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It’s not ‘goodbye,’ it’s ‘see you later’

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The loyal readers of the blog have most assuredly realized that Yankee Yapping has been conspicuous by its long absence.

There hasn’t been a new post in nearly three years, for a variety of reasons. Responsibilities of life. Commitments. Errands. Downtime.

It’s been a struggle to balance it all and make time for Yankee Yapping.

When I first started Yankee Yapping in July of 2009, I was an ambitious, aspiring sports reporter with a year left in college. I was encouraged by an interview subject (who happened to be Rick Wolff, son of the late Bob Wolff, who called Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series) to start my own blog and to write about topics that interest me. And so the journey began.

I was able to maintain the blog when I began my career as a professional sports reporter, working for The North County News and subsequently, The Examiner, in Westchester County. Both being hyper-local weekly newspapers, deadlines were generous and thus, there was plenty of time for blogging.

When I started working full-time at the daily Poughkeepsie Journal over four years ago, I knew my time for Yankee Yapping was going to become limited, at best. The original schedule I worked was 2:30 p.m. until 10:30 p.m., five – sometimes six – days a week. My schedule has since changed, but the workload hasn’t.

In fact, over the past year, I’ve been asked to take up news reporting one day a week. It’s made sports reporting a little more challenging, trying to balance the time for creating good, compelling sports stories while standing on my tip-toes and being ready to run at a moment’s notice for breaking news.

However, I do feel I’ve evolved as a journalist. And, the work has been worth the rewards.

I won first place in the 2017 New York State Associated Press contest for my story Sidelined: Men outnumber women in coaching roles. The same story won the Distinguished Sports Writing Award of Excellence in the New York News Publishers Association contest. On top of that, myself and two of my colleagues won the NYNPA Distinguished Live Sports Coverage Award of Excellence.

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It’s good to know the work I’m doing is making an impact and people are reading. And while there really isn’t much time to enjoy the fruits of your labor as a sports reporter, as once you finish one story it’s right on to the next one, much of the sports work I’ve been assigned these past few years has been enjoyable.

Among my personal favorite stories, both baseball and non-baseball related include:

Covering a rehab start made by none other than Matt Harvey, with the New York Mets at the time.

Interviewing Dennis Haskins, AKA Mr. Belding of “Saved by the Bell” fame, at a Minor League Baseball team’s promotional night.

Covering Brendan McKay, the fourth overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft. McKay is a hybrid pitcher/first baseman, and obvious comparisons have been drawn between him and Shohei Otani.

Writing a feature on Blake Butera, who at 25 last year, was the youngest manager in all of pro baseball.

Covering the budding career of Lenny Torres, a local flamethrower drafted 41st overall last June by the Cleveland Indians. (Look out for this kid; he’s only 18 and his cackling fastball can touch 98 mph. If that’s not enough, he can throw footballs almost the length of the field!)

Writing a story on how minor league baseball players adjust when living with host families.

An interview and story on former New York Jets and current Seattle Seahawks kicker Jason Myers (although he was with the Jacksonville Jaguars when I did the story).

An interview and story on New York Giants General Manager Dave Gettleman (As a note, he got the job with the Giants after I interviewed him; he was in between jobs at the time, following his firing by the Carolina Panthers).

An interview with Rey Mysterio, former world wrestling champion of WWE and WCW fame.

Basically becoming a beat writer for Tyler Adams, formerly of the New York Red Bulls and U.S. Men’s National Team, now with RB Leipzig in Germany.

And recently, a story on Lucio Battista, a man with a crazy mustache who will attempt to make waves on the TV show “American Ninja Warrior” later this month.

Oh, and if you’re wondering what it’s like to dive feet-first into a breaking news assignment, well… Sometimes there are alligators. Yes, alligators.

Of course, none of these are stories about the Yankees. But as a sports reporter I’ve learned, the reality is, you often don’t get to pick what you want to write about; what your passions are. Still, there are ways to have fun with your beat and have fun with the job, even if you’re not writing about the Yankees.

