They told me to hang on to whatever I could from Draft Day, but honestly, I don't even remember hearing my name. All I know is that people around me started cheering and my family began pushing me up out of my seat and towards the podium. At first I resisted, still unaware that my name had been called, but the handsome man had a big smile on his face and seemed eager to shake my hand. I'd taken my first step towards The Show.
The headlines would call my draft selection a disappointment, given that the media had spent the previous year building me into one of the top prospects in baseball. I was supposed to have been a top-five selection, and going twenty-sixth in the first round should have been downright insulting. Had I gone when I was supposed to, I could have ended up in Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Milwaukee, or worst of all, Baltimore.
There's this romantic notion that top draft prospects are seen as the great white hope of ailing ball clubs; that when several years down the road they finally step onto a major league field they will be the catalyst for their struggling teams redemption. It's a great idea, but in practice too many players sputter out before reaching their true potential and they disappear into the game's exhaustive vault of might-have-beens.
"This is all well and good, but I'd like to extend a formal invitation to the after party. It's for players only. The Boss has his way of saying ‘welcome', and we have ours."So no, I didn't go top five. I didn't go top ten. Hell, I didn't even go top twenty. But where I did go made up entirely for when I went. I was drafted by the New York Yankees. As I stood there holding the gleaming white pinstriped jersey, masterfully embroidered with my name and number, flashbulbs bursting incessantly as I tried to capture a mental picture of the crowd before me, I was overwhelmed by a sense of personal pride. This was, in my mind, the only fitting way to enter the big dance.
I knew that the odds were stacked against me. The Yankees, with their almost limitless payroll and ability to year-in, year-out field an All-Star caliber team, are known for under-utilizing their minor league teams. They aren't experimental in the least, and if there's a player they're looking to add to the lineup, they'll wait until he's good and proven, and then buy him. I didn't care. All I knew was that I could say I was drafted by the New York Yankees, and now I just had to keep the dream alive that one day I might walk onto the field as a Bronx Bomber.
Two weeks after the draft the Yankees hosted a gala event for current, former, and future players. I received by courier both the invitation and two all-expenses-paid tickets to New York City, both signed by one Mr. George Steinbrenner. To be honest, it felt like Willy Wonka had given me a special invitation to his chocolate factory. I couldn't wait.
When my date and I arrived we were taken back by the extravagance of it all. I don't know what we expected, but the reality exceeded even the limits of our imaginations by a factor of ten. Illuminated champagne fountains provided the centerpiece for every table in the massive ballroom. Waiters with white gloves knelt down to reveal a decadent array of hors d'oeuvres while a string quartet masterfully filled the air with enchanting evening melodies. It was, without a doubt, the most impressive event I'd ever attended.
After my initial awe wore off, I became extremely self-conscious. Perhaps I didn't belong there, perhaps I wasn't ready for this. I didn't know anyone, and nobody knew me. I could take my date, turn around and walk out of the hall, and disappear from the organization forever, and no one would miss me. At least then I couldn't fail.
Just before I let my impulses get the best of me, I heard a voice from behind. "Unbelievable, isn't it?" I wheeled around and stood gaping, utterly starstruck. Bob Sheppard's voice played in my head, looped endlessly, saying, "Number Two. The Shortstop. De-rek Je-ter. Number Two." Jeter smiled, his hand remaining outstretched for quite some time, waiting for me to shake. I obliged. "I know it seems like a lot to take in, but soon enough you'll be on my side of these things. This is just a little event The Boss likes to throw every year as his way of saying, ‘Welcome to the Yankees.' You're in good hands." I believed him.
He then pulled me aside, politely excusing us from my date. "Listen, this is all well and good, but I'd like to extend a formal invitation to the after party. It's for players only, and it's a little tradition we've carried on throughout the years to keep that Yankee bond strong. The Boss has his way of saying ‘welcome', and we have ours."
After the ball I escorted my date back to our hotel room and promised her I'd be back in a few hours. I returned to the hall and made my way down the thin, spiral staircase that led below street level. I dutifully repeated the secret knock I'd been taught, and after a few seconds the door began to swing slowly open.
I stepped inside. The air smelled like sex, booze, and blood. There was a fine mist of sweat that obscured my view, and my eyes struggled to adjust to the reddish blackness. Suddenly, a shirtless maniac in a hockey mask leapt in front of me, brandishing a chainsaw. I screamed like a little girl before I realized that the chainsaw was, in reality, a twelve inch dildo attached to a power tool. My assailant laughed uproariously, revving the electric screwdriver while the phallus writhed around like a charmed snake, before lifting the hockey mask from his head. It was Robinson Cano.
