Spring Training 2012 has been interesting so far for the Yankees and their fans. Interesting in that it’s pretty unusual. There hasn’t been any sort of drama in camp and things are, well, kind of boring in a way. So far the biggest news of the Spring was GM Brian Cashman telling the World that the Yankees were going to cut their payroll to $189M by 2014. Beyond that, there hasn’t been much to make a fuss over.
The Yankees did play a Spring Training game yesterday in Clearwater against the Phillies – who they’ll be playing again today in Tampa – and won 8-5. But the most interesting story to come out of Clearwater had nothing to do with the game itself, it was about a man named Matt Smith.
Matt’s son Steven Smith passed away in December 2010. Known to many people on Twitter as @stevensmithy, the younger Smith was a huge Yankee fan. He knew everything about his favorite team and could debate any Yankee topic with the best of them – including beat writers and broadcasters. Steven was smart, he was savvy, he was funny and he was hoping to break into broadcasting someday.
His life was tragically cut short on the night of December 14, 2010 when after a fender bender on the New York State Thruway, another car struck him as he was outside inspecting the damage. When word of his death surfaced on Twitter the next morning, people were dumbstruck. I was one of those people.
I didn’t know Steven that well – only through Twitter – but what I did know of him, I liked very much. He was hilarious, he was passionate about the Yankees and we both shared a love for the show “To Catch A Predator” which was shown every Sunday night on MSNBC.
The outpouring of love and grief on Twitter over the next few days was amazing and I felt like I got to know Steven a lot better through the stories of his close friends who I also knew through the social media network. Steven’s death was a devastating blow to the ‘Yankee Twitter family’.
Yesterday, Steven’s dad Matt went to Bright House Field in Clearwater with a poster. It had a few pictures of Steven in Yankee gear and it said, “PLEASE REMEMBER STEVEN E. SMITH 2/26/82-12/14/10.”
Smith made his way down to his seats behind the dugout and held up the sign for everyone on the field to see. Manager Joe Girardi noticed the sign, walked over to Smith, spoke with him for a few moments and signed it. Smith told reporters afterward that he figured that would be the highlight of his day. He was wrong. Girardi then invited Smith onto the field to watch batting practice.
For Matt Smith, the moment was bittersweet, he was getting to do what his son never could do. He was on the field, talking to Yankees players, watching them bat, and shaking their hands. Smith stood with Girardi behind the batting cage and even spoke with Yankee legend Reggie Jackson. Smith also went down into the Yankees dugout.
Girardi then took the poster that Smith was carrying. He told Smith that he’d get the rest of the team to sign it and that he would send it back to Smith in the mail.
Smith, who moved from Scotch Plains, New Jersey to Clearwater, Florida four months ago, hadn’t been to a Yankee game since his son’s death. Understandably, the thought of going to games without Steven was too hard for him. But thanks to a thoughtful gesture by Joe Girardi, Smith now has new, positive Yankee memories and maybe because of that gesture, he’ll be able to attend more games this season.