That being said, my Yankee fandom hasn’t waned. I still watch as many games as I can and have attended a handful of games since the last Yankee Yapping post.

I actually checked off an item from the bucket list on Aug. 12, 2016, attending the Yankees’ game against the Tampa Bay Rays. Kevin Kiermaier or Steven Souza Jr. – still don’t know which player – tossed me a ball during batting practice.

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That game also happened to be Alex Rodriguez’s last hurrah, and it came on the eve of the Yankees calling up Aaron Judge.

What I haven’t done, though, is sit in the Yankee Stadium press box to cover a game. Or interview Derek Jeter. And obviously, I am not working for MLB.com. So, yes. There are some unrealized dreams out there.

Perhaps, if I remain as lucky as I’ve been, one day those dreams will come true. But, even if they don’t, I’ve already been blessed with a fine career that’s spanned almost a decade and has included great stories, interviews with great people and feedback from great readers.

No, I may not have landed the Jeter interview or coverage of a Yankee game, yet I’m proud of the hard work I have done – and that includes Yankee Yapping.

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MLB.com recognized Yankee Yapping several times. David Cone mentioned Yankee Yapping during the telecast of a game on the YES Network. Author Danny Peary even included an excerpt from Yankee Yapping in a book he wrote about Jeter.

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It’s been amazing. And now… Can I say it’s over? Is Yankee Yapping officially going into the Monument Park of blogs and retiring?

I don’t know. What I do know is, for now, it will remain on pause as my full-time job at The Poughkeepsie Journal and USA Today Network continues.

Maybe in a month, I’ll get the itch to talk about why I think Judge deserves to be the American League’s Most Valuable Player.

Maybe at the end of the season, if the Yanks win the World Series, I’ll want to write about the thrill of number 28 and what the title would mean to me.

Maybe at the end of 2019, or in 2020 or beyond, I’ll be writing to let everyone know MLB.com has hired me as a staff writer.

Anything can happen.

I occasionally still tweet on the Yankee Yapping Twitter account (@YankeeYapping) and feel free to follow me on my (hopefully soon-to-be verified!) professional account, @AJ_Martelli, where I tweet about games I’m covering and stories I’m doing, but still tweet about the Yankees, from time to time.

I can’t thank the readers of Yankee Yapping enough. It has been appreciated, even after all this time!

I’m bad at goodbyes. So I’m not saying goodbye. It’s not goodbye.

I’ll see you later.

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The first game

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I was holding my nephew in the standing room behind the right field wall.

We were on Yankee Stadium’s main level, looking down at Carlos Beltran. The Bombers were getting slaughtered by Tampa Ray late in the game. The Rays were on the verge of avoiding a sweep.

“Someday, we’ll be watching you down there, buddy,” I told him.

That’s what my dad said to me at my first game.

Do you remember your first time?

Maybe it was with your dad in the 1950s, when you walked into the old Yankee Stadium. You saw Mickey Mantle get on his horse and chase down fly balls in the outfield, only to later have that topped by watching him smash a 500-foot home run.

Perhaps, like this writer, it was with your family sometime in the 1990s, when you excitedly marched into the House that Ruth Built. You witnessed Don Mattingly make web gem after web gem at first base, and were then treated to his grandiose power with the bat.

Whichever game it was, you’ll never forget it. That game likely got you hooked as a Yankee fan for life.

That type of journey began for someone very close to me yesterday. That would be my 4-year-old nephew, Ryan.

My sister sent me a text message around 10:30 p.m. Friday night.

“You want to go to the Yankee game Sunday? We’re thinking of taking Ryan for his first game, and I’m sure he would love it if his uncle was there.”

Of course, I obliged. I’m not one to pass up a Yankee game, especially one so meaningful.