"Come, come," he said. He took me by the arm. I felt an uneasiness and a physical queasiness that were probably a combination of both the atmosphere and the smell, and I wondered if I might not vomit right there. As we stepped further into the room, the infrared heat lamp that lit the dank room shed a slight glow on the evening's proceedings. Alex Rodriguez seemed in a trance, dutifully massaging what looked like barbecue sauce into the hide of a quivering, mooing baby calf. CC Sabathia ran in circles around the room, naked save for a bonnet and a thick coat of baby oil. Nick Swisher chased him with a horsewhip, chanting "I'm gonna getcha! I'm gonna getcha!" while Mark Teixeira stood in the center, making rodeo calls.
Rodriguez finished his basting and ceremoniously lifted the calf towards the sky, his eyes closed as his marinating concoction dripped onto his face and chest. He lowered the calf to eye level and sank his teeth into the juiciest part of the hide. The calf screamed in pain before going limp in his hands, obviously overcome by shock. Rodriguez wiped the blood from his mouth and placed the calf in the center of the room before bellowing, "FEED!"
If I didn't go back in there, if I didn't just accept whatever the hell was going on in there, I'd never play professional baseball.From the recesses of the room appeared Curtis Granderson and Jorge Posada, who crawled like hyenas towards the kill, circling the carcass before advancing. Mariano Rivera appeared last and made a flying leap onto the pile, tackling Posada in order to get his fair share of the night's menu. I watched, horrified yet transfixed as the three men tore the calf to pieces, devouring the raw meat without chewing. Teixeira now sat on the floor, arms around his knees, rocking back and forth. He giggled, as though privy to some joke or riddle that no one else could or cared to understand.
When I was finally able to move my horrified gaze away from the massacre, I saw him. There, in a leather armchair atop a dining room table, Derek Jeter sat, lording over this Dionysian orgy. A thick, almost comical cigar protruded from his lips, and he neither commented, participated, or seemed the least bit moved by the proceedings. In fact, his eyes shifted to me for only a brief second, and as those soulless, unfeeling eyes stared me down to my core, he said calmly, "Welcome to the Yankees."
It was too much. I turned and ran, fumbling with the deadbolt on the steel door, panicked because I was sure they were chasing me. I heard Alex Rodriguez howl, and he was echoed by a chorus of howls that scared me more than anything I'd seen in that room. Finally I was free, and I raced up the thin spiral staircase and sprinted out towards the street. When I reached the boulevard I turned, watching from whence I came. No one followed. I felt too exhausted to run, so I sat down on the curb and buried my head in my lap. What the hell had just happened?
I felt moisture on my head. Tiny droplets began to fall from the sky, and as I looked up I caught a glimpse of a homeless person defecating into a storm drain. I wanted to cry. I realized that I was throwing away my future. If I didn't go back in there, if I didn't just accept whatever the hell was going on in there, I'd never play professional baseball. Then again, how was I supposed to participate in what amounted to some satanic cult ritual in order to secure my place on some team to play what was, at the end of the day, just a game? What a nightmare.
"Hungry?" I leapt and turned defensively, sure I'd been caught. Instead, I saw the man of legends, the man they said was the most feared owner in all of baseball, extending towards me a plate of finger foods. "Take a seat, son." Mr. Steinbrenner and I sat side by side on the curb, the plate between us. "They're empanadas. Jorge's mom makes them for me every year." He nudged the plate towards me. I wasn't hungry, obviously, but I took one and nibbled at it slowly.
"Good?" he asked. I nodded. I had no idea if it was good or not. He looked off into the distance. "I take it Derek invited you to one of his little ‘after parties.'" I nodded again. He patted me on the back. "I tell you what, those are the weirdest boys I've ever known in my entire life, but god damn can they play some baseball." I couldn't argue with that.
"Basically, here's how it works. They come to my parties, I let them have theirs. I've never been, personally, and I don't really want to know what goes on in there, but believe me when I say you're not the first boy I've seen run out of there like they've seen a ghost. You gonna be alright?" I shrugged. "You're gonna be alright. Just give it time. Listen, the Yankees aren't for everyone, that's for sure. The love of the game just ain't gonna cut it around here, and if you want to be one of us, then you really gotta be one of us, you see what I'm saying?" I saw all too well what he was saying.
"If you're not gonna go back in there, come inside with me. I've got a plate of food I wrapped up for you that you can take for the road. We'll get this all worked out in the morning. Tonight, I think you really need to get some sleep." I agreed. I sat in silence on the nearly empty early morning subway, slowly picking at the plate on my lap. At the bottom, scrawled on the surface of the paper plate, was a note:
"For what it's worth, you're ok with me.
When I arrived back at my hotel room I crawled slowly into bed, facing away from my date. "How was it?" she asked. "I don't want to talk about it." She didn't ask again.
The next morning I was traded to the Baltimore Orioles, and the transaction was handled with all the tension and candor of a prisoner swap. As my replacement and I passed each other on the moving sidewalks, he nodded to me in acknowledgment, an acknowledgment I did not return. He probably thought I was a real dick, but I was simply too busy praying for him to notice.