There was a nostalgic feeling in the air. The old lions of the Yankee Dynasty of the late 1990s – many of the key players – were on hand.
It brought me back to the days of my childhood and I relished every minute of it.
Bernie Williams Night last Sunday was one of the most amazing and invigorating experiences I’ve had as a Yankee fan. I’d say it was on the same level as the World Series ring ceremony I attended in 2010.
I felt the need to be there, given my past history with this great man.
The great number 51 at long last took his rightful spot in Monument Park behind the wall in centerfield, where he patrolled for 15 years in pinstripes.
Obviously I could go on and on forever talking about Williams’ accomplishments as a New York Yankee. Instead of that, however, I’ll muse about and share some pictures from his special night.
Thank you Bernie
Even before stepping foot into the ballpark, you just knew this night was going to be all about number 51.
Stopping to capture a moment from 1998
While walking to my seat, I happened to stumble across this picture in the concourse of Williams high-fiving third base coach Willie Randolph in a home run trot. Even though I’ve seen it before, having been to the stadium countless times, I had to pause and capture a picture. What with it being his night, I felt it necessary.
Little did I know Randolph would later appear as part of the pregame festivities.
On a side note, in 1998 Williams high-fived Randolph 26 times during the regular season and three more times in the postseason, rounding third in home run trots.
All fans received this neat collectible card after making their way through the turnstiles.
They brought the good guys.
Roy White, Williams’ first base coach for a huge chunk of his career. He was there.
Gene “Stick” Michael, who became the Yankees’ General Manager the same year Williams made his Major League Baseball debut, 1991. He was there.
Joe Torre, Williams’ only manager throughout his career. He was there.
Randolph, and former teammates Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez. They were all there.
David Cone, Williams’ teammate from 1995-2000 and Yankee Yapping shout out artist. He was there.
The great closer, Mariano Rivera, made the drive in from New Rochelle.
And the Yankees saved the biggest surprise for last.
The return of the Captain
I still kick myself to this day. Sure the tickets were criminally expensive. Of course they would be. It was Derek Jeter’s last game at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 25 of last year.
The price of admission would have been worth it given the way that game ended. Jeter heroically, as he had done many times before, won the game with a clutch hit.
Understandably, I was disappointed I wasn’t there to witness it live. And I was saddened I would never see Jeter at Yankee Stadium again.
But lo and behold, the last guest at Bernie Williams night was Jeter. The captain incarnate. Admittedly, I did not think Jeter would make an appearance so soon after retiring, for that very reason – it was too soon. Jeter always struck me as the type who would wait awhile to return to big ballpark in the Bronx for a special night of this kind.
But, I was wrong. Not only was Jeter there, he strutted out like he owned the place. With the top couple buttons of his shirt unbuttoned underneath his sport coat, he looked like a million bucks.
What made it better, I thought, was the comment from a fan behind me, once Jeter was announced:
“Suit ‘em up!!!!!” the fan yelled, loud enough for everyone within a 10-mile radius to hear.
Not a bad idea, considering his heir at shortstop, Didi Gregorius, had six errors on the season entering Saturday night’s game against the Athletics in Oakland.
Overall it was such a wonderful, indescribable feeling, seeing Jeter at the game. I may not have been there for his last hurrah, but I can say I was there when he made his triumphant return to New York to pay respect to his old friend.
It was outstanding; maybe the best speech from any of the players that have been honored since 2013, when the Yankees reintroduced retiring numbers and nailing plaques to the hallowed Monument Park walls.
He was sure to thank everyone and spoke directly from the heart.
Williams tossed out the honorary first pitch – a pretty good throw – to boisterous cheers from the crowd.
Unfortunately no magic from number 51 rubbed off on the Yankees. The visiting Texas Rangers had their way with starter Chris Capuano. Texas touched him up for three runs on eight hits over 4 1/3 innings. Capuano finished with four strikeouts and didn’t walk a batter – but also didn’t impress anyone.
The Yanks only plated two runs, both of which came off the bat of catcher Brian McCann. In the bottom of the first McCann singled home Chase Headley and Alex Rodriguez, but that was all the offense the Yankees could muster.
It continued. You know the trend I’m talking about.
The Yankees losing on special days. At the end of 2013, the San Francisco Giants beat the Yankees on a day the pinstripers exalted their own Mariano Rivera.
Tino Martinez, Goose Gossage and Paul O’Neill suffered the same fate in 2014. They were honored with heartwarming pregame ceremonies and Monument Park plaques, but the team just could not finish the job. The Yankees lost each of those games, most of the time without putting up an offensive fight.
