In February, Dellin Betances reported to Yankees camp with eight MLB games under his belt -- in eight professional seasons. Betances had every reason to be negative. He was turning 26 on March 23, and the once promising prospect had seen much of his career evaporate in the minors.

But Betances did not sulk. The Yankees stuck with him. And this past week, he was the sole Yankees rookie pitcher -- not Masahiro Tanaka -- at the All-Star Game.

"This first half has been a blessing to me," Betances said Thursday from Point Pleasant, N.J., where he was taking part in Pepsi's Real.Big.Summer initiative. "My goal was to try to make the team. Once that happened, I focused on having a key role in the bullpen. I've been off to a good start and I try help the team win in any way possible. Being selected to the All-Star Game was an honor for my family and me."

Betances' Yankees timeline starts long before his recent trip to Minneapolis. Born in Washington Heights, Betances spent parts of his childhood in Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn. His parents, Jaime and Maria, emigrated from the Dominican Republic. Jaime has driven a cab in New York City for 23 years.

Betances grew up a Yankees fan during the team's dominant late 1990s-early 2000s era. As a 10-year-old, he was on hand for David Wells' perfect game on May 17, 1998, against the Minnesota Twins. He still has the ticket stub. Betances says he went to a "bunch of games" as a child and "always sat in the bleachers." This reputation makes him a bit of a folk hero among the Yankee Stadium bleacher creatures.

"David Wells' perfect game was probably one of the best games I went to," he says. "It was always great being a fan. Now playing for the Yankees, it's an honor for me

Betances starred for four years at Grand Street Campus High School in Brooklyn. He once struck out 20 batters in a seven-inning game, and as a junior in 2005, he became the first New York City high school player to ever be named an Aflac All-American. He played with fellow all-stars Clayton Kershaw and Tyson Ross on Team USA's 2005 Junior Olympic team.

In the 2006 MLB draft, Betances' commitment to Vanderbilt dropped his stock from a possible first-round selection. However, the Yankees still took an interest in him. General Manager Brian Cashman snatched the hometown kid in the eighth round and gave him a $1 million signing bonus. At the time, Randy Johnson was a Yankee, helping the nickname "Baby Unit" spread for the 6-8 right-hander.

In 23.1 innings, Betances had a 1.16 ERA in one year of rookie league ball. The following year, he was brought up to the Yankees single-A affiliate in Staten Island, one of two boroughs he did not live in. He used part of his signing bonus to move his family from Brooklyn to New Jersey. Before age 20, the parts were falling into place for Dellin Betances.

And then they slowed.

During what would've been his college years, Betances worked his way through the Yankees' farm system from 2007-2011. In 2010, Betances went 8-1 with a 1.77 ERA in 14 starts for A+ Tampa, but his numbers stalled in AA and AAA. Splitting time between the two highest minor league levels in 2011, Betances went 4-9 with a 3.70 ERA in 25 starts.

While some expected an earlier appearance, Betances finally made his Bronx arrival as a big leaguer as a 2011 September call-up. In Betances' first outing, he allowed two runs on four walks and no hits in two-thirds of an inning out of the bullpen. On the final day of the regular season, the Yankees gave Betances the ball to start a meaningless game in Tampa Bay (the Yankees had already clinched the A.L. East title). Betances tossed two innings and allowed one hit and two walks, keeping the Rays scoreless. Later, Evan Longoria blasted a walk-off home run in the 12th inning to send the Rays to the playoffs and cap off one of the most exciting days in baseball history.

In 2012, Betances started the season at AAA Scraton/Wilkes-Barre but remained firmly on the Yankees' radar. That was, until he had an awful first half of the season. He struggled in April and May and a stretch of a 9.00 ERA over five June starts–6.39 overall–sent Betances all the way back to AA Trenton. At AA, he did not fair much better, posting a 6.51 ERA the rest of the season. At 24, Betances was traveling in the opposite direction.

Betances started 2013 with a 2-2 record in six starts at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. However, the Yankees had new plans for their 25-year-old prospect. Despite having only three professional relief appearances under Betances' belt, the Bombers sent the message to AAA to make Betances a relief pitcher.

It worked. Betances came out of the bullpen 32 times at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and finished the season with a 2.68 ERA and 1.12 WHIP, his highest minor league yearly totals since 2010.

"I began to feel comfortable," he says about the 2010 move to the bullpen. "It's allowed me to be more consistent in my delivery. It's a different feeling coming out of the bullpen. It's allowed me to be more aggressive and that's something that I've embraced."

Betances became a September call-up again in 2013, making six appearances. Although he allowed six earned runs in five innings, he turned heads with ten strikeouts.

By spring training 2014, Betances had new confidence in himself and new confidence from within the organization. His role changed, but he was comfortable with that. When Betances arrived at spring training in Tampa, he earned himself a roster spot from the get-go.

Betances has not looked back. In 40 games and 55.1 innings pre-All-Star Game, Betances is 4-0 with 12 holds, one save, a 1.46 ERA, a 0.70 WHIP and a whopping 84 strikeouts. His ERA, WHIP and strikeouts numbers are well ahead of the next closest rookie. With all the talk about Masahiro Tanaka this season, it is easy to lose track of Betances, the Yankees pitcher with the best chance to challenge the White Sox's Jose Abreu for the A.L. Rookie of the Year Award.

