Streams

That Batboy Job With the Yankees? It's a Bronx School Perk

Sunday, July 01, 2012 - 10:05 PM

As an avid Yankees fan for years, Edwin Tavarez often noticed bat boys on the field catching foul balls outside the first- and third-base lines and retrieving bats flung by hitters. But Edwin, an 18-year-old senior at Urban Assembly School for Careers in Sports, never imagined that one day he would have the opportunity to become one.

“I didn’t know how they got the job,” he said, “so I didn’t think I’d get it.”

A selection process little known outside of a couple of high schools in the Bronx, however, made it possible for Edwin and his classmate, Bryan Jimenez, 17, to both land batboy posts this season, a feat only dreamed of by many youths their age.

“It’s awesome,” said Edwin, as he and Bryan shared their good fortune after school on a recent Monday, the only afternoon that week they didn’t have to don their pinstripe uniforms and race to Yankee Stadium.

It used to be that most batboy aspirants or their parents knew somebody with an inside connection to the Yankees organization. Or they knew somebody who knew somebody. There was certainly no formal process for applying for a coveted Yankees batboy position.

But about seven years ago, things changed. Once the Yankees announced their new stadium plans in 2005, they began reaching out to the surrounding Bronx community to fill some of their batboy slots.

Two schools, in particular, emerged as pipelines for candidates: the Urban Assembly School and the Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice, both in the Concourse Village area near the stadium.

Urban Assembly received its first call from the Yankees in 2006 requesting that the school provide several solid candidates for batboy openings, of which there are usually five positions: three batboys attend to the home team each season and two cater to the visiting side.

The school’s Yankees liaison, Sharon Aiuvalasit, who also teaches English, said the Yankees officials mentioned only a few requirements, specifically wanting good students who could catch, throw and manage the long hours without their schoolwork taking a hit. And since the Yankees often invite batboys back for a second year, any senior class candidates should be planning to attend college in New York City.

Bryan Jimenez, 17, was given training by the clubhouse manager to improve his catching skills.Uli Seit for The New York TimesBryan Jimenez, 17, was given training by the clubhouse manager to improve his catching skills.
 

Bryan is enrolled in Fordham University for the fall, and plans to study finance/economics and become an investment banker. Edwin will be attending the New York City School of Technology in Brooklyn, where he plans to study computer engineering. Both boys graduated on Saturday.

“You don’t have to be that individual who can run off everyone’s stats,” said Brian Smith, the Yankees’ senior vice president for corporate/community relations, “and tell you how many times they’ve gone deep this year and hit home runs, and so on. You just need to be that well-rounded individual that can come in and be productive.”

Urban Assembly, however, created additional standards - stated at the start of each school year -- which include regular attendance, a specific standard for grade-point averages and participation in extracurricular activities.

Teachers at the school rank the applicants. Character, maturity, leadership skills and some knowledge of baseball also come into play. Girls cannot apply since the duties require entering the players’ locker room.

“This program is a huge motivator for kids to succeed,” Ms. Aiuvalasit said. “This is the coolest thing this school has to offer, and this should be a reward for hard work.”

Bryan, for instance, has helped out in churches and soup kitchens. Edwin participated in Project Discovery, a school camping program for developing self-reliance. Both young men are in the school’s mentoring program.

“There were such great candidates this year,” said Mr. Smith, who, along with other staff in his department, reviewed the résumés and cover letters of the applicants for the two openings.

Those who pass muster next meet with senior clubhouse attendants. If that goes well, they finally have to impress Lou Cucuzza Jr., the Yankees' clubhouse manager, who began as a batboy with the team in 1979.

“We basically want people persons,” Mr. Cucuzza said. “They are going to be dealing with many players. And these players have many different personalities.”

Then there’s the coaching staff, support staff, managers and owners who are coming in and out of the clubhouse. Batboys assigned to the visiting clubhouse must also cater to a revolving cast of players.

To earn their minimum-wage salary, he said, “Basically, it’s clean, clean and more cleaning.” The batboys arrive several hours before the game starts to set up the equipment in the dugouts. After batting practice, “they’re cleaning shoes,” he said. And once the game is over, “they’re cleaning shoes again.”

During the game, they are positioned alongside the playing field. But it’s not always as glamorous as it seems. Bryan was recently chasing a foul ball down the third-base line during a game against the Cincinnati Reds. His job was to scoop up the ball and toss it to some eager young spectator.

He slipped on the wet turf and took a tumble. “I was embarrassed,” he said, recalling how the crowd erupted into a sympathetic chorus of “Awww.” Adding to his self-consciousness, he said, “I ran to my stool and the camera was still on my face. Everything you do is seen by everybody, because everybody follows the ball.”

As far as getting friendly with the players goes, “We don’t really want them to engage in conversation,” Mr. Cucuzza said. “But we also don’t want them to run when a player decides to strike up a conversation.”

He added, “The only way we direct them is: ‘You’re going to see things in the clubhouse. You’re going to hear things. It’s private. It’s not anything to put on Facebook or Twitter.’”

Some former batboys have capitalized on their celebrity access. Luis “Squeegee” Castillo was criticized for writing the tell-all “Clubhouse Confidential,” which was published last year. Nowadays, batboys must sign confidentiality agreements.

And no longer are they put through what used to be standard, first-day initiations. A former batboy, Matt McGough, for instance, on his naïve first day in 1992, was sent by the Yankees captain at the time, Don Mattingly, on a wild-goose chase for a bat stretcher, much to the snickering delight of everyone who knew there was no such thing.

“That’s really a lost art. We tend not to do that anymore,” Mr. Cucuzza lamented.

All batboys, however, collect indelible memories.

On Bryan’s first day assigned to the visiting clubhouse, he was expected to play catch between innings with Vernon Wells, the left fielder for the Los Angeles Angels. Only Mr. Wells quickly ascertained that Bryan, perhaps because he was nervous, wasn’t a very good catcher.

“I was beside myself not knowing what to do,” recalled Mr. Cucuzza, who considered letting Bryan go. Then Mr. Cucuzza remembered what he had told Bryan and Edwin in their job interview. “The first thing I said to them was, ‘Guys, you’re not here to try out for the Yankees. You’re not going to be assigned a number. You’re not making the team.’”

With that in mind, Mr. Cucuzza decided to improve Bryan’s catching skills. For the next couple of weeks, “We took him out there -- an hour a day -- and we turned this kid into a ballplayer.”

Bryan progressed so much that the day after he slipped in front of 40,000 stadium-goers, he got a chance to redeem himself, catching a foul ball during a game against the Kansas City Royals with enough pizazz to garner a replay on television.

“I didn’t know how to react,” recalled Bryan, who kept a straight face as the stadium cheered for him. “But it was awesome.”

Correction: July 3, 2012

A picture caption on Monday with an article about the Yankees’ choosing batboys from the community around their Bronx stadium misspelled, in some copies, the surname of one of the boys. As the article correctly noted, he is Edwin Tavarez, not Taverez.

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