When Jake Bertanza went to last night's Yankees game, he might have expected that CC Sabathia would pitch a lovely game, but he certainly could not have known he'd end up sitting a few seats away from Michael "Big Yankees Fan" LaPayower and his videographer brother.
What a fanciful stroke of luck for us all, about which Michael was kind enough to Tweet immediately upon his recognition.
Here, Jake describes the experience of being in close proximity to the Fan of the Year. In short, it was a charming experience.
Taking in a Yankees game with BIG YANKEES FAN was pretty much exactly what I expected.
I first talked with Michael yesterday afternoon at the MLB Fan Cave where we picked up last night's tickets. I recognized him from his videos almost right away and my suspicions were confirmed when I noticed his twitter handle stitched on the side of his hat. The tickets were actually part of a twitter contest - the Yankees tweeted out that the first 32 people to show up at the Fan Cave at noon with a Mastercard would receive two free tickets to the game and that the first 10 of those people would be able to get into the stadium at 4 pm (rather than the usual 5) to watch batting practice. I work pretty close by there and showed up five minutes before noon and was the first person in line. Michael was the fourth. The friendly banter among those of us in line was what you would expect - where we thought the free tickets would be, what we would have done with Jeter's 3000th hit ball, Tiki Barber's future - and we parted ways.
Michael and a guest arrived to our seats around 6:15 and I immediately told him I recognized him from Deadspin and we started talking about his videos. He introduced his guest as his brother and as his videographer for all his work and Michael listed off all the stuff he won for his Fan of the Year submission (signed bats, signed balls, a signed jersey, tickets, etc.).
Michael seemed proud of his notoriety, mentioning that the Yankees know who he is and the YES Network "definitely" knows who he is. He also explained that he works at an advertising company and the videos have given him great exposure, though he worries that if he ever tries to find a new job in the future, his online presence may be a burden.
Personally, I wanted to know if the things the Deadspin commenters said about him in his posts bothered him, and he seemed to take it all pretty well, though he was pleased that his batting practice video validated him as a true fan and that "no one could really say anything about [him] after that."
As the game started up, Michael was really friendly with the people in our section, chatting everyone up about more hot sports topics (revisiting the Jeter ball situation, Justin Timberlake making fun of Joe Buck at the All Star Game, trade rumors, etc.). He was playing with his phone most of the early innings and took the time to passionately deconstruct one of his videos to a woman in the row behind us.
After last night's first rain delay, he and his brother came back to the seats with helmet sundaes (they got Lobell's steak sandwiches earlier). Perhaps it was those sundaes, or perhaps it was Sabathia's pitching performance, but after the first rain delay, he really seemed to plug into the game and really get into it. He put his phone away and swapped his sunglasses for regular glasses and started screaming and clapping like the Big Yankees Fan we all know him to be. There was a metal ledge in front of our seats that he started banging on in excitement with each CC strikeout, a move that my girlfriend said was "the most annoying thing possible" and was giving her a headache. Michael's brother was a very attentive fan throughout the game (not having to deal with the trappings of celebrity) and once Michael transformed into that raucous Yankees fan he truly is, they were a great pair, high fiving and screaming and clapping and definitely creating an exciting atmosphere for those around him.
Unfortunately (and surprisingly), the second rain delay sent Michael and his brother home early and my girlfriend and I took in the last few innings in a much less crowded and much quieter section. I was saddened to lose the chance to say goodbye to that great Yankee hero, though the opportunity to brag to my friends that I took in a game with "that big yankees fan guy from Deadspin" is a story I'll have forever.
In summary, it was probably my fault that Michael was distracted from the game in those early innings. My having recognized him probably set into motion the whole arc of events that lead him to tell the people around us about himself and the recognition he has received and to even show his videos to a few people. Eventually though, the wonder of a great pitching performance turned "Michael, The Big Yankees Fan," into Michael, a big Yankees fan, and I was glad to have him around.