Ryan was very excited I was joining him, his mom and his dad (his mom and dad being my sister and her boyfriend) for the day. The excitement began in the car, long before we arrived in the Bronx.

But, we eventually got there without wearing ourselves out too much.

We walked into the Great Hall. I held Ryan’s hand as we walked towards our seats in the left-center field bleachers. We sat down and right away Ryan was cheering.

“Go Yankees!” he shouted.

In short, I thought the Yanks might win this one. I had that “we’re going to win today” mentality. What better way to introduce him to the Yankees than by a win?

Those high hopes were dashed pretty quickly, however.

Starting pitcher Michael Pineda got two quick outs in the first inning, only to get absolutely shelled thereafter. Just when it appeared it would be a fast, 1-2-3 frame, he fell apart and let up two two-run home runs and an RBI double. The hitting barrage gave Tampa Bay a 5-0 lead after just one half-inning.

Pineda finished the day having allowed 10 hits in five innings. Four of those 10 hits ended up in the seats.

The Yanks mustered just one run in the form of an RBI double in the bottom of the fourth off the bat of Alex Rodriguez, as the Rays avoided the sweep and took an 8-1 win from New York.

Despite the loss, I think Ryan enjoyed himself and wasn’t so concerned with the final score.

He took in the little things.

In particular, he was fond of how the stadium plays the “Stars Wars” theme during the lineup introductions — as we all know, the Imperial March for the visitors and the main theme for the Yanks.

In fact, I tried to use Ryan’s love of “Star Wars” in order to show him which team we were rooting for.

“The Yankees are the team in white. The team in grey – they’re the bad guys,” I told him.

Not saying it backfired, but he then thought Tampa Bay had Darth Vader-like evil status.

What I was most proud of was his behavior. There were other children his age in our section, moving all over the place and misbehaving. Ryan, on the other hand, sat still for most of the game and drew the attention of some of the other fans.

They complimented him on how well-behaved he was.

 

For the future, we now know we can take him to a game and can expect good conduct from him.

And hopefully, his good behavior can be rewarded at his next game with a Yankee win.

Twitter: @YankeeYapping

Tater shot

Bartolo Colon delivered the pitch. Brandon Allen took a mighty swing and struck it high and far to right field.

The ball just seemed to have been in the sky forever on that August night in 2011. The hangtime had to have been close to 10 seconds, easy.

The sphere of leather and cowhide towered deep into the early evening air. Right fielder Nick Swisher didn’t even move. He could only watch as the ball vanished into the far reaches of the upper deck at Yankee Stadium.

Solo home run. Oakland Athletics lead the Yankees 1-0 in the top of the second.

From the seats behind the wall in left field, I turned to my friend Micheal. We were among the thousands of fans bewildered at what we had all just seen.

“That… was a bomb.”

By far, no questions asked, it was the most prolific home run I have ever witnessed.

In-person, that is.

There’s an old saying that “chicks dig the long ball” but I think that saying is true of everyone, not just “chicks.” One of the most exciting parts of going to a ballgame, no matter if you’re a male or female, is bearing witness to a moon shot; a home run that travels an astounding distance.

Nothing beats seeing one live and up close. And although it was incredible watching Allen’s mashed tater into an area few hitters go, I do however wish he was wearing pinstripes when he accomplished the feat.

But make no mistake, there have been some Yankees who have dropped bombs that make Hiroshima and Nagasaki look like kid stuff.

The magnificent Yankee being one of the more known assailants.

Back in May of 1963, Mickey Mantle obliterated an offering from Bill Fischer of the Kansas City A’s. The ball went so far, it caromed off the façade – or frieze – atop Yankee Stadium, and it came close to being knocked out of the stadium altogether.

Talk about a bomb.

Yet, players not wearing pinstripes have also murdered their share of home runs.

Like the current all-time home run record holder, Barry Bonds. I only wish I could have been at Yankee Stadium in June of 2002 when the San Francisco Giants paid the Bombers a visit. In the first inning, Bonds came up and completely blasted a three-run home run off Ted Lilly.

