Commentary

From Bleacher Creature ... to Bomber?

Dellin Betances saw David Wells' perfecto from the stands, now they're both in Tampa

Updated: February 20, 2011, 8:58 AM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

TAMPA, Fla. -- The future of the Yankees sat among the Bleacher Creatures and for $7 had a ticket to history. Dellin Betances was just 10 years old, so he didn't fully understand what David Wells was doing on May 17, 1998. Still, the excitement of a perfect game swept up the fifth-grader.

Sitting next to his godfather and his cousin, Betances tried to stay in line with the fans' chants with each Minnesota Twins out. "Daaay-vid Well-ells! Daaay-vid Well-ells! Daaay-vid Well-ells!"

"I tried to keep up with the fans, but they are a little rowdy," said Betances, much bigger now, his head practically touching the ceiling in the Yankees' spring training clubhouse.

If the 6-foot-8, 215-pound Betances becomes what the Yankees think he could be -- a legit No. 1 starter -- this will forever be a part of his lore. Born in Washington Heights, reared in Manhattan and Brooklyn, he could one day star in the Bronx.

And the perfect New York story will have started with the perfect game.

Before Betances saw Wells' perfecto, basketball was his sport, but as he grew and as his godfather, Juan Betances, and his cousin, Habnel Marte, took him to more games at the old Yankee Stadium, he left his high-tops in the closet.

After rising through the same Brooklyn-based summer league that produced Manny Ramirez, Shawon Dunston and Julio Lugo, Betances made Yankees GM Brian Cashman's eyes grow as wide as baseballs during a tryout at the old stadium before the 2006 MLB draft.

[+] EnlargeRobert Fish, Dellin Betances
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall Dellin Betances (right) was just 10 in 1998 -- and only came to understand the weight of David Wells' accomplishment as he got older ...

Now, Cashman, hamstrung for starters, is hoping to buy a year before Betances and fellow top prospect Manny Banuelos are ready to be real contenders for starting spots next spring.

"He has a chance to be a No. 1," Cashman said. "Maybe he winds up being a 5 or a 4 or a 3, but he has the physical ability to be a No. 1."

The 22-year-old Betances was nearly unhittable last year. At Single-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton, he used his 97 mph fastball, his knuckle-curveball and his developing change to go 8-1 with a 2.11 ERA. He struck out 108 and walked just 22.

"He was lights-out," said catcher Austin Romine, a fellow top prospect.

Trenton is still a long way from the Bronx, but Betances has an even-keeled demeanor that makes it appear he won't be overwhelmed by being so close to the show. Still, he admits, at times his life doesn't seem real.

He grew up with the Yankees dynasty of the late '90s. His youth was spent mimicking Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada. Now, he dresses across from them.

"This is a dream come true, to be honest with you," said Betances, who is in his first big league camp. "It is kind of surreal to watch these guys you were watching on TV and watch on the stadium and now you have the chance to play with them and help them win."

[+] EnlargeYankees ticket
Betances family... but he still has his ticket stub from the historic afternoon in the Bronx.

Cashman is a true believer. He has been since Betances first showed what he could do on the Yankee Stadium mound during a tryout before the 2006 draft.

"I said, 'Wow, who is this guy?'" Cashman remembered. "'We are going to draft him.'"

Damon Oppenheimer, the head of amateur scouting for the Yankees, told Cashman that Betances was raw, that he had a commitment to Vanderbilt, and it would take a lot of money to sign him.

"I said, 'I'll pay him a lot of money, look at the tools this guy has got,'" Cashman said.

With teams scared off by the fact that Betances might go to college, Betances dropped out of the first round. Cashman grew antsy.

After the third round, Cashman was ready to grab him.

"I was like, 'Pop him now,'" Cashman said. "[Oppenheimer] was like, 'No, he will still be there.' Fourth round? 'Pop him now.' Fifth round? 'Pop him now.' Sixth round? Pop him now. Seventh round? Pop him now.' And then we popped him."

In the eighth round, Oppenheimer's patience paid off, and the Yankees picked Betances. After a $1 million signing bonus -- enough to buy Betances' parents a nice house in Teaneck, N.J. -- he was a Yankee. Now, he is in ESPN.com Insider Keith Law's Top 100 MLB prospects. He is No. 73, while Banuelos is 12th.

Still, nobody beats Betances' story. Even Mr. Perfect himself, Wells, a special instructor in Yankees camp, is impressed.

"Everyone in there is saying, 'This kid is going to be something special,'" Wells said. "He throws hard. He's got a good hammer [curveball] on top of it. If you have a good curveball, being that tall, you can be very deceptive to the hitters."

His cousin, Marte, was 24 when Wells threw his perfect game. Like his whole family, they are waiting for the day they see their little cousin in the big leagues with the Yankees.

"It is like a dream come true," said Marte, now a limo driver.

Betances looks back at that Wells game and realizes what a treasure it was to be there.

"At the time I didn't really know the meaning of the perfect game, because I played basketball, not baseball," Betances said. "Over the years, I was like, 'Man, I can't believe I actually went to that ballgame.'"

Maybe one day, one day soon, he will be in the middle of history. Yankees fans could chant for one of their own, "Ba-tan-cess! Ba-tan-cess! Ba-tan-cess!"

"I see myself in front of 50,000 fans, giving my best every time I go out there," Betances said.

You would expect nothing less from a young Bleacher Creature.

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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