Billy Crystal lives dream, plays for Yankees

TAMPA, Florida Thu Mar 13, 2008 5:50pm EDT

1 of 5. New York Yankees' Billy Crystal smiles while stretching out in the dugout before the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Tampa, Florida, March 13, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Scott Audette

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TAMPA, Florida (Reuters) - Comedian Billy Crystal's dream came true on Thursday when he played for the New York Yankees in a spring training baseball game, fouling off a pitch before striking out against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

A lifelong Yankees fan, Crystal led off the first inning as the team's designated hitter, or "designated Hebrew," as he joked, and struck out swinging against Pittsburgh pitcher Paul Maholm on a 3-2 count.

Crystal, who starred in the movies "When Harry Met Sally" and "City Slickers" and has been a frequent host of the Academy Awards show, said it was an emotional moment.

"It was surreal," Crystal told reporters after the game. "It was great."

Wearing number 60 in honor of his 60th birthday on Friday, Crystal drew loud cheers from the sellout crowd of over 10,000 at Legends Field when his name was announced, when he came to the plate, and when he hit a foul ball down the first base line.

After he struck out, he waved to the crowd and hugged several of his Yankee teammates, including shortstop Derek Jeter and third baseman Alex Rodriguez, two of Major League Baseball's biggest stars.

He was pulled from the game after one at-bat.

Asked what he was thinking as he faced a Major League pitcher, Crystal said: "I thought, I can't believe this is really happening."

"I wish I was coming back tomorrow," he said.

Crystal, who played baseball well enough at a Long Island, New York, high school to earn a scholarship to college, autographed a ball for Maholm. "What are you, nine?" he said to the 25-year-old pitcher.

Crystal's friend and fellow comedian Robin Williams was in the crowd. "I was just so proud," he said.

Crystal says he's always wanted to play for the Yankees and credits Jeter with pushing the team to sign him to a one-day contract.

(Editing by Jim Loney and Philip Barbara)

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