03/12/2008 3:36 PM ET
Crystal lives out pinstripe dreams
Actor-comedian takes BP and fielding practice with Yanks
By Chris Girandola / Special to MLB.com
Billy Crystal will most likely bat at designated hitter for the Yankees on Thursday. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
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TAMPA, Fla. -- When Harry met a brushback pitch.
An idea spawned on the beaches of Costa Rica a few months ago between Billy Crystal and Derek Jeter turned comedic in the batting cages of Field Two at Legends Field on Wednesday.
"That was all Derek's idea," joked Tino Martinez, who served as the pitcher during batting practice for Crystal, Jeter and Jose Molina and tossed a pitch behind Crystal's back.
The pitch came during one of Crystal's many sessions in the cage in which the star of movies, television and Broadway took 47 swings, all of which Crystal connected with.
It wasn't the only idea that the Yankees All-Star shortstop created.
"We were sitting on the beach in Costa Rica and Derek asked how I was feeling," said Crystal, who will turn 60-years-old on March 14. "I kind of told him 'Ehhh, so-so,' in a somewhat joking fashion. And he asked what would make me feel better. I responded to him in another joking way that it would be great if the Yankees could sign me to a one-day contract and I could be a part of the Yankees for a day. One thing led to another and he said, 'Let's make this happen.'"
Jeter got the wheels in motion upon his return to the States and on Wednesday, Crystal lived the dreams he and millions of other fans have envisioned throughout the Yankees' existence. Crystal will play against Pittsburgh on Thursday in Tampa after the Yankees signed the comedian/actor to a one-day Minor League contract. Commissioner Bud Selig approved the Yankees' extension of a contract to Crystal.
"I feel very fortunate," said Crystal, who batted .348 as a captain of his Long Beach (N.Y.) High School baseball team. "I know this doesn't happen to anybody but I hope that anyone who is watching what I'm doing that it makes them feel they can do something. Granted, it's an extreme situation but it's coming true for me so it can come true for anybody else who wants it and just works hard at making their dreams come true."
Crystal's shared that dream with many others as the Hollywood icon entered the Yankees clubhouse dressed in a suit. His locker was sandwiched in between Minor League prospects Cody Ransom and Heath Phillips.
"This is a huge deal for him and me," said Phillips, who turns 26-years-old ten days after Crystal's birthday, just before Crystal began putting on his Yankees uniform. "I've been watching his films since I was a little kid. I might just ask him if I can be in one of his movies."
Crystal has created one of the most versatile and prolific careers in the entertainment industry, starring in several films such as "When Harry Met Sally," "City Slickers" and "Analyze This," as well as hosting the Oscars several times.
As Crystal donned his jersey with the No. 60 on the back in honor of his birthday, the movie star showed off the 33-inch, black SAM-brand bat that he personally brought himself to another Minor League prospect, Dan Giese.
"He was really proud of the bat, which he should be because it's a good brand and style," said Giese, 30, who tried to play it cool working on a crossword puzzle during Crystal's arrival. "He was actually more interested in helping me finish my crossword. I'll see if he can autograph it later."
Crystal finished his clubhouse routine by greeting several Yankees players, including Jason Giambi and Mike Mussina, before they headed off to St. Petersburg to face the Tampa Bay Rays. The Yankees pitcher even joked that he was feeling old to which Crystal replied, "You? Ha, step into my shoes."
With a gaggle of cameras and press lining the warning track along the first-base side, Crystal then took the main field with the rest of the players who weren't scheduled to make the trip to St. Petersburg. He did warm-ups and stretches next to Jeter and talked with Reggie Jackson during the tail-end of the stretches.
After stretches were complete, Crystal headed over to Field 2 with Jeter and Molina. Fans who had obviously heard of Crystal's planned workout crowded up against the fence near home-plate in anticipation of the movie star's at-bats.
With shouts of everything from "Throw a momma a line drive" to "C'mon Mr. Saturday Night, you can do it," raining down from the fans, Crystal hit the first pitch he saw from Martinez up the middle. He hit the next two cleanly up the middle before lofting a fly-ball to left. He finished his first session in the pen with two grounders to short, to flyballs to left, and a line-ball to center.
After each session, while Jeter and Molina hit, Crystal either stretched or talked with Triple-A hitting coach Butch Wynegar about his approach at the plate. "He just talked about having me stay back, be still and that I was moving forward a bit," Crystal said.
Crystal stepped into the cage five more times while shouting to the fans things such as "He's throwing 95, 97 easy, but don't worry about it. I got things under control." His time in the batting cages included several line drives to center and to left and he looked so much like his former self that Jeter often shouted, "Way to go, Billy. Keep it up."
When Crystal was finished, he talked once again with Wynegar about what to improve on before tomorrow, when he is scheduled to be a part of the Yankees roster in the game against the Pirates.
"He talked a little more about my approach at the plate but he said I looked surprisingly good and was ready to go," Crystal said. "For me, that was like coming off the stage and having (Bill) Cosby say that was a good set."
Crystal then met with reporters in the Yankees dugout and said the most difficult part was taking questions from the media. But he also wanted his opportunity to serve as a lesson in hope.
"I hope it inspires people," said Crystal, who still wore his uniform during his press conference. "That's what I really hope this whole thing does. I've had this dream for a while and it's coming true for me so it can come true for anyone else. My grandfather always said, 'If you hang around the store long enough, it'll get you something.' That's the way I look at it."
Crystal said that he had been trying to harness the nervousness of the past two days and would be even more nervous tonight.
"I'm trying," joked Crystal. "This morning, my legs felt like gumby or something like that. I couldn't sleep and I was annoying everybody. I just looked pale but once I got out there and stretched, I felt fine. We'll see how it is tomorrow."
When asked what position he would end up playing, at first he quipped and said, "Designated Hebrew," before deferring to Girardi's decision, which the manager had earlier mentioned that it would most likely be designated hitter.
Whatever the case, Jeter believes his friend will perform well.
"I think he'll do well," said Jeter, who joked that some rookie hazing might occur tomorrow. "Spring Training is a time for us to get work done but it's also a time to have some fun. It's a dream he's had for quite a while so it'll be fun for him, the fans and the whole team."
Crystal directed and produced the film "61*," which chronicled the historic seasons of Yankees greats Roger Maris and Mantle as they sought to break Babe Ruth's single-season home run record. The film garnered 12 Emmy nominations, including nods for "Best Director" and "Best Made-for-Television Movie."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.