NEW YORK -- This is the longest road trip of the season for the Red Sox -- 10 games in 11 days -- and it continues Friday through Sunday with the latest episode of The Rivalry at Yankee Stadium. After the first two stops in Cleveland and Baltimore, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and reliever Mark Melancon chose to start the final leg of this journey by visiting the MLB Fan Cave for some variety.
Saltalamacchia, inspired by last year's viral video of David Ortiz giving out hugs to New Yorkers during a Fan Cave trip, sought out similar love from fans in an inhospitable metropolis. He put on a Red Sox road jersey and backwards cap, brought his catcher's mitt and baseballs, and walked the streets and parks asking fans if they'd like to pitch to the Red Sox catcher. He asked and squatted for seemingly everyone -- from taxi drivers to kids to an actual statue -- and most everyone accepted, even those attired in pinstriped garb.
Video evidence will be posted in coming days on MLBFanCave.com.
"The guys in the Fan Cave came up with everything," Saltalamacchia explained after finishing up the shooting at Washington Square Park beside its iconic arch, off which he threw baseballs. "It was really cool to be able to get out here and meet new people. Even though people are Yankee fans and Red Sox fans, everybody's a baseball fan. I think everybody respected the fact we were out there doing this, and it was just cool to get out there and see some people.
"It was really cool to see [Ortiz] out there trying to get hugs from people. It's this big rivalry between New York and Boston. As a player, being involved in that rivalry, it really just makes the game fun again. It's passionate. Everybody's trying to win, but at the end of the day, we're all ballplayers and we're all human, so it's really cool to be a part of something like that."
Saltalamacchia also provided perhaps the quip of the year at the MLB Fan Cave. While being shown around the basement by the four Cave Dwellers, he was told that Yankees players and wives had been part of a big Victoria's Secret PINK party there in June, hosted by CC Sabathia's wife, Amber.
"Victoria's Secret with the Yankees? Of course," Saltalamacchia said. "We're getting yelled at for beer, and they're having Victoria's Secret. Unbelievable."
Hundreds of Major League Baseball players and celebrities have visited the MLB Fan Cave in these first two years of its existence at Fourth Street and Broadway in Greenwich Village, and part of its raison d'etre is to help raise the public profile of less-recognized players.
Naturally, Ortiz would be recognizable to almost everyone. Meanwhile, the guy with the longest last name in MLB history, who took over for a legendary figure in this New York-Boston rivalry -- Jason Varitek -- benefits from being out and seen in this way, interacting with fans away from the field.
"I enjoy this game so much," Saltalamacchia said. "I learned a lot from [Varitek], learned a lot just showing up at the ballpark every day with the guys who are on the team. Being able to get out in the community and interact with your friends, that's kind of what it's about.
"We play this game because we love it. We've got such great support in Boston, it's nice to be able to go out there and try to get some more support, regardless of where it's at."
Saltalamacchia and Melancon showed up separately, with the former arriving at 11 a.m. ET and staying an hour and half, leaving about 15 minutes before the latter showed up. Melancon also taped scenes for an upcoming video skit, shot in the Fan Cave basement. The highlight of the pitcher's visit had to be signing the autograph wall, simply because of the way he did it.
Noticing that such visitors as Kate Upton, Johnny Bench, Justin Verlander and Adam Lambert had signed at eye-level height (as his catcher did), Melancon put his back to the wall, bent over and proceeded to sign upside down on a Rawlings skin a few inches off the floor.
"I noticed nobody had signed the bottom row," Melancon explained. "I wanted to be the first to do that. The only easy way to do that is to sign upside down."
Few active players can claim such a unique perspective on the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry as Melancon can. He was drafted by the Yankees in 2006, and groomed as Mariano Rivera's possible successor at closer, pitching in parts of five months during New York's 2009 title campaign. Melancon got his ring as a rookie, but he was included in the Yanks' July 2010 trade with Houston to acquire Lance Berkman.
After making 71 appearances and recording 20 saves for the Astros in 2011, he has had 49 combined relief outings in 2012 with Triple-A Pawtucket and the parent club.
"It's a neat series because it's probably the best rivalry in all of sports," Melancon said. "To be a part of that, and to be on both sides is pretty neat. It's always fun."
As for breaking up the pattern of a long trip and coming here, he added: "It's important. When you have the opportunity to come visit something as neat as this, you have to take advantage of it."
The New York Times wrote in an article on Friday that Yankees-Rangers has become a bigger deal than this series, but you would have a hard time convincing the two Fan Cave visitors.
"I don't think it will ever dampen the rivalry. The rivalry has just been there so long," Saltalamacchia said. "The fans are so passionate about each team. That rivalry is always going to be there. We haven't had the best year, but we're still in it. We're not out of it. We're still pushing to try to get that playoff spot. Hey, the Cardinals did it last year. There's a possibility, definitely, that we could do it this year."
"For us, I think it raises the intensity," Melancon said. "This series is always exciting, and always fun to play in."