Betances did not get to pitch in Tuesday's All-Star Game, but it was still a worthwhile experience for the 26-year-old.

"Just being there, being with guys from the other teams that you watch play, Jeter's last year, seeing all the guy's families, that whole experience was definitely a blessing," he says. "It's something I enjoyed and for me, it's all about continuing to work hard and get better and better each year, and I would definitely like to be a part of it in upcoming years and hopefully get a chance to pitch."

While Betances has crossed paths with Kershaw and other pitchers in his 26 years, he had his first chance to mesh on the same grounds as other superstars. During warm-ups and down time, Betances gravitated toward two past A.L. Cy Young Award winners.

"The first day, I played catch with Max Scherzer," Betances says. "Talk about a guy who has some pretty nasty stuff. It was cool just playing catch with him and seeing how his pitches move. Felix Hernandez, he's a guy who's been successful since he started. He's someone I looked up to and I got a chance to speak with him."

Of course, for Betances, much of the All-Star affair surrounded fellow Yankees teammate Derek Jeter, a player the New Yorker watched in his youth. Jeter was on the field for Wells' perfect game, as well as most of the games the child version of Betances attended.

"Derek's just a leader, man. He's someone you try to follow in his footsteps. I grew up watching him play," Betances says. "For me to be on the same team as him and be part of the 2014 All-Star Game and watch him get two hits, that was an amazing experience. He's always encouraging me to work hard and just enjoy baseball as much as I can, especially with the All-Star Game. He told me to soak it all in."

Because their positions, Jeter is not the Yankees legend Betances is quickly earning comparisons with. One year ago, Mariano Rivera called it quits after 19 seasons -- 17 as a closer. David Robertson, who has come out of the Yankees' bullpen since 2008, has long been considered the closer-in-waiting after Rivera. Robertson held the job during Rivera's extended 2012 absence and was given the stopper role to start 2014.

Betances' success has Yankees fans changing course a year after the beloved Rivera's retirement. Betances has jumped into the picture a possible option at closer other than Robertson. If age is a concern, Rivera was 27 when he became the full-time closer in 1997.

Betances is not about to call out Robertson, and he is satisfied with his role as the Yankees' set-up man. With that said, Betances expresses admiration for Rivera and any comparisons to "Mo."

"That's somebody I've always looked up to. I enjoyed watching him play. For me to be on the same team and see his farewell tour [in 2013], that was an honor to me. If I could follow in his same footsteps, that would be special," Betances says.

Betances' lone focus right now is on getting the Yankees to the postseason. At 47-47, a very un-Yankee-like All-Star break record, the Bombers have ground to make up in the next 68 games. They do have the satisfaction of knowing the A.L. East-leading Orioles are only five games ahead and the Mariners are three-and-a-half games ahead for the final wild card.

Betances attributes the Yanks' subject first half to injuries and some unlucky bounces. He is confident his team will be around come October.

"We're definitely looking forward to the second half as a team. We are not that far in the division race and the Wild Card race, so we've got to continue to work hard and play hard for one of the last playoff spots," he says. "We hope [Masahiro] Tanaka comes back healthy and we should get Michael [Pineda] back at some point in the season. As long as we stay close enough and then get some guys back, we'll be in good shape."

As for Betances' pitching, an outsider may think it would be easy for him to lose focus. After all, the rookie with eight MLB games under his belt before this season notched an All-Star Game spot. What could stop Betances from feeling too comfortable and losing his edge now that he is proven?

The answer is easy:

"I've been through so much. For me, to have the success I've had, it's something that I'm going to continue to work hard at, trying to get better and better each and every day," he says. "I definitely enjoy playing this game and trying to play at the highest level. I'm looking forward to finishing the season strong and help the team get to the playoffs."

On Thursday, at Pepsi's Real.Big.Summer program on the Jersey Shore, Betances was on hand to witness Pepsi's four-story claw machine that produced "larger-than-life prizes" on Jenkinson's Beach Boardwalk in Point Pleasant, N.J. Pepsi also gave out pizza, a one-week beach rental and tickets to the MTV Video Music Awards. Betances provided a lucky Yankee fan and his mother tickets to an upcoming game in the Bronx.

For Betances, the experience playing for his hometown team is one thing. The experience giving back to his hometown community is another. Thanks to Betances' on-field success, he has that opportunity.

"Pepsi's all about making the summer real big. I'm honored and excited to be here and I get to give out tickets to a Yankees fan," he said before the event. "I'm always about giving back to the community. I'm really excited for this opportunity to team up with Pepsi. To come out there and see the kids smile, giving back, growing up in New York, this is going to be a great experience."

Along with Pepsi's contributions, United Way of Ocean County was on hand to provide a family recovering from the results of Hurricane Sandy with a surprise vacation.

The event was another checkpoint in Betances' breakout All-Star season in New York City, the town he was born and raised in. After toiling in the minors for eight seasons, he now has the resources and recognition to give back to the community that bred him.

Betances will shoot for a series of new checkpoints in 2014 that may include a playoff appearance, rookie records and a possible Rookie of the Year Award. When the season is through, he will have more goals to chase in his future.

Around this time two years ago, Betances was demoted from AAA to AA. Now, he is an All-Star putting up massive numbers.

Betances' major league skills are evident. One might say it is a relief.

-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.

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