PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Most of the Bleacher Creatures seemed to recognize something special was happening on May 17, 1998, long before the 10-year-old clutching a seven-dollar ticket realized what David Wells was doing to the Minnesota Twins' lineup.
But no one realized that someone special might be among them. Dellin Betances kept a low profile while Wells chased his date with immortality, but more than 12 years after the day he plopped into general admission to witness history, the biggest surprise of that afternoon may now be emerging.
"I actually was there," said Betances, now one of the Yankees' top pitching prospects. "We still have the ticket stubs. It was great. Now, David Wells is here and I'm getting advice from him. It's an honor."
And it's been quite a journey. Born in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City, Betances grew up on Manhattan's Lower East Side before moving to Brooklyn in 1998.
A hulking 6-foot-8 right-hander with a fastball that began to sizzle into the 90s, Betances would star at Grand Street Campus High School and eventually become an eighth-round selection of the Yankees in 2006.
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Betances said that he would usually attend three to five Yankees home games each season, and that it is "surreal" to have made it into their spring clubhouse, glancing over at the lockers where players he paid to see stash their belongings every morning.
And Betances' presence has opened the Yankees' eyes. After his first spring appearance against the Phillies in Clearwater, Fla., both Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher came back to the visitors' clubhouse wide-eyed, wondering how hard the new kid wearing No. 72 was throwing.
No one who had been around when Betances was hurling across the Courtney Campbell Causeway last summer would have been surprised. Betances was 8-1 with a 1.77 ERA in 14 starts for Class A Tampa, striking out 88 and walking 19 in 71 innings, earning a late-season promotion to Double-A Trenton.
Betances made just three starts in Trenton, where general manager Brian Cashman has said that he and fellow stud prospect Manny Banuelos will begin 2011. But that doesn't mean either will have plans on finishing the campaign in South Jersey.
"I feel I'm ready. I want to help the team," Betances said. "At some point this year, I definitely want to help the team -- if it's not now, then later on. I definitely feel like I can go out there and pitch and help the team."
Getting his feet wet against more experienced Double-A hitters, Betances said, has served him well in his first looks against big leaguers this spring.
"I pitched behind in counts, and I didn't have to do that as much at the high-A level," Betances said. "Once I got there, I had to throw 3-2 changeups, 3-2 curveballs. I feel like that's going to help me coming in here."
Confidence may not be an issue, but Betances' skills are still developing, something the Yankees saw a reminder of on Thursday.
Betances entered for the sixth inning of New York's Grapefruit League exhibition against the Rays and continued to make the scouts salivate, setting down B.J. Upton, Desmond Jennings and Evan Longoria in order.
Sent back out for the home half of the seventh, Betances then snapped off a curveball that froze Manny Ramirez -- still the pride of Washington Heights all these years later -- looking at a called third strike, an event that must have had Betances' heart racing a mile a minute.
"I'm sure it had to be exciting facing Manny for him," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It's probably something he's dreamed about."
It may have been exciting for Betances, but he wasn't likely intimidated against Ramirez.
"I don't think he scares," Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild said of Betances. "He's got a look that's pretty intense."
Cloud Nine didn't last long. Betances also struck out Matt Joyce looking, but Casey Kotchman slugged a double down the left-field line and a distracted Betances walked the next two hitters, loading the bases.
Rothschild trotted to the mound, telling Betances to calm down. A couple of close calls went the Rays' way and soon Girardi was standing on the mound, staring up at Betances with his palm outstretched, offering a parting word of encouragement and promising that he could go get 'em next time.
"It was just one of those things where they wanted me to get out of a situation I got myself in," Betances said. "But it's still early in Spring Training; I've got stuff to work on, and I'm just going to keep battling and working hard."
Last week, Betances got the chance to steal Wells' ear for a few minutes, and he couldn't resist telling him how he'd been in the bleachers that May day back at the long-gone Stadium.
It's a claim that Wells has probably heard from thousands of people in the years that have passed, which makes it a good thing that Betances actually has some physical proof to back it up.
"I'm so glad we saved those stubs," said Betances, who has his godfather, Juan, to thank for preserving the artifact.
Having been called up for five days in September for a quick look around, it seems probable that Betances won't need to show a ticket of any kind the next time he gains entrance to the big ballpark in the South Bronx.
"My goal is to be there and stay," Betances said. "I don't want to just go and see what it's like. I want to compete and win and help this team as much as I can."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.