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Bat Boy

Excerpt from Chapter 3, "The Rookie"

It had taken only a few games to begin to grasp the personalities of the different Yankees - who was friendly, who was a loner, which guys were the leaders on and off the field. Mattingly was hands down the most generous player on the roster, giving both of his time and - as the best tipper on the team - his wallet. The pitcher Melido Perez was probably the funniest Yankee; a native of the Dominican Republic, his apparently tenuous grasp of the English language was belied by unexpectedly fluent one-liners. Center fielder Bernie Williams was the kindest and most cerebral ballplayer; I admired him for how he relaxed before games by strumming the classical guitar he kept in his locker.

Figuring out how to make use of these insights so that I felt more at ease amidst all the varied personalities took longer. You might blame Nick's short fuse, or Jamie's dismissive mantra, but part of the problem was that no one who worked in the clubhouse learned anything by asking directly. What I learned I gathered by observation, watching how the guys ahead of me - namely Jamie, Robby, and the Mule - comported themselves, before, during and after games.

Following this fundamental law of clubhouse dynamics, I gradually intuited how to carry myself around the ballplayers. The first lesson was that I didn't necessarily need to walk on eggshells all the time: it was OK to joke around with the ballplayers on the bench and in the clubhouse, but, just like in school, nobody likes a kiss-ass. I learned that pitchers were more laid back than position players, probably because they had so much more time to kill than everyday players and so sat around all game amusing themselves and each other. This made them easier to talk to, and the first guys on the Yankees roster who I considered friends were pitchers: Scott Kamieniecki, John Habyan, Bob Wickman, Tim Leary.

From my very first day at work, people were curious to know which Yankees I'd found to be jerks or assholes; after "What's Mattingly like?" it may have been the question I most frequently fielded. In truth, there were only one or two, and I understood even then that without them my Yankee Stadium education in human nature would have been incomplete. It's instructive to discover at age sixteen that someone unimaginably wealthy could and would stiff you for twenty bucks after you'd picked up and paid for their lunch or dry cleaning. Or that you could work for two years with someone who never bothered to learn your first name. The better lessons came from the guys who reached out to me in small but meaningful ways - greeting me by name on the bench, asking about school, playfully inquiring about how I was getting along with the ladies.

I began to see that the ballplayers, despite their extraordinary athletic abilities, possessed the personalities of otherwise ordinary people - people I'd met before and knew from school or around the neighborhood. It was possible to relate to the players individually and personally rather than only as a baseball fan or only as the kid who shined their baseball spikes and straightened their lockers. After all, I realized, most of them weren't more than a few years older than I was at the time. I remember well the day that summer when the Yankees' recently signed top draft pick, a high school shortstop from Kalamazoo, Michigan, arrived at the Stadium for his first workout with the big league club. Derek Jeter was eighteen years old, barely older than the bat boys working in the clubhouse. He seemed as awed as I had been on my first day of work. Politely reticent, he hung close by the clubhouse staff, making us laugh when he addressed Nick as "Mr. Priore," watching TV with us in the players' lounge until batting practice started.

Having learned firsthand that a player's performance on the field often has little connection to his character off it, in the dugout and outside of baseball, I knew I'd never again boo at a sporting event. I vividly remember the shock and sadness I felt later in the season when I heard in the clubhouse that Tim Leary - a veteran pitcher who was having a miserable season for the Yankees, booed mercilessly nearly every time he took the mound - had been traded to the Seattle Mariners. Though he'd lost the affection of the fans, I knew Leary was a first-rate guy, smart, friendly and funny. It's hard to tell what he thought of the timid high school junior with whom he'd had a handful of conversations, but I thought of Leary as a friend of mine. I approached him nervously while he emptied his locker the afternoon the trade was announced. With as much earnestness as I had ever mustered in a conversation with an adult, I shook his hand and wished him well in Seattle.

The fact that I was the sole rookie batboy, initially a source of anxiety, served in reality to quicken the pace at which I formed friendships with the ballplayers. After Hector left, Jamie preferred going down the line to doing both bats and balls in the dugout, so those game-time duties fell to me. I was spending every game in the Yankee dugout, and though handling both bats and balls seemed at first to be a feat of great concentration, I quickly got the hang of it. I was now the only kid on the bench during games, and mutual familiarity with the ballplayers developed swiftly."

Excerpted from Bat Boy: My True Life Adventures Coming Of Age With The New York Yankees by Matthew McGough. Copyright © 2005. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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