Dellin Betances is literally living the dream of many kids growing up in New York. A lifelong Yankees fan from New York City, Betances finds himself this spring getting dressed alongside players he paid to see at the old Yankee Stadium not too long ago.
A 6-foot-8 right-hander with a fastball that hit 97 mph last week, Betances is competing for a spot on a roster filled with players he's long cheered for. The Yankees' eighth-round pick out of a Brooklyn high school in 2006, Betances' career was slowed a bit following elbow surgery two years ago. He's healthy now and slated to begin the 2011 campaign at Double-A Trenton. The only question is, when will he return to the Bronx?
MiLB.com recently took a few minutes to talk with the hard-throwing righty.
MiLB.com: You had elbow surgery -- some reports have incorrectly said it was a Tommy John procedure. What exactly was done, and how difficult was the recovery? Did you ever worry about it ending your career?
Dellin Betances: I got the news in summer 2009 that I was going in for Tommy John surgery, that's what they told me. I went to Dr. [James] Andrews, they checked and when I came out, he told me ... it would be reconstructive [as opposed to typical Tommy John]. They repaired the ligament I had and added another one. When he told me the timetable was eight months, I said, 'Alright, that's not a year.' It kinda gave me confidence to know I was going to come back and not miss 2010.
MiLB.com: You've got two solid off-speed pitches and a mid-90s fastball, which is a rarity for many Minor Leaguers. How would you describe your style overall? Would you rather start or relieve?
Betances: I see myself as a starter. I've been a starter since I signed. If I got the chance to come in the bullpen, and they need me to help this year, I'm definitely up to it. I see myself as a starter and consider myself a power pitcher. I go off my fastball and throw a power curve.
MiLB.com: You had a very impressive debut last week against the Phillies, striking out the side, and have since become part of the buzz in Tampa. What's the experience been like so far this spring being at Major League camp? I know you arrived early to get ready for this opportunity.
Betances: It's been a great experience seeing these guys you've watched on TV your whole life. To share the field with them is an honor. I feel humble and blessed to work with guys who are -- I mean, we have numerous future Hall of Famers and All-Stars, so to come here and work hard to be with guys who have been here for quite some time, it's definitely a great experience. I'm taking each step and working as hard as I can.
MiLB.com: You're 22, from Manhattan and grew up in Brooklyn. Who was your favorite Yankee as a kid? I mean, you probably have a jersey or t-shirt back home of some of the guys you're suiting up alongside this month.
Betances: I've always watched Derek Jeter. I remember watching [David] Wells, [David] Cone, Paul O'Neill, Bernie Williams. Yeah, growing up I believe I had a Derek Jeter jersey and Bernie, too.
MiLB.com: I read Yankees general manager Brian Cashman first became excited about you during a workout in 2006 at the old Yankee Stadium. Tell me about that day: what happened? How nervous were you?
Betances: I definitely felt nervous. It was one of my first years, I was pitching in front of a home crowd, but definitely a great experience. And I was definitely nervous out there, knowing Cashman was there -- it was something I know they came to watch.
MiLB.com: As if being drafted by the Yankees wasn't exciting enough, they gave you a $1 million signing bonus, which was a record for an eighth-round pick. What was the first thing you went out and bought with that money, anything cool?
Betances: I bought my parents a house in Jersey and got myself a new car, that was one of the first things I did. It was a new 2007 Escalade.
MiLB.com: You had a scholarship to Vanderbilt lined up before the Yankees selected you. How easy was it to pass up college and begin your quest to the Bronx?
Betances: I think being drafted by a team you watched and are a fan of made it a lot easier, but I definitely knew it had to be right for me to turn down going to Vanderbilt. The Yankees made it a lot easier.
MiLB.com: This is pretty amazing, and I'm sure people are asking you about it a lot now, you were a 10-year-old and at the old stadium when David Wells threw his perfect game in 1998. How often do you think about this whole scenario, of being a Yankees fan to now having Wells himself as a Spring Training instructor?
Betances: It's kinda cool. At the time I didn't play baseball, and being there I didn't know much of it. But growing up and playing baseball and learning, it's kinda cool to say you were at that game. To see him here, to speak to him every day -- definitely something. It's a lot of excitement and brings you joy -- these are guys you've seen pitching growing up, and now you're here with them, and playing with them.
MiLB.com: You got to face Manny Ramirez, a fellow Washington Heights, N.Y., native, this week. What was that like?
Betances: It was cool, man. We played for the same organization in the summer. He played a long time ago, but we both played for the same coach. Growing up and playing summer ball, all they spoke about was Manny Ramirez. Watching him come up to bat, I just tried to attack early, and, thank God, I got him out.
MiLB.com: What are some of your hobbies away from the game? Video games, music, etc.?
Betances: I listen to hip hop and I love playing video games -- NBA 2K, any sports games. Definitely like playing against guys online, especially Call of Duty.