Interview: Luis “Squeegee” Castillo, the most famous Yankees batboy
Perhaps the most famous batboy in the history of Major League Baseball, Luis “Squeegee” Castillo was born in the Bronx and grew up idolizing David Cone and the New York Yankees. As a teenager, he was the Yankees’ batboy during their most recent dynasty, from 1998 to 2005, spanning three World Series Championships and two other World Series appearances.
Nicknamed “Squeegee” by shortstop Derek Jeter, Castillo has many fond memories from his days with the team. One such memory is his involvement with the July 1999 perfect game thrown by boyhood idol Cone, for whom he caught warmup tosses during that game’s rain delay.
Squeegee went on to become the author of an insider’s tale called Clubhouse Confidential. He’s made numerous media appearances as an author, speaker and translator. A passionate advocate of children’s literacy, Castillo is planning the 2014 launch of a nonprofit organization geared toward increasing youth literacy in inner cities.
I recently had a chance to speak with Squeegee about his experiences.
First of all, let’s get this out of the way: are you “Squeegee” to your friends, or “Luis,” or something else?
Everyone calls me Squeegee. It’s stuck with me since my days as a batboy.
How did you first come to be the Yankees batboy?
I used to go to all the Yankee home games, and I always sat in the right-field bleachers. The tickets were inexpensive, and they also had the best view in the house at the old Yankee stadium. In 1997, my very first time at Yankee stadium, I went with a friend to the game. We sat in a seat we weren’t supposed to sit in, and a woman named Tina Lewis approached us and said, “you guys can’t sit here.” My friend responded to Tina with foul language, but we didn’t know she was known as the “Queen of the Bleacher Creatures.” She had us escorted out of the stadium, and I was upset because I didn’t get to see any of the game. I knew it was my friend’s fault for the way he reacted to Ms. Lewis, and I wanted to apologize to her on his behalf. I bought a ticket the next day, and went back to the stadium to apologize to her. We had a great conversation; Tina told me “you’re nothing like your friend,” and I smiled. We became friends, and as we shared baseball stories, I told her about my dream of becoming a batboy. She told me to write a letter to the Yankees front office, and told me who to address it to. I did, and I was granted an interview by the equipment manager in 1998 … and I got the job! I still give her all the credit for connecting me with the Yankees organization.
Interesting … so you basically got the job because your friend was being a jerk and you were a nice guy about it.
You could say that. One thing I noticed, hanging out in the bleachers in the ’90s, was that different backgrounds were united by the fact that we loved the Yankees. It’s great how sports can really bring us together. Think about it: After 9/11, what picked New York up? Sports. I remember the first game here after the attacks. People come together over things like that. People need to talk about that more, how sports can bring people together.
How cool was it to spend your days hanging out with your favorite baseball team and boyhood idols, when you were still just a kid yourself?
It was very cool, as a kid, to see my favorite baseball players and work with them on the field. I couldn’t believe it — I’d once held these guys’ baseball cards in my hands, and now they were in front of my face in real life. It was also really cool to introduce myself to my idol, David Cone, on my first day at Yankee Stadium. It was opening day, in April of 1998, and I was in shock. I kept pinching myself to see if it was a dream! And all the guys were down to earth: Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and the others. It was like one big family, from the batboys to the trainers and coaches and even the behind-the-scenes employees.
You must have a ton of memories.
Oh yeah. For example, before his famous game seven home run, I saw Aaron Boone in the clubhouse. He wasn’t in the game yet, and he asked me, “are you nervous?” I said, “hell yeah, I’m nervous!” He said, “you’ve been around here so long, how are you nervous?” Later that evening, he goes into the game and bang, he hits a historic walkoff home run. You can’t make that up! I’ve seen so many great things.
Like David Cone’s perfect game, which you describe as one of your favorite memories.
It was July 18, 1999, against the Montreal Expos. Only three innings into the game, there was a 45-minute rain delay. The Yankees were deciding what to do, since teams like to protect their pitchers’ arms after long delays. The weather started to clear, and Posada didn’t have his gear on yet. David Cone didn’t want to do another full warmup, he just wanted to get loose again before he got back on the field. I was about to take my position along the right field line, and leaving the tunnel, I heard a voice: “Hey, Squeeg, got a glove?” I did. “Got a ball?” I did. “Wanna warm me up?” I couldn’t believe it. I threw him a couple of tosses, and he said, “it’s too low in here” because his throws were skimming the roof of the tunnel. “Let’s go onto the field,” he said. I was thinking, “wow, all these people are watching, and if I hurt this guy, I’m really gonna be in trouble.” Don Zimmer was watching from the dugout, with his hand over his mouth because he knew I was nervous. Cone and I threw six or seven pitches, and the crowd was yelling, and he threw me the last one and said, “we’re done, Squeegee, thanks.” He gave me a thumbs-up and tossed me the ball we’d been throwing. I kept it, thinking I was going to get it signed. Six innings later, he’d thrown a perfect game! I was so nervous. I have goosebumps right now talking about it. David Cone and Mel Stottelmyre used to warm me up when I was a little league pitcher … I couldn’t believe what had just happened. When we got back to the clubhouse, Cone gave me a hug. A week later, he got “perfect game watches” for the team, and he gave me one, which I still have in a box today. He also signed the ball I’d kept after helping him warm up, and I also have that to this day. I saw him a year ago, when he was signing memorabilia at a bar in the New York City, and he gave me a big hug and said “you’re the man, Squeeg. Nobody could ever take that moment away.”
