NEW YORK -- Growing up in Manhattan, Dellin Betances' memories of his neighborhood barbershop largely revolved around long periods of time staring off into space, eavesdropping on conversations from the older customers while being told to patiently wait his turn.That was why the Yankees reliever looked so surprised as he
NEW YORK -- Growing up in Manhattan, Dellin Betances' memories of his neighborhood barbershop largely revolved around long periods of time staring off into space, eavesdropping on conversations from the older customers while being told to patiently wait his turn.
That was why the Yankees reliever looked so surprised as he and some of his teammates walked into Denny Moe's Superstar Barbershop in Harlem on Thursday morning, seeing the difference that a friendly reading area can make. The room brimmed with positive energy, and Betances wished a program like that existed when he was younger.
• Hope Week
"It's pretty impressive, to be honest with you," Betances said. "I'm kind of in awe coming in here. Usually, you don't see anything like this in a barbershop. A lot of times, you're waiting for an hour to get your hair cut. What better than to sit down in a little corner and have stories read to you, or you read them on your own?"
As part of the Yankees' HOPE Week celebration, Betances, CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Ronald Torreyes visited with "Barbershop Books," an organization founded by Harlem resident Alvin Irby, a former kindergarten and first-grade teacher who has dedicated his life to nurturing educational opportunities available to young people.
In 2014, Irby had the idea of creating reading areas in barbershops to provide access to books that would engage young children of color. Entering its third year of operation, Barbershop Books is currently available in 10 Harlem locations and one in Brooklyn, catering to children ages 4-8.
• Photo gallery of Yankees at Denny Moe's
"It came from an experience I had in the Bronx," Irby said. "I was teaching first grade and there was a barbershop across the street from my school. I was getting a haircut and one of my students walked in. He plopped down and stared out the window with a bored look on his face. I thought, 'He really should be practicing his reading right now.'"
Joined by hip-hop artist Fat Joe, the Yankees players marveled at Irby's enthusiasm as he commanded the attention of his audience, reading Patricia McKissack's "Precious and the Boo Hag" to a selection of children from the Harlem Children's Zone.
"Alvin does an amazing job of spreading some goodwill," Teixeira said. "It's great. I love reading books to my own kids, and it's kind of one of life's simple pleasures -- just seeing these kids be able to read and soak it in."
After taking a wide variety of questions from the young audience, it was the Yankees' turn to show what they could do, as the players passed around a copy of David Shannon's "No, David!" while each reading a page aloud.
"A lot of them are very smart kids," Betances said. "They're very intrigued with some of the stories. It was a lot of fun."
Irby said that his intent is to expand Barbershop Books throughout the city. To help make that happen, the Yankees presented Irby with a check for $10,000 on behalf of the Yankees Foundation.
"Right now, I have hundreds of children's books in my living room," Irby said. "My roommates are very kind and they care about helping the kids, but I know that's not what they signed up for. Whether we're buying more books or adding some small chairs in locations where we currently have locations, it will help us in terms of being able to do more for the kids."
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.