Yankee for a day
Set up to attend the March 7 spring training game in Florida versus the Houston Astros, young Landis Sims was eager to watch his beloved New York Yankees.
A few springs ago, Landis met Yankees’ skipper Joe Girardi, and, at the 2016 visit, Landis was hoping to chat with him again.
When Landis and his family made the trip to the Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, the landscape of visiting the Yankees changed rapidly.
Filmmaker Eric Cochran sent a recently finished promotional video of his ongoing documentary of Landis to the Yankees’ public relations department.
In swift fashion, Girardi and Yanks orchestrated a way to make Landis a Yankee.
‘Girardi ended up showing the video to the Yankees on Sunday, the entire team,’ Amanda Haag, Landis’ mother, said. ‘I ended up getting a call Sunday asking if we can come to the team meeting and (the Yankees) wanted to sign Landis to a one-day contract. He was going to be a Yankee for a day.’
Pick your favorite Yankee ‘ Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Reggie Jackson or, Landis’ all-time great, Derek Jeter ‘ the 10-year-old from Elizabeth inked his name alongside those in Yankee glory.
Landis provided inspiration to the Yankees of today, including those vying for roster spots during spring training.
Born without hands or his lower legs, Landis has been a fan of America’s pastime since an early age. Through the use of prosthetics, Sims runs the bases, swings a bat and fields the same way many other little leaguers do in the spring and summer months.
‘People can overcome extraordinary circumstances,’ Girardi said of Landis in media interviews. ‘It’s amazing what the mind can do.’
Baseball obsessed, Landis was born without hands or the lower half of his legs, but it hasn’t slowed his dream of being a major leaguer. His prosthetic legs feature the Yankees’ logo.
On March 7, Landis was at the negotiating table to sign his first MLB contract with Jean Afterman, the Yankees’ senior vice president and assistant general manager. Represented by six-time All-star and 2007 Cy Young Award winner CC Sabathia, Landis took the pen to paper, officially becoming a Yankee.
‘It’s a very detailed contract, about six or seven pages,’ Amanda said. ‘(Afterman) told us to be expecting a check for his day of work. She said, ‘You’re a Yankee; we have to pay you. It’s for real.”
Amanda said the signing of the contract has taken the longest to sink in to her son. ‘It was real,’ she said.
Once official, Landis got to work. Since Jeter’s retirement, Alex Rodriguez, a 14-time All-star has emerged as Landis’ new favorite in pinstripes.
Outfitted with a Masahiro Tanaka jersey, Landis joined Rodriguez’s warm-up group. His pod featured a time for Landis to workout with No. 13 then hit the batting cage.
‘As far as what we knew going into Monday, Landis couldn’t get on the field at all due to liability reasons,’ Amanda said. ‘They went ahead and worked it out so he could go on the field, warm up and take batting practice. That was something we absolutely did not expect. We took his bat and equipment with us just in case, even though they told us it wasn’t a possibility.’
With his mom, stepfather Jeremy and grandmother Kathy Sims in the stands, Landis and Rodriguez were engaged on the field.
‘Landis spent quite a bit of one-on-one time with A-Rod,’ Amanda said. ‘I know warming up, I have no idea what they were talking about, but they talked a lot.’
When it came to batting practice, Landis took his turn in the batter’s box with the major leaguers. Mr. October himself, Reggie Jackson, was spotted video taping Landis taking hacks on a big league field. Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Rodriguez and Girardi offered advice and support.
‘Landis even gave McCann some tips on blocking the plate,’ Amanda said of his interaction with the Yankees’ catcher. ‘They really treated him like he was one of the guys. A-Rod took him separate from us to be with the team. (Landis) had lunch with the team, went to the gym and did other team activities.’
Rodriguez and Landis became allies with one another; both had to be tracked down before the South Central student brought out the line-up card.
‘They had to rescue Landis from A-Rod,’ Amanda said.
‘We’re giving each other hitting lessons, trying to help each other out,’ Rodriguez said.
On his Facebook page post-game Monday night, Rodriguez attached images with Landis and said, ‘So grateful that I got to spend time with Landis Sims today. A true inspiration. Real Courage. Thank you Landis.’
Girardi also had a message to send across to his players, according to Amanda.
‘Work hard and have a dream,’ Amanda recalled Girardi saying. ‘He wanted to share that vision with his players. Don’t give in to the day-to-day stuff. It was exactly what the Yankees needed that day.’
Spending a few springs with the Yankees, Amanda has grown to realize the relaxed nature of the baseball routine.
‘Girardi told us baseball is different than any other sport for the fact they play every day,’ she recalled. ‘It’s not like we are pumped up for Sunday. You can’t be that intense every single day. Before the game, it isn’t a big deal having a 10-year-old hanging around until it was time to take out the line-up card to the umpires.’
That line-up card, along with his contract, is an item Landis will keep forever. It was signed by all the starters that day for the Yankees and Astros. Landis also flew home with six signed bats, including the one Rodriguez used during hitting practice.
‘Wow. It was unbelievable to me,’ Amanda said of her takeaway from the experience as a mother. ‘As a parent, it was great not only seeing him officially be a Yankee, but to see the respect these major league, professional athletes had for this 10-year-old kid. They saw in the promo video his throwing, hitting, pitching, running and sliding, so they saw him play in videos. To have that level of an athlete not only say he’s great, but he’s a good little baseball player, means a lot. Getting to hear them compliment him and be impressed with him was great to see that as a parent.’
Cochran is seeking to raise funds to continue filming Landis for the documentary. At this point, the young Californian is providing his own travel and filming expenses.
‘He isn’t 100-percent sure what he’ll do with the film, but he has a lot of ideas and contacts in California,’ Amanda, a teacher at Corydon Central, said. ‘His whole thing from the beginning has been he wants Landis’ story to be told. He’s using baseball as a backdrop of telling who Landis is and how he lives his life.’
This spring Landis will head to May Field in Elizabeth, named after former MLB players, father-son combo Merrill (Pinky) May and Milt May, as another major leaguer to come from southern Harrison County.
‘They started spring baseball with SHAC. We’re ready for the season,’ Amanda said. ‘Landis is hoping to pitch some and play second base. He’s looking forward to baseball starting.’
Experiences with the Yankees surely will become the talk at May Field.