Yesterday was the Yankees' first opening day without Bernie Williams since 1991. The longtime stalwart and fan favorite, who helped New York win four World Series titles from 1996-2000, declined the club's offer of a minor league contract this off season and never came to spring training. Sad. I grew up watching him play in pinstripes out in left since I was in elementary school. He was always like an ole faithful for the Yanks, you could always depend on him for a hit and an amazing grab without much fuss off the field.
I actually met Bernie Williams once. I didn't see him around the ballpark or in New York even, but in San Diego. The Yankees were in town playing the Padres, and so was my family,friend and I for business and vacay. We were able to score some tickets though. After the game, I had heard that the team was holding up in the Hyatt, which was next door to where we were staying at the Marriott. Being the huge fan that I am, I immediately headed over and staked out the place. Since I apparently looked suspicious a man working for the team approached me and gave me the run around asking me questions about where I am from, etc., as a result I missed the players arriving.
Defeated, I walked about the harbor area when I spotted Bernie in street clothes. Well, not exactly "street," since he had a nice blazer on and was with his wife who was wearing a nice dress. Starstruck and never having seen him outside of his uniform, I wasn't sure if I should approach and if it was really him. I grab my friend's arm and point him out, she encourages me to go up to him, I tell her she has to come too though. I approach like a nervous school girl, stammering out "Are you...are you, Bernie Williams??" I say all this while extending a notepad for him to sign. He takes the book and signs his name and says quietly almost shyly, "Jeez I could have been Tiger Woods for all you knew," which is weird because it's not like my father was around pointing him out or something, and it's not like I just asked if he was famous and that's it, I said his name after all. Either way, he signed my autograph book and then I asked him to sign one for one of his biggest fans, my childhood friend, so he signs the book again and personalizes it to him even. I then asked if we could take a picture, but he looked around nervously afraid others would approach and he said he'd rather not. I said I understood and I smiled at his wife, thanked them and walked away elated.
I later called my friend that I got the extra autograph for and even saw Bernie walk by again, so I quickly and covertly snapped a photo, but it's from the side and at a distance so he looks like any guy in the crowd, just taller. It was a pretty cool sighting for me.
The Yankees have won nine straight home openers and 20 of their past 23. They won yesterday too, 9 to 5 vs the Devil Rays.
PS: Happy Birthday Raphael!