associated press file
Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009 | 2 a.m.
During September, Cimarron-Memorial graduate Mike Dunn appeared in four games for the New York Yankees, and once as The Riddler from “Batman.”
Let the record show he prefers pinstripes to question marks.
“Looking at some of the other costumes, I got lucky,” the left-handed pitcher said about the annual Yankees’ rookie hazing, which happened on a flight from Seattle to Anaheim in early September and featured a “Batman” theme.
It was, in the words of Robin, the Boy Wonder, a holy embarrassment for the team’s first-year players.
Ramiro Peña, the Bombers’ rookie infielder from Mexico, drew the short straw, which had a Catwoman costume hanging from it. Derek Jeter and some of those other guys pulled out cameras to take pictures of the Halle Berry/Michelle Pfeiffer/Julie Newmar impostor in his latex suit and made him say “Meow,” like when the Royals faced Roger Clemens.
“That’s absurd,” said Mark Teixeira, the Yankees’ first baseman.
Dunn’s debut with the most storied franchise in baseball was not what you would call spectacular — three walks, two earned runs in two-thirds of an inning against the Blue Jays on Sept. 4. But in comparison to wearing a Riddler suit on an airplane, it must have felt like Don Larsen pitching a perfect game in the World Series.
In reality, all Dunn was striving to be was Phil Coke, his old minor league pal and one of two situational lefties on the Yankees’ postseason roster. Although Dunn was added to the Yankees’ 40-man roster and conceivably is eligible to pitch in the playoffs and World Series should somebody get hurt or be detained for impersonating an arch-villain, he literally received a postseason Surprise — which is where the Yanks sent him.
The Yankees could have used Dunn against the Angels on Monday when manager Joe Girardi exhausted his supply of left-handed relievers by the eighth inning. But he was pitching for the Surprise Rafters — “weird nickname,” Dunn says — against the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League, which might be the best argument yet for “what a difference a month can make” or any similar axiom to illustrate a drastic change in one’s surroundings.
Well, at least the weather in Arizona is warm. And while I’m not sure how the ball carries in Surprise Stadium, home of the Rafters (as well as the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals during the Cactus League season), it can’t be worse than pitching in the new Yankee Stadium with its right-center field jet stream, where pop flies with inferiority complexes go to become home runs.
Plus, if the Yankees go on to win the World Series, Dunn will receive a ring for those four games in which he appeared in September (he gets nothing for appearing as The Riddler) and most likely a quarter of a World Series winner’s share, which last year was $351,504.48. There aren’t too many members of the Mesa Solar Sox who will be able to say that.
A spate of wildness notwithstanding — Dunn walked five, matching his strikeout total in the four innings he pitched for the Yankees — there’s also the cachet he earned during his September call-up, which should benefit him when pitchers and catchers report to spring training in a few months.
“I think I will have a good chance, if not at the beginning of the year, then early in the season for sure,” Dunn said about wearing pinstripes full time.
Anyway, to think he would spend part of September playing video games with Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia when it appeared his major-league dream would vaporize in a succession of his own swings and misses is to think of his greatest fantasy multiplied by two or four or six.
Dunn, who was born in Farmington, N.M., but played his senior year of high school baseball at Cimarron before moving on to the College of Southern Nevada, was an outfielder by trade. The Yankees were willing to give him a second chance as a pitcher. Dunn, of course, was willing to take it.
In fact, he believes when the Yankees drafted him in the 33rd round in June 2004, it was as a pitcher, only they didn’t tell him at the time. Left-handed pitchers are to major league baseball what Boardwalk with a hotel is to a “Monopoly” game. There is no more valuable commodity.
“At least they gave me a chance to hit,” Dunn said. “But to be able to make my debut (as a pitcher), I never saw it in my cards. To be able to make it with a team like the Yankees, the best-known team in baseball, definitely was awesome.”
This is why Dunn thanks his lucky stars he’s left-handed.
And that Riddler costume is why he thanks his lucky stars one can only be a rookie once.