To that point, I had never seen a batter hit a ball that far into the upper deck. Even watching Bonds’ yard work on television left me amazed, but I can’t imagine the TV did it justice, had I been there in-person.

And that’s my point. Until you see a long, tape measure homer in-person, I’m not certain you can truly appreciate it.

That being said, what’s the longest home run you’ve ever seen live?

Who hit it?

And did whoever club it leave you as amazed as Allen left me in 2011?

Twitter: @YankeeYapping

A taste of HOPE Week in the winter

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Ever since 2009, the Yankees have put on what they call HOPE Week.

Hope. Helping Others Persevere and Excel.

One week out of the summer, the Bronx Bombers spotlight individuals, families or organizations worthy of support and recognition. Each day during HOPE Week, honorees share their inspirational stories with the Yankee players, the fans and of course the media.

They are then treated to a special day courtesy of the Yankees — almost becoming like full-on members of the team, participating in team activities, in addition to the Yankees’ outreach. The experience is complete with a ceremony at Yankee Stadium before the start of the game. The Yankees have yet to announce when HOPE Week will take place this season.

Whenever HOPE Week happens, it impacts everyone. The interviews with the honorees and players alone are enough to tug at your heart strings.

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Yankees.com says “all (HOPE Week) events are designed to generate attention and raise the profile of serious social issues affecting our nation and the world.”

We all have problems. A bad day. A career not going in the upward direction you may want it to. A breakup with a significant other. Trifles with paying bills. Whatever it may be.

Then you take a look at the folks involved with something like HOPE Week, and it puts everything into perspective. Take for example the first-ever HOPE Week honoree: a United States Army veteran who lost the use of his arms and legs to Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Imagine how hard this hero has to battle every day.

Again, perspective.

My experience in terms of putting everything into perspective came nine days ago.

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As part of my job, I covered the figure skating event of New York’s winter Special Olympics. That day, I was battling a lot of pain from an agonizing toothache. I had been toiling with a long feature story I was working on, and recently I’ve been coming to grips with the loss of someone I care about.

It’s been challenging. And not so fun. Enough to get me feeling bad.

Then I met a few of the athletes of the Special Olympics. Young men, women older than me. All with difficulties. I watched as some of them struggled to just get out onto the ice and perform. A few of them fell down, but when they did, they regained their vertical base, brushed off the slush and kept skating.

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I wound up interviewing a skater from Rochester, New York. I could tell she had a hard time getting through the interview. She seemed a little overwhelmed talking to a reporter, but within a few minutes she got the words out as articulately as she could.

She never gave up. That’s what I was most impressed with.

Whatever problems I have, I now know first-hand there are others with difficulties that surpass mine. Others who have to handle those difficulties in everyday life and in everything they do, yet they still find courage to do the things that make them happy, like figure skating.

And even when they fall down doing what they love, they get back up and finish.

They persevere. They excel.

I can only guess the Yankee players feel the same way during HOPE Week every year. They likely gain that same perspective. They hear stories and meet folks who make an 0-for seem quite inconsequential.

As for me. The toothache? I went to the dentist. I’m no longer in pain. The feature? It got done. You can read it here. The loss of that person I care about? Eh. That remains to nag me day and night.

But then I consider that figure skater who never gave up. How she competed then got through my interview with her, despite it clearly being an obstacle.

If she can keep going, so can I. So can all of us.

Twitter: @YankeeYapping

Yankee unis: Sticking with something good

Frank William Abagnale, Jr. Does that name hold any meaning to you?

If you’ve seen the movie “Catch Me If You Can” you know who I’m talking about. At an early point in the film, Frank Abagnale, Sr. poses a question towards his son:

You know why the Yankees always win, Frank?

Frank Jr. gives the obvious answer: because they have Mickey Mantle.

Ehhht. Wrong.

