They traveled to the Big Apple from as far away as Panama, Sacramento, Calif., Little Rock, Ark., Pensacola, Fla., and Largo, Fla. And thanks to Upper Deck, their tickets were covered, as were their hotel accommodations and meals. “They” were the five Yankee Stadium Legacy (YSL) contest winners that Upper Deck promised would meet none other than New York Yankees Team Captain Derek Jeter if they were able to piece together the company’s enormous YSL baseball card insert set from 2008 which chronicled every Yankees home game ever played at the old Yankee Stadium – each card sports a unique box score – starting in 1923.
Each of the five collectors not only put together the gigantic, 6,661-card collection of inserts, but they did it before the April 30, 2009, deadline. Leo Wiznitzer made things extra interesting by sending in his set on the final day of eligibility. “I wasn’t even aware that there was a grand prize involved,” he explained, “not until about 10 days before the contest ended.”
But when he heard about the chance to not only meet Jeter, but to also have lunch with the 11th Yankees Team Captain in history, it was too good to pass up. “Mariano Rivera’s actually my favorite Yankee player, but Jeter is such a terrific guy,” said Wiznitzer.
On June 16, Wiznitzer, who resides in Panama, along with Tommy Baxter from Little Rock, Chuck Sauter from Pensacola, Kent Hayes from Sacramento, and Josh Adams from Largo, all got their chance to live out a baseball card collector’s dream by having lunch with Jeter at the NYY Steak restaurant, which is located inside the new Yankee Stadium. Afterward, they attended batting practice on the field and then watched the Yankees square off against the Washington Nationals that evening from choice box seats up the third-base line.
“This was even better than I expected,” said Hayes, who brought along his 8-year-old son, Everett. “Jeter was super.”
Starting at 1 p.m., with Yankees Magazine on hand and the YES (Yankees Entertainment & Sports) Network filming for a small feature it plans to run next week, each of the five winners were introduced to Jeter, who seemed excited to meet his guests, as well as get a close-up look at the Yankee Stadium Legacy Collection set Upper Deck had on display at NYY Steak.
“Can I get this, with the cards?” Jeter asked with a smile.
After some personal grip-and-grins were taken, the five winners and their guests sat down to lunch with Jeter and a casual question-and-answer session commenced. “Who was your sports idol growing up?” “What’s your favorite sports movie of all time?” “Do you have any pregame rituals you can share?” “Did you play other sports growing up?” “When did you sign your first autograph?”
Jeter was courteous and provided answers to every question. As lunch orders were taken – Jeter opted for a chicken dish, veggies and a tall glass of water – he answered with responses like: “Dave Winfield was my idol growing up. My favorite sports movie is the original Major League. It’s such a funny movie. And I loved 61*. I don’t really have any pregame rituals, but I always get to the ballpark early, stretch and listen to some R&B music. I played every sport growing up, but I always liked baseball the best. And I signed my very first autograph while I was in high school, which I thought was kind of strange at the time.”
At 2:10 p.m., following a pair of short interviews with YES and Yankees Magazine, Jeter relocated his seat to make his virtual world debut at UpperDeckU.com, Upper Deck’s recently unveiled online world for kids. More than 300 kids from across the country signed up to ask the star shortstop various questions and he knocked out hundreds of answers with the help of keyboard aficionados Carrie Peterson, Upper Deck’s online marketing manager, and Christine Lee, the company’s events planner. He giggled, drank coffee and seemed amazed that the online avatars on the flat screen in front of him actually represented kids eager to chat.
At 3 p.m., he said his good-byes to everyone, signed a few select items for the YSL contest winners, and then made his way toward the clubhouse. The YSL winners, still buzzing about their time with Jeter, were then treated to a private tour of the new Yankee Stadium, which included a memorable visit to Monument Park behind the centerfield wall.
At 5 p.m., five of the guests were granted on-field access for batting practice. Sauter and Adams were part of the contingent, while Hayes sent his son, Everett; Wiznitzer let his 12-year-old nephew, David, attend; and Baxter watched his 11-year-old daughter, Madeleine, accompany the group down to the field. And almost as if it were scripted, Jeter – on his way to the dugout after shagging flies – stopped by and signed more autographs for Upper Deck’s lucky attendees.
The game ended on a high note as the home team won, 5-3, and Rivera notched his 15th save of the season. And even though Jeter went 0-for-3 with a walk, and left the game with a nagging ankle injury in the seventh inning, the evening was a grand slam for Upper Deck’s five winners and their guests.
“We had a great time,” said Hayes. “I don’t think we could have asked for more.”