Girardi climbed atop a bench in the visitors' dugout at Bright House Field, asking for more information. The man holding the sign, Matthew Smith, told Girardi that his son was a 24-year-old Yankees fan who had his life cut short by a December 2010 car accident.
Girardi not only signed the poster, he invited Smith -- wearing his son's CC Sabathia jersey, emblazoned with the 2009 inaugural-season Yankee Stadium patch on the left sleeve -- down to the field for a better view.
"I'm not really looking for anything today; I just didn't want Steven to be forgotten," Smith said. "When Joe saw the sign, he asked me to come watch batting practice with him, which was an honor."
A Scotch Plains, N.J., product, Steven Smith had graduated from George Washington University and was an aspiring sports broadcaster. He had cultivated a large following on Twitter (@stevensmithy) and hoped to use the social network to launch a professional career.
"He had things to say," said Smith, a lung specialist who relocated to Clearwater after his son's passing. "He was going to be too important of an opinion to ignore. That was his way to elbow in. He had figured it out."
Girardi was touched by the story, which was first relayed to him by YES Network broadcaster Michael Kay. Girardi took the sign and promised to bring it back to George M. Steinbrenner Field so the whole Yankees roster could sign it.
"I just thought it would be nice to bring him out," Girardi said. "He's been through a lot in the last year and a half. You can never imagine what people are going through when something like that happens."
Smith said that his son was buried wearing his favorite Yankees jersey, a Derek Jeter model, and that several players -- including Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson -- stopped by to offer their condolences.
"Steven would have given his life to be out on the field, and he gave his life -- and I was the one out on the field," Smith said. "That's kind of a bitter irony."