No. It’s ’cause the other teams can’t stop staring at those damn pinstripes.

Perhaps those vertical navy blue stripes are overlooked. Or, at least not thought about a whole lot.

The pinstripes are an important part of the Yankee tradition,  as the team has been wearing pinstriped uniforms dating back to as early as 1912. The Yankees’ road uniforms have been the same since 1918: plain grey with NEW YORK across the chest (although from 1927-30 “NEW YORK” was replaced with “YANKEES”).

Consistency in every sense of the word. The Yanks have worn same home uniforms for roughly 104 years and the same road uniforms for 86 years.

In an age of alternate home and road apparel and a time when teams change colors and logos seemingly every year, the Yankees have been the aberration. The one team that hasn’t conformed to change.

Think about it. The Arizona Diamondbacks have only been in the league since 1998. They are going on only their 18th season in existence and have changed their uniform colors from teal, copper, purple and black to Sonoran sand (a shade of beige) and Sedona Red while maintaining black.

Not to mention when the Diamondbacks first made their Major League Baseball debut, they had three different logos for their cap: one for home games, one for away games and an alternate.

The Yankees, on the other hand, have had the same cap design — the solid navy blue hat with the interlocking “NY” — since 1922.

Ninety-four years with the same cap. Again, consistency in terms of fashion in the truest sense.

Save for spring training, that is.

As most fans know, the Yankees only don the pinstripes for their spring opener — which, as a friendly reminder, spring training begins in a few short weeks. After their first exhibition, the Yankees wear navy blue road and away jerseys in spring training games. This year, the Yanks and other teams across MLB will get snazzy new unis for spring training.

The Yankees’ new spring training jerseys come complete with designs inside the numbers on the back, as well as an “FL” inside a blue shield on the sleeve and on the side of the cap.

Seeing as how the Yanks are in Florida’s Grapefruit League for the spring, perhaps the image of a fruit would have been more clever as far as a special character for the uniform.

But hey. Maybe that’s why I blog and don’t design baseball unis.

Notwithstanding, it’s refreshing to see a team in the modern age uphold its tradition, and prove the point that swapping colors and changing logos frequently are unnecessary practices.

Sticking with something and going with it usually works out just fine.

Twitter: @YankeeYapping

 

 

What to look forward to in 2016

The gifts have been unwrapped. The New Year will be rung in Thursday night.

And that means in a few short weeks, Spring Training begins and before we know it baseball is back for a new season.

Our beloved New York Yankees have been busy little beavers this offseason, gaining Starlin Castro from the Chicago Cubs and just this past week, Aroldis Chapman from the Cincinnati Reds.

And let’s not forget Aaron Hicks, coming over from the Minnesota Twins.

With that in mind, here are a few things this writer is particularly looking forward to in 2016.

The bullpen

Barring a trade, the 7th, 8th and 9th innings are going to be really difficult for anyone opposing the Yankees this upcoming season.

As if the tandem of “D ‘n A” — Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller — wasn’t deadly enough, the addition of Chapman makes the back end of the Yankee bullpen all the more lethal.

All three flamethrowers recorded 100 or more strikeouts in 2015. If that’s any indication of what’s to come, the Yankees could potentially have the best bullpen in the majors.

However, there is always a possibility Brian Cashman spins his magic and deals one of the three studs for a starting pitcher.

The young bucks

In 2015, we got a glimpse of what type of damage the younger crowd of Yankees can do. But now, the baby Bombers will really get the opportunity to spread their wings.

Case in point: Greg Bird, who lit the Bronx on fire over the last third (or so) of the summer. The 23-year-old slugged 11 home runs and drove in 31 runs in just 46 games played.

Then you combine Bird’s power and finesse with the defense and scrappiness of Didi Gregorius  and Castro in the middle infield.

Throw in the sturdy pitching of Luis Severino, and you get the idea.

