brian Cashman didn't start calling me George until just last year."

Mr. Steinbrenner handed me an envelope which displayed my name.  Inside was my itinerary, starting with a tour of the club house, a visit to the field, and then a seat next to the leader of the Evil Empire, my host, in the best suite available.

"You're going to love what we have in store for you, Christopher, in our club house."

"I'm already loving all of this so far with the carpet ride I just got off, Mr. Steinbrenner."

There we were walking down the hall heading toward the surprise that awaited me in the clubhouse; The man who made the New York Yankees the standard for winning championships, and the man who hoped he could have a World Series replica ring made for him by opening day of next season.

We entered the clubhouse where so many Yankee greats had suited up, maybe or maybe not using steroids to take them to greatness.

Looking around the room I saw all the jerseys hanging up with care, just like stockings at Christmas time.

Jeter, Teixeira, Posada, Sabathia all hung in their places with a Sony monitor built in to each of their lockers.

I looked around wondering what was in here for me, until I saw a jersey with my No. 40 from high school basketball right next to Alex Rodriguez's.  

The word WHALER was spelled right above the number.  It was near perfect, my last name was almost spelled correctly.

"That is really amazing, Mr. Steinbrenner that my name is on a jersey, but the spelling is wrong. There should be an 'n' instead of an 'r' on the end of my name."

"Son, since we are buddies and all, don't worry about the mistake.  I'll have it fixed in a New York minute."

Then just like a Rickey Henderson steal, a few seconds later a Yankee representative brought out a corrected jersey.

I put the jersey, an XL, on and soaked up the moment, courtesy of Bleacher Report.

As I put my cap on I thought: Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.

Someone before me said something like that, it seemed, but then again maybe it was an original thought.

None of the players could be seen in the locker room since they were finishing batting practice on the field.

"I'd love to take you to meet the guys on the team, except they are extremely focused right now and we do not want to mess with that dynamic."

Mr. Steinbrenner promised me I would see the players before tonight's ball game instead. 

He told me that seeing the field would have to wait until prior to the game as well.

Night time came on Yankee Stadium and I returned in a limo this time.  Wearing my jersey and cap I was ready to see the my Yankees break the Cubs hearts and send them home into the cold, windy city air.

Despite being told I would meet the players before the first pitch, that I would see the field, the opportunity never came.  Brian Cashman saw the game as too crucial to risk the player's concentration with a face-to-face meeting.

To say I was disappointed was like saying that Terrell Owens is down when he doesn't get 50 passes thrown his way.

First pitch was minutes away, and I was making my way up the elevator along with Mr. Steinbrenner, who was right next to me.

We took our seats in the so-comfortable-it-should-be-a-crime reclining chairs in the suite.  Dinner choices were between Lobster or steak.

All I wanted were hot dogs and some nachos, without the inflated prices.

"I think we're about to find out who the celebrity throwing the first pitch will be Christopher."

"I hope it's Billy Crystal, Mr. Steinbrenner."

The PA announcer came on about a minute after we had all stood for the Star spangled banner, performed by Bruce Springsteen.

"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, WELCOME TO GAME 7 OF THE WORLD SERIES BETWEEN THE CHICAGO CUBS AND YOUR NEW YORK YANKEES! PLEASE GIVE A ROARING APPLAUSE FOR OUR SPECIAL GUEST WHO WILL THROW OUT THE FIRST PITCH, CHRISTOPHER WHALEN FROM BLEACHERREPORT.COM."

If I was drinking a soda at that point, I would have spit it out of my mouth.

Making my way down the aisles came with a security escort, along with the hundreds of high-fives which came from both Yankees and Cubs fans.

The left hand was as red as a tomato by the time I reached the field.

I'd never thrown a pitch that far before in my entire life.  

It showed.

After being so hyped up and trying to wind up like a major-league pitcher would, I threw the ball high above Jorge Posada's head.

Fans still screamed, while others laughed and cat called my efforts.

Before I knew it, I was back sitting in the suite with the Boss.

The bottom of the eighth inning came and the Yankees were up 14-4 over the forever cursed Chicago Cubs.

This day could get no better than this were my thoughts at the time.

"It's about time you met the Yankee players, I'd say, my boy."

What he meant is that I was to sit in the dugout with them and watch the game from the most unlikely of places.

I walked down the stairs to the dugout, wondering where I was going to sit, if I could even talk to anyone even though it was a Cub killing.

"You aren't going to sit here with us just yet.  Grab a bat and head for home plate."

This I was told by Yankee manager Joe Girardi.

When I heard that I froze, was handed a bat, a helmet, and almost feel down walking towards the plate, like I had my head on the end of the bat and spun around 10 times.

I had specific instructions-don't swing the bat-no matter what I did. My job was to stand there and take every pitch and not embarrass the Yankees.

Taking each pitch just like the good boy I am, I smiled the whole time as Mark Prior screamed 90 mph fast balls by me three times for strikes.

The players may not have said more than a hello to me in the dugout when I returned, but I didn't care.

I ended my VIP experience in the locker room celebrating with the Yankee players, after a 18-4 victory over those lovable Cubbies.

They let me wear goggles, take some champagne spray, all of five exactly timed minutes.

I had my day with the greats though, my Bleacher moment in the sun and in lights.

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