A year ago I listened to a man tell the story of being hazed on his first day as a bat boy for the New York Yankees — and I fell for the hazing.
Some necessary context: Although I occasionally help cover high school sporting events with the much more qualified Iowa Information sports team (including sports editor Scott Byers and sports writer Charlie Hildebrand), I know very little about sports.
So little that I once thought the Super Bowl was a fancy awards banquet.
So little that I have yet to see any sporting event aside from one game of hockey.
So little that when Scott asked me to help out covering sports tonight, I wasn’t even sure what kind of sports were being played.
Turns out it’s baseball and softball. Which immediately reminded me of the time the New York Yankees indirectly tricked me into believing bat stretchers were real.
Last year I was listening to The Moth, a podcast and national organization that invites people to tell true stories of any kind before live audiences. I was listening to a story told by Matthew McGough, an author who was a bat boy for the New York Yankees when he was 16 and 17.
In his story for The Moth, McGough tells how he wrote letters to the New York Yankees applying to be the new bat boy and describes his first day of work when he (surprisingly) got the job.
The story involves plenty of repetitions of the line: “Hi, I’m Matt, I’m the new bat boy for the New York Yankees” and McGough’s dry and absolutely deadpan delivery has both myself and the audience for his life storytelling show rolling on the ground.
It’s so funny, in fact, that I missed when the real joke showed up: bat stretchers.
On his first day at work, McGough is asked by Don Mattingly, who at that time was an infielder for the Yankees, to find a bat stretcher. For the next six-or-so minutes of his story, McGough describes traipsing all over Yankee Stadium, being shuttled from one person to the next (including into the manager’s office during a press conference) on his quest for said bat stretcher.
Knowledgeable sports people already know the joke. Not me. I blithely followed along with McGough’s story with mounting concern and growing disrespect for the equipment managers of the New York Yankees in 1992 who had neglected to have even one bat stretcher on hand for opening day.
Which is when McGough gets to the end of his story, the part where he’s about to run to a nearby sporting goods store to hopefully buy a bat stretcher and get back before the game starts.
The part where it dawns on him that as a 16-year-old diehard fan of the Yankees, he’s never heard of or seen a bat stretcher.
The part where he sheepishly walks back into the Yankees clubhouse to find everyone laughing at how he’d fallen for the trick.
The part where I finally get the joke and realize why everyone has been laughing so hard for five minutes.
This is, of course, a much-abridged and much less funny version of McGough’s story, which I highly recommend. To listen to his telling of the story in a highly entertaining 13 minutes, visit themoth.org/stories/my-first-day-at-the-yankees.
Don’t be like me, though. Remember that bat stretchers aren’t real.