A diamond Crystal: Comedian’s a hit on first day in pinstripes
By BEN WALKER, AP Baseball Writer
TAMPA, Fla. (AP)—Billy Crystal came prepared. Black maple bat in hand, the New York Yankees newcomer brought a well-worn glove with his name neatly stitched on the side, too.
The hitting and fielding part, the comedian felt confident about. It was the drug test that had him worried.
“I’m supposed to bring blood and urine to the umpire tomorrow,” he kidded Wednesday. “I might test positive for Maalox.”
Quite a 60th birthday present for the actor, director, Oscar host and lifelong Yankees fan: A chance to play in an exhibition game Thursday at Legends Field.
Crystal certainly looked the part during his day-before workout. He kept the jokes to a minimum, made contact on all 52 swings against batting practice pitcher Tino Martinez and kept up with Derek Jeter in jogging drills.
“He did fine,” Jeter said. “He did a good job.”
Crystal will become the latest celebrity to play in a spring training game, joining the likes of Garth Brooks, Tom Selleck and Bruce Hornsby.
Exactly what Crystal will do against Pittsburgh remains a mystery. He’ll get to swing, but it’s unclear if the former high school infielder will need his black Rawlings mitt.
Asked by a fan what position he’ll play, Crystal quipped: “DH—designated Hebrew.”
He did, however, have something special in mind for the Pirates. “A little Mazeroski payback,” he said.
Crystal was a 12-year-old growing up in New York when Bill Mazeroski hit the famous bottom-of-the-ninth homer that beat the Yankees in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series.
Crystal looked like a little boy again as he bantered with Reggie Jackson, hugged Jason Giambi and received his No. 60 jersey from manager Joe Girardi.
Spotting newly elected Hall of Famer Goose Gossage in the clubhouse, Crystal made a beeline to the reliever and offered congratulations.
While a few tradition-laden critics complained that Crystal’s appearance was a stunt that somehow offended baseball, Gossage said he had no problems.
“It doesn’t bother me,” the hard-throwing Goose said. “Of course, if I pitched to him, I’d flip him. I’d knock him down. And that would be the end of it.”
Martinez, prodded by Jeter, playfully tossed a pitch behind Crystal’s helmet during BP. Crystal was equal to the moment, walking toward the mound and pointing his bat.
Crystal ended the 90-minute session with his best swing of the afternoon. The righty lined what would’ve been a double down the left-field line, then lingered a few extra minutes talking with Triple-A hitting coach Butch Wynegar about mechanics.
“I was surprised. You could tell he’s been working at it,” Martinez said.
Crystal spent a lot of time practicing with Reggie Smith. The former star trained the actors to hit for “61*,” the HBO project that Crystal directed.
“Entertainment Tonight” and TV Guide cameras followed Crystal from the main field to a back diamond, and his wife, Janice, also shot her own video.
“He hasn’t been too nervous,” she said. “Naturally, when he steps in there and they’re throwing 90 mph fastballs, that’s a little different.”
Crystal was a favorite of former Yankees manager Joe Torre and became something of a pinstripe mascot, once keeping them loose by taking infield with them before a World Series game.
Crystal signed a one-day minor league contract when he arrived at Legends Field, met with Girardi and then walked directly to his locker. Yankees prospect Mark Melancon previously occupied the cubicle.
“It’s beyond belief,” Crystal said. “But I didn’t want to come in and step on anyone’s toes. People have to get ready for the season.”
Crystal was the third person in the clubhouse wearing No. 60. The number also belongs to special pitching instructor Rich Monteleone and young infielder Cody Ransom, who will switch to No. 67 for the Pirates game.
In the majors, players often give some sort of gift—maybe a Rolex—to someone who yields their number.
“We’re in negotiations,” Ransom said.
Commissioner Bud Selig approved this appearance and the Pirates sounded fine with Crystal’s guest shot.
“He’s been a big ambassador for baseball,” Pittsburgh manager John Russell said. “It’s a kid’s game at heart and he has loved it since he was a kid. I have no qualms about it whatsoever.”
Nor does lefty Paul Maholm, scheduled to start for the Pirates.
“It’s a no-win situation for me,” he said, smiling. “I’m supposed to get the guy out. If he gets a hit off me, though, I might to have hang ‘em up after the game.”
That was his quip - Designated Hebrew...