Perhaps one of the most encouraging aspects of 2016, just in scrolling through the Yankees’ current 40-man roster: just 18 of those 40 players were born before the year 1990.

Brace yourselves. The future is now.

A summer matchup against the Giants

I marked my calendar when I got the news.

July 22. The Yankees welcome the San Francisco Giants for a three-game set.

What’s so special about this series? Allow me to explain.

The newspaper I work for, the Poughkeepsie Journal, extensively covers the Giants’ second baseman, Joe Panik. Panik has been hailed as a local hero, being a graduate of a high school within the Journal’s coverage area.

Having already discussed it with my editor, I’ll have the chance to go to the stadium and interview Panik on assignment. That means I’ll get to sit in the press box at Yankee Stadium, which I’ve had dreams about in the past — then being annoyed when I woke up because it wasn’t real.

This summer, it will be real.

I only ask that Panik stay healthy for the entire year. He missed the last month or so of 2015 with a bad back.

And if you’re wondering, yes. I will document my entire experience covering the Yankees-Giants game for the blog.

It will be but one of many adventures 2016 will surely bring.

Twitter: @YankeeYapping, @AJ_Martelli

In ink with Jeter

Imagine you’re a sports writer. And you’re sitting in your newsroom at your desk on a busy Saturday, typing away feverishly at your keyboard to meet deadline.

Then your phone goes off. A notification from Twitter.

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What would your reaction be? Mine was “No way! Really?”

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Really. And thank you to Gershon Rabinowitz for bringing it to my attention.

At first I just thought it was maybe an amateur writer who happened to get a book deal and pulled an excerpt from Yankee Yapping’s October, 2014 piece The Boone Identity: Remembering the Radical 2003 Yankees-Red Sox Saga.

Then I looked into it. The author is Danny Peary, who is not only a renowned sports writer, but a famous film critic. Along with yours truly, there are passages from a number of other authors, writers, reporters, journalists, pundits and analysts  in his book “Baseball Immortal: Derek Jeter: A Career in Quotes.”

Moreover, Jeter himself, his fellow Yankees, his longtime manager Joe Torre and countless others are quoted. Among the notable sports journalists cited: Buster Olney, Michael Kay, Tyler Kepner and Bill Madden. Former teammates of Jeter’s are also in the book. To name a few: David Wells, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon, Jorge Posada and Chili Davis — whose quote was fantastic:

“Hanging out with him sucks, because all the women flock to him.”

It’s honestly an honor. To have my name in ink and in the same collection of pages with so many who have spent time with Jeter, interviewed him and know him personally is very nice.

However, Peary gave the credit to MLB.com. While I’m currently working for the Poughkeepsie Journal, a Gannett newspaper, one day I’d love to work for MLB.com — as that’s been well documented in Yankee Yapping over the years.

Nevertheless, I appreciate him using my words.

Being quoted in the Jeter book ranks just above being cited on the Wikipedia page of  Joe Panik, the San Francisco Giants’ second baseman.

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To read that story on Panik from September, click here.

To order “Baseball Immortal: Derek Jeter: A Career in Quotes” click here. I  have not read the entire book yet, but according to what the consumers on Amazon.com are saying, it’s worthy of a read and a smash hit.

Writes reader Cory Gann, who gave it five stars out of a possible five:

“Number one baseball book to read if you’re a Yankee fan and if you’re not, too. For all baseball fans! (even Reds fans).”

Yes, even Reds fans. I am going to guess he lives in Cincinnati. Gann continues his rave review:

“The concept is as fun as the information in the book itself. It’s one of those ‘I’ll just read one more quote’ kind of books where you read one more, and then the next and then the next, and so on.

“The layout draws your eyes to the quotable quotes, as you get a real measure of the person as well as the Yankee star. This format will undoubtedly be copied, but probably not as well.”

I think Peary should send me a free, autographed copy. But hey, that’s just me.

Twitter: @YankeeYapping, @AJ_Martelli, @AJM_PoJoSports