We've done this type of thing in the past when it comes to Opening Day. We celebrate the day, but we celebrate all the Yankees here.
Bleeding Yankee Blue prides itself on being different, and have been since we began back in 2010. We've had inspirational Yankee videos, straight talk about our team and what to expect and even interviews with new Yankees or veterans of the club. We are blessed to have great contacts and terrific people surrounding us. Last year we interviewed Garrett and Cassie Jones in what was a pretty popular Opening Day interview, celebration, whatever. (Read EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: GARRETT & CASSIE JONES.) Cassie and BYB are still in touch for updates on Garrett. It's a nice give and take. Today though, we have another great treat. An interview with former New York Yankee Clay Bellinger!
What feels like many months ago now, when I met my other half I learned a lot about him listening to many of his stories about when he used to be an EMT. At the end of one of his stories he tells me about how he was helping transport a victim of an accident and mentions that his friend and former Yankee was one of the firefighters that responded on scene, named Clay Bellinger. He asked me if I knew who he was and I gave him the "DUH of course I do" answer but didn't believe him. Instead, I answered with "Sure, and I used to date Derek Jeter." Well it turns out he wasn't just telling a lie to try and impress me and he did spend a lot of time with Clay.
Fans remember Clay as a utility player for the Yankees from 1999 through 2001. I remember him as the guy who looked like a super hero in the 2000 World Series and the guy that ruined my dad's hope for the Mets to win the World Series that year. Now he is a leader outside of the baseball world for a whole other reason.
These days, Clay is working in my community as a firefighter for the town of Gilbert. Back in December, my boyfriend managed to arrange for me not only to meet Clay but to take a tour of the firehouse that all of these guys spend all of their time together and how close knit these guys are with one another. While I was there I asked Clay if he would take some time to talk to us and share some of his experiences with us at Bleeding Yankee Blue, and he agreed. I hope you all enjoy this as much as I did.
BYB: Everyone remembers their first hit, can you tell me who your first hit was off of and what do you remember about it?
Clay Bellinger: My first hit came off of Heathcliff Slocumb when he was playing with the Baltimore Orioles. There is a lot I remember from the game. Scott Brosius was supposed to play in that game but he couldn't because he twisted his ankle so I filled in for him. I remember Roll Call and hearing the bleacher creatures say everyone's name. It was a Wednesday night game on ESPN and I didn't get a hit until my fourth at bat and I was pretty nervous.
BYB: Who was the most difficult pitcher you had to face and why?
Clay Bellinger: I didn't get a ton of at bats since I didn't play consistently but Pedro Martinez was pretty tough. I remember I got one hit off of him, but hits never came easy. Pedro had such a nasty fastball, change-up and curveball.
BYB: Which stadium was your favorite to play in and why?
Clay Bellinger: That would be Yankee stadium. I grew up 3 hours from there and I remember going to a game there once when I was young. I was a hometown kid it was probably the most historic place for me to play in. I remember how well they took care of the stadium. The grass and the field were impressive. It was such a great place to go and hang out at before and after the games. You can't forget the fans either. They were passionate. There are not too many other places like it.
BYB: What was it like to play with Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera?
Clay Bellinger: When I made the team in 99 everyone on the team was a big name person. They all treated me great. Everyone was awesome and they didn't treat me like I was a rookie. They were all class acts. They played the game well and were respectful so they were great to be around.
BYB: Yankee fans remember the Subway World Series back in 2000. You replaced David Justice in the game and robbed Todd Zeile of a home run. Walk us through that moment. What do you remember?
Clay Bellinger: I approached it like every other game. I didn't even know what inning it was but I remember replacing David Justice. As a kid you grow up dreaming about making a play in the World Series. I always wanted any ball hit my way. As soon as Zeile hit it I knew it was going to be close. I was just hoping I had enough room and I was going to be able to get back fast enough and catch it. After I caught it I made a good throw going into second to keep the runner off. It’s always cool when you don’t play a lot and get to make an important play. It was a pretty good play. I know the Mets weren't too happy about it.
BYB: You have a son named Cody who plays baseball in the Dodgers organization, how is he doing?
Clay Bellinger: He’s doing awesome. He had a good year last year. He changed his swing up to hit more home runs and he just had a phenomenal year for a 19 year old. He got invited to big league camp this year. He’s been meeting all of the big league guys and they all talk to him. He is excited so I am excited for him. He has the talent and the drive. I see all of the changes he is making and that is exciting for me. He went from no home runs to 30 home runs and 103 RBI so he’s doing well and this is going to be an exciting year for him. We are very proud of him.
BYB: You work now as a firefighter in Gilbert, Arizona. What is that like and are there any similarities to the baseball world?
Clay Bellinger: September will be year number 10 for me. It’s just a phenomenal job there is a lot of reward to it. There are some days where we don’t do anything. Some days we have 10 calls to respond to. You go to work never knowing what is going to happen. It is a tiny clubhouse. Some stations have 8-10 guys in there and we have 4. You hang with guys for 24 hours and they become your second family. They rely on you to get things done. It’s very rewarding. To be a player and a firefighter in the same lifetime is amazing because I get to do two things that many kids dream of.
BYB: Are there any similarities between life in a major league clubhouse and a fire station?
Clay Bellinger: There are a lot actually. In the clubhouse you hang with 24 guys, but here is it 4. Just like during the regular season you eat and workout with them. These guys are my family basically. I have been at this station for 7 years now with the same engineers. People come and go just like on a baseball team but we are here for the same goal. It was not a hard transition for me because it's still working with a team of people and I love what I do.
I would like to thank Clay for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk with us. Also a big thank you to the rest of his team for letting me tour their station and hang out. I not only thank you for all of the memories that you gave me during your time as a Yankee but I can't say thank you enough for everything you do to help keep people in my community safe. Kids say baseball players are heroes, but Clay and his team are involved in heroic acts all of the time and that should not go unnoticed.
I also can't forget to give a big THANK YOU to my boyfriend for making all of this happen. Oh and by the way, I told Clay about my "I dated Derek Jeter" comment that I opened this story with and he laughed.
BYB Senior Writer and Editor
Thank you for your loyalty to Bleeding Yankee Blue.
Please shop at the BYB store!
On Twitter: @BleednYankeeBlu
On Facebook, LIKE Bleeding Yankee Blue!
Don't forget to check out the BYB Hub.