Schooled: Yankees All-Star Dellin Betances on How to Make it in New York City

Dellin Betances is the American Dream. To star on a baseball team in the same city you grew up in, and to do it all in the Mecca? It doesn’t get better than that.

Fresh off his MLB All-Star Game selection, New York’s bullpen ace visited Jenkinson’s Beach Boardwalk where, as part of Pepsi’s Real.Big.Summer program, he gave a lucky fan and his mom tickets to a Yankees game. Along with Betances and Pepsi came a four-story high, world-record claw machine with prizes for the fans involved, a fitting partnership in that, on the mound, larger-than-life must be how Betances appears to batters.

Standing 6-8 and weighing 260 pounds, with a four-seam fastball that averages 96 miles per hour, Betances is a monster. In 2014, he has a 1.54 ERA, striking out a ridiculous 88 batters in just 58.1 innings pitched. In his first full season, at just 26 years old, who knows how high Betances can reach.

During a break in the action at the Shore, I caught up with the city kid to talk about what it takes to make it in New York.

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Talk about what you’re doing today with Pepsi.
Dellin Betances: It’s a great experience with the claw machine. It’s just something I’m looking forward to. I’m always about giving back to the community and this here, taking part in this great event, I’m excited.

How’d you get involved with the brand?
DB: My agency, it’s something that they set up. I’m just honored and thrilled to be a part of it. This is something that as a little kid, I always looked forward to meeting athletes. For me to just come back and give back to the community, that’s what I’m about.

Obviously you’ve had a quick rise to stardom in the All-Star Game. I heard you were actually expecting that or planning for it? Is that true?
DB: For me, my ultimate goal was trying to make the team. Once I made the team, I just wanted to have a role that was important to the Yankees. I was trying to do the best I can. My goal is to try to have my best season every year so I’m honored for the privilege, being elected by the players and for this to be my first time, it’s just all the work I’ve put in during the offseason to prepare myself for this season.

Being from the city, has that made it harder to deal with the new celebrity or is it better?
DB: Now, I’m more accustomed to it. At first, I feel like it was definitely tougher. I feel like I put too much pressure on myself to perform at a certain level. But now, I’m taking it all in and I’m just trying to focus on my job, which is pitching. I think that’s helped me this year and be better at what I’ve done. The first half I think also… I try not to put too much pressure on myself. I did earlier when I first came up, but now I go out there and try to do the best I can.

Do you get recognized now in the city wherever you go?
DB: I do at times. There are a couple of restaurants that I’ve gone into to dine with my family and there’s been some people there who’ve asked to take pictures. It’s pretty cool. Being a Yankee fan growing up and just to be a part of the organization, just getting recognized out here is definitely a cool and humbling experience.

Speaking of growing up, what used to be your favorite things to do in the city?
DB: For me, it was all about playing sports. I enjoyed playing basketball and baseball and just going traveling with the team. We always did trips to North Carolina and Florida. Growing up and playing baseball with my friends at that time, and basketball as well, was something that I always enjoyed. At the same time, something that I remember when I was younger was Mike Piazza doing an event in the Lower East Side. They were giving out tickets to being in general. That’s actually what I’m doing today. I’m surprising a young Yankee fan with tickets to a game and giving him autographed baseballs. It’s going to be a fun experience. I’m definitely glad that I’m working with Pepsi to make this happen.

You’re from the Lower East Side right?
DB: Yes, I’m from the Lower East Side. I was born in Washington Heights but I grew up in the Lower East Side. I definitely know that area very well. I still have friends that live there know.

What’s something that you do in the city that you love that maybe people wouldn’t expect?
DB: I like arcades. I’m a big arcade guy. I try to go. ESPN Zone, it’s not there anymore, but that was something that I tried to do every year. Dave & Buster’s, I go with the family from time to time. I’m a big arcade guy. The city is a good place for all kinds of things, but I enjoy doing the Dave & Buster’s.

Growing up, you were a big basketball player right?
DB: Yeah. That’s the sport that I loved. I still love basketball. I enjoy watching the NBA and college basketball as well, but I played high school basketball in Brooklyn. As a sophomore in high school, I helped the team win the division. I’m a huge basketball fan. When I was in high school, I was more of a defensive player. I started both years, freshman and sophomore year. I averaged about 15 points, 10-12 rebounds per game, six blocks. I did that my sophomore year. I enjoyed playing basketball.

You gave it up because you just wanted to focus on baseball?
DB: Yeah. For me, I felt like my talent was better in baseball. It was something that I just tried to focus on all-year round. I remember I got hurt my sophomore year and my baseball coach was trying to get me to follow my dreams and focus more on baseball and get accustomed to pitching, especially being tall as it was harder for me to repeat my delivery. That was hard for me but at the time, I realized that baseball was going to help me more than basketball.

What’s something that everyone visiting New York City needs to do or see?
DB: I know a lot of people go see the Statue of Liberty or for the World Trade Center, and Times Square, of course. They all love doing the Times Square, it’s a service area. They call it “The City That Never Sleeps” so Times Square, there’s always something to do, a lot of great restaurants. There is a lot of great stuff to do in the city.

Do you have any great restaurants that you’ve been going to since you were a kid?
DB: I enjoy my Spanish food. There are a few restaurants in Washington Heights that I usually go to. One of them is all the way on 190th and St. Nicholas. I love my Spanish food so there are a lot of great places in Washington Heights for that.

What’s your favorite dish?
DB: Yellow rice with beans with steak, with some onions. For breakfast, I’ll do what’s called Mangu with plantains and fried cheese and salami. That’s the typical dish I go to right there.

It seems like everyone in New York has their own specific style. Do you think that sticks out more here than it does in other cities?
DB: I don’t know. How can I say it? I guess people grow up differently around here. I can’t really refer to too much about different areas. For me, I love New York. It’s somewhere I’ve always lived, no matter what. I love the city. You always find something to do in New York whereas in some other places it’s not like that. But I enjoy living here in New York City.

Speaking of go-tos, are you a big music guy?
DB: Yeah. I love hip-hop. I’m a big Jay Z guy. I love listening to music. I’m more of a hip-hop guy.

Are you partial to New York City artists?
DB: Now, I like everything. Right now there’s a lot of down South music I tend to listen to before games to get me prepared for the game. Rick Ross, I like Drake from Toronto. I listen to everything, something that has a good beat and gets me hyped up for the game.

My workout song is Wiz Khalifa. I like Drake… there’s a song called “Who Do You Love?” I like the verse he sings on that. “Trophies” with Drake. There are so many songs that I like.

Some guys can’t play without their music. How essential is it for you?
DB: There’s times I’d rather not listen to everything. Be mellow and just try to focus on the game. Then there’s days that I try to listen to certain songs that just get me prepared for the game, get the excitement going. It just depends on the mood on the day for me.

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