John Hannigan of Summerville is a native New Yorker and he couldn't pass up a chance to see one of his beloved Yankees take the field on Southern soil Tuesday night.
So he grabbed his 15-year-old son, John Jr., and headed down to Charleston to join a sellout crowd eager to see the mighty Alex Rodriguez make a rare Class A rehab appearance with the hometown RiverDogs.
“I'd like to see him hit a home run, but I just want to be here to wish him well on his return to the game,” he said. “Of course, being a New Yorker, if he makes an error I'm going to boo him too.”
The overflow crowd began lining up outside Riley Park more than an hour before the 7 p.m. game, forming a long ribbon of pinstripes and blue hats with the iconic “NY” symbol. There was even a guy on hand named DiMaggio.
“I even have a brother named Joe,” said Bud DiMaggio, who thinks he might be a distant relative to the late Yankee Clipper. “But tonight we're here to see A-Rod.”
The 38-year-old slugger breezed into the Holy City with a career full of achievements and a mess of off-field baggage, including reports linking him to an investigation into performance-enhancing drugs. His return to form is also in question following hip surgery, with A-Rod himself acknowledging during a pre-game press conference “I'm no spring chicken anymore.”
He didn't do much offensively on the field Tuesday, but the wattage of his star power was evident, from breathless tweets about his lunch at Fleet Landing to the ESPN crew and pack of media that followed him around, chronicling his every move. As one team official quipped: “Charleston hasn't had this much attention from the New York media since we bombed Fort Sumter.”
Most of the opposing Rome Braves stood at the edge of their dugout just to watch him take batting practice with fellow Yankee Eduardo Nunez, also on a rehab stint. Season ticket-holders also got a front-row seat to watch A-Rod hit a towering shot over the left field fence before the game started.
Brian and Amy Brennan of James Island don't even like the Yankees all that much, but they showed up nonetheless. “It's A-Rod,” Brian Brennan said. “He's a future Hall of Famer and one of the best players in baseball right now.”
A few lucky fans, like James Lloyd of Charleston, got both A-Rod and Nunez to autograph baseballs for them.
Lloyd's ball will join a massive personal collection that includes 509 cracked bats from a host of players who have passed through Charleston. He once traded 75 chicken wings to secure a bat from Yankee skipper Joe Girardi.
“You can never tell who is going to make it to the majors,” he said.
Kayleb Pinckney hopes to be one of those players someday. His grandfather, Frank Forbes of Summerville, took him to the game to see A-Rod, but 5-year-old Kayleb was quick to trumpet his own stats in his brief career with the Yankees of local T-ball.
“I play all of them,” he said when asked what position he plays. “And I throw 45 mph.”
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.
Alex Rodriguez signs autographs Tuesday before his game as a member of the Charleston RiverDogs.×
Alex Rodriguez shares a moment with a fan Tuesday night during his game as a member of the Charleston RiverDogs.×
New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez played with the Class A Charleston RiverDogs against the Rome Braves on Tuesday July 2, 2013. Wade Spees/Staff×
Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez suited up Tuesday night for the Charleston RiverDogs during a rehabilitation appearance at Riley Park.×
New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez is in Charleston to play for the Class A RiverDogs during his rehabilitation from hip surgery.×