I tell you, you can’t make this stuff up. He threw that perfect game against the Montreal Expos, a great lineup, in 88 pitches. People forget, but that Expos team was no joke! It was Yogi Berra Day, and Don Larsen had thrown Yogi the first pitch to commemorate the perfect game Larsen threw in 1956. And then Cone went out and threw his own perfect game. I’ll never forget that.
I know that you were nicknamed “Squeegee” by the one and only Derek Jeter. Tell me the story behind that?
It was opening day 1998, my first day on the job. When I walked into the Yankees clubhouse, Rob Cucuzza, the equipment manager, showed me to my locker so I could try on my pinstriped uniform and cleats. Then Joe Lee, a longtime clubbie for the Yankees, introduced himself. I told him, “my name is Luigi,” and he said, “that’s about to change.” We started to walk toward the back of the clubhouse, and we stopped in front of Derek Jeter’s locker. Jeter was getting dressed, and I was in shock. Joe Lee said, “hey, Jete”—which was Jeter’s nickname — and Jeter said, “what’s up, Chad.” I said to Chad, “hold on, I thought your name was Joe Lee.” Jeter started to laugh, and said, “what’s your name, kid?” I said, “Luigi.” Jeter looked me up and down, while putting his socks on, and I stood there feeling weird. Then he said, “that’s it — your name is Squeegee.” I said, “cool.” After that, everyone on the team started calling me Squeegee. Jeter gives everyone nicknames, and because he was so cool and smooth like that, everyone accepted it.
Years later, I found out that a squeegee is a window cleaner who wears baggy clothes to do his job. Jeter gave me that nickname because when he looked me up and down, he noticed that I was skinny and my uniform was baggy on me. And it stuck!
I know you believe in giving back to the community, and you’re planning to launch a foundation for children’s literacy. Tell me about your foundation.
My foundation is called the Squeegee Foundation for Children’s Literacy, and it kicks off in 2014. It’s been a longtime dream of mine to improve youth education, and to use baseball to bring fun to reading and writing. My upbringing was rough, and my parents struggled to make ends meet, but I loved them for their effort to keep me on a good track. They always tried to inspire me to do well academically, but they didn’t have the money to send me to a great school or college. And unfortunately, my father passed away from cancer in 1999. I want to give kids, in my community and others, the educational opportunities that my parents would have given me if they had the means. I was also inspired by seeing Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada give back to those less fortunate than they are.
And I understand you’re working on a second book?
I’m working on a book for young adults, and I have a couple of publishing companies interested in my book proposal. In fact, I just found out today that that my second book is being considered by Derek Jeter’s new publishing company! The working title is An American Bronx Bomber’s Dream, and the working subtitle is Tales Of Glory And Belief. It will be an inspirational story, designed to intrigue anyone who likes to play baseball and wants to know what it’s like to be with a professional team like the Yankees. My agent, Steve Harris, believed in my dreams as a writer. He helps me get my message out to the world, and I’m honored by his support. I’m also working on a baseball skills handbook.
Let’s switch to baseball. Any predictions for the rest of the offseason? I know you wrote an open letter to Yankees management, effectively predicting the Brian McCann signing.
I did! I suggested getting McCann, and I also suggested re-signing Jeter. When they did it, I said “I guess they must be watching me!” As for A-Rod, I don’t think he’s coming back, so the Yankees need to get a big bat at third base. I think Robinson Cano will wind up changing teams, so second base is also a concern. Since Andy Pettitte’s retiring, I think the Yankees need a guy who can eat up at least 200 innings. I think they could trade, for example, Austin Romine for a number-two starter. The bullpen always finds a way, but the Yankees need to find a closer since Mariano’s gone. David Robertson is an eighth-inning guy, and the Yankees should leave him in the eighth inning. I’d like to see them get Fernando Rodney … with him and Robertson, they’d have the last two innings locked down.
As for Jeter, they definitely needed to bring him back. He’s a real leader who leads by example, and he’s really magnetic. Even when Bernie Williams, who should have been a captain, was on the team, he and the other players voted him their captain back in the day. What people don’t realize is that Jeter didn’t want to put the C on his jersey, and yet the whole team chose him. Joe Torre used to emphasize chemistry, and I think it’s really important.
Last but not least, have you thought about getting involved with Major League Baseball again in the future?
My thought was to try to establish myself as an agent for major league players. I would call my agency the Luigi Squeegee Agency, and I’d scout players from inner cities and showcase them for MLB tryouts.
Anything else for our readers?
For a year now, I’ve been in talks with BronxNet about a documentary. It would be about my time as a Yankee batboy, and the fact that I came from the Bronx and was with the team for its dynasty years. The documentary is an hour long, and it’s scheduled to air in January of 2014. Among the people featured in the documentary will be Bernie Williams, Ramiro Mendoza, the Bleacher Creatures, and my family and friends from the community. I’m also working on a comic book for late 2014, which will feature a cartoon character named Squeegee.
Thanks for talking with us, Luigi!
Thank you guys for the interview! I hope Squeegee fans will enjoy my upcoming projects, and I appreciate everyone’s support.