The trend was bucked on Aug. 23 of last year when Joe Torre had his day. The Yanks put an end to the special day losing streak, beating the Chicago White Sox 5-3.
But on Sept. 7 – Jeter’s big day – they went right back to losing. The Kansas City Royals came in and put up two runs.
Two. The same number Jeter wore on his back his entire career. And the same amount of runs it took the Royals to beat the Bronx Bombers. It ended 2-0.
With special days lined up for Jorge Posada (Aug. 22 vs. Cleveland), Andy Pettitte (Aug. 23 vs. Cleveland) and Willie Randolph (June 20 vs. Detroit, also Old Timers’ Day), the Yankees at least have the chance to turn the tables.
But the offense will have to wake up in order for that to happen.
The Yankees have been outscored 29-9 on special days from Rivera’s day in 2013 up to Williams’ day last weekend.
The final thought
Was it disappointing the Yankees lost on Bernie Williams Night?
No doubt. It would have been nice to see a win.
Is it the end of the world for the 2015 Yankees as we know it?
Not at all.
The Yankees are lucky. Fortunate in the sense that the American League Eastern Division is so poor, that even with a record that barely hangs above .500, they’re in first place. The Boston Red Sox, the Toronto Blue Jays, the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays all have problems.
Each team is struggling, and into the month of June it’ll be interesting to see which team – if any – heats up and pulls ahead in the race.
In the meantime, as I sat in the bleachers and watched the Rangers beat the Yankees after Williams’ nice ceremony, I had this image in my head.
Almost a clear vision.
I pictured the old Yankees who were in attendance. Jeter, O’Neill, Martinez, Cone, Williams, Pettitte, Rivera, Posada and even Torre. All of the dynasty players and their skipper, I imagined, in a luxury suite, watching the current Yankees.
Watching the current Yankees, and laughing. Laughing at how bad they are. Snickering to one another and saying,
“Can you believe they can’t beat these guys? We would’ve won this game in the first inning.”
Which is true. They certainly would have beaten the Rangers down. The Rangers came in at 20-23, and the Yankees of my youth generally never lost to a team of that below .500 caliber.
Then again, the dynasty Yankees could likely have taken down the 2015 Yankees, had they been matched up against one another. In fact, they probably could have beaten any team currently in the league.
They were that good. It was nice to relive those glory days for a night.
If you’re a Yankee fan, Oct. 16 holds a warm place in your heart. The memory of a mighty swing by Aaron Boone in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series to crush the dreams of Red Sox Nation has held up, and will continue to hold up forever more.
In honor of the 11th anniversary of this profound piece of Yankee history, this writer is going to take you on a ride back to the past and muse about the goings-on of the 2003 Yankees-Red Sox saga; perhaps point some things out that didn’t necessarily meet the eye to the average fan.
Join me, will you?
It took a long time before the Yanks and BoSox reached the climactic Boone game. A really long time, in fact. The two hated rivals had faced each other 25 times in ‘03 leading up to Game 7 of the ALCS. Their 26th meeting in the decisive game was historic, in the sense that no two teams – in any sport – had faced each other more times in a single season.
But so much more happened before Game 7.
In squaring off against each other so many times, the Yankees and Red Sox had generated some disdain for one another. Earlier in the season on July 7 in the Bronx, Pedro Martinez, Boston’s ace, had plunked both Alfonso Soriano and Derek Jeter – bean balls that were so intense they sent the two hitters at the top of the Yankees’ batting order to the hospital.
Jeter was hammered on his right hand while Soriano suffered a shot on his left hand. The after effects of the HBPs were so great that, after more than two weeks later, both hitters felt the pain of Martinez’s missed location; the captain’s hand was still swollen and Fonsy felt some aches just by checking his swing.
Roger Clemens, the Yankee ace, in return struck Red Sox first baseman and team ringleader Kevin Millar with a pitch. Millar, a colorful and outspoken player who had urged his team to “Cowboy Up,” would later express anger towards Clemens for the Yankees act of retaliation.
The late Yankee owner George Steinbrenner even got in on battle. The Boss was asked if Martinez was headhunting; throwing at the Yankees with intent. His response:
“I can’t answer that. But if he was, he’ll regret it.”
Steinbrenner had every reason to be suspicious about whether or not the hit-by-pitches were deliberate. In the past, 2001 to be exact, Martinez told the Boston Globe,
“I’m starting to hate talking about the Yankees. The questions are stupid. They’re wasting my time. It’s getting kind of old … I don’t believe in damn curses. Wake up the damn Bambino and have me face him. I’ll drill him in the ass, pardon the word.”
Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino then got his jab in, giving the Yankees a moniker in homage to the Star Wars franchise. He dubbed the Bronx Bombers “The Evil Empire.” Yankee Universe happily (or at least sarcastically) welcomed the nickname.
So was Jeter Darth Vader? Sure, that makes sense.
How we got there
The physical and verbal blows during the regular season were only the beginning, laying the groundwork for what was to come in the playoffs. The Yankees finished 2003 with a record of 101-61, six games ahead of Boston for the AL East. The 95-67 Red Sox captured the AL Wild Card – keep in mind that in ’03 there was no play-in game; the BoSox were automatically in the eight-team postseason tournament without having to fight their way in the door.
Most fans may not remember that the ’03 Yankees-Red Sox ALCS clash wouldn’t have happened if the Oakland A’s didn’t collapse. In the ALDS the A’s handed Boston a 5-4 loss in Game 1; Oakland winning in the 12th on a walk-off bunt single by catcher Ramon Hernandez. Game 2 wasn’t any better for the Red Sox, as the A’s poured it on and beat Boston 5-1 – Oakland was only one win away from the next round.
Yet, maybe in the spirit of some foreshadowing, the Red Sox fought back.
Boston won Game 3, 2-0. They then took Game 4 by a count of 5-4, and completed the comeback with a 4-3 win in Game 5. The Yankees were already waiting for the winner of the Boston-Oakland series, having disposed of the Minnesota Twins in four games to reach the League Championship Series; the Yanks outscoring the Twins 16-6 in their divisional round.
The rally vs. the A’s and the thrashing of the Twins set the New York-Boston rivalry up for an epic showdown. Yes, the Baseball gods had done it again.
Players on both sides knew the World Series was not just at stake, but bragging rights were up for grabs and in a lot of ways, the ending or the continuation of Curse of the Bambino was on the line.
“Everyone says, ‘we played them towards the end of the year, does it get any bigger than that?’ Well, yeah it does. And this is it,” Jeter told MLB before the ALCS.
The Red Sox took Game 1, beating the Yankees 5-2. However, the first salvo seemed to be fired in the seventh inning when reliever Jeff Nelson hit Red Sox big man David Ortiz with a pitch. The Yanks went on to take Game 2 with a 6-2 win, but in terms of the HBP battle, Boston punched back.
Future hero Boone was beaned by Red Sox starter Derek Lowe and Soriano was plunked by Bronson Arroyo. The ALCS was split 1-1, tensions were at an all-time high, and the teams were beginning to get rather physical.
What’s the worst that could happen in Game 3?
And then, everything explodes
The energy level at Fenway Park on Oct. 11, 2003 was off the charts – not that I was there, but listening to the words of the players and examining everything that had led up to Game 3, everyone from the fans to the media was on edge.
What’s more, the fact that Clemens and Martinez were on the hill for their respective clubs made it even more enticing. During batting practice, Millar was about as hyped up as an 8-year-old after consuming 50 sugar cubes, enthusiastically saying,
“We got Roger and Martinez, Game 3 split, Championship Series, American League, all eyes on the Sox!”
To this day I wonder if even he knew how jumbled that sounded. Mic’d up, he stood next to Ortiz and yelled,
“You’ve got to be going with the Sox! This is the Sox Nation! Two thousand and three! And screw that curse!”
Ortiz couldn’t help but laugh at Millar’s zeal, but a few short innings later, no one was laughing.
In the top of the fourth, Martinez let up an RBI ground rule double to Nick Johnson, which gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead. The very next hitter, outfielder Karim Garcia, took a pitch behind his head which appeared to nick him on the shoulder for another hit-by-pitch.
Soriano came up next and grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, though another Yankee run scored. Leaving the field, Garcia had some choice words for the Red Sox and a heated exchange ensued.
Yankee catcher Jorge Posada, chest protector and shin guards on, came out of the dugout looking like a Roman centurion ready to attack Martinez. The two feisty foes got into some jaw-jacking and a bit of a “pointing battle” – Martinez using his index finger to point at his temple, as if to say to Posada, “I’ll hit you there.”
The Yankees, in a nutshell, were unhappy with Martinez’s antics, and had no problem expressing their grief. Yet somehow the umpires settled matters down.
That is, until the bottom half of the inning.
Clemens delivered a high and tight 1-2 fastball to hothead Manny Ramirez, who believed there was intent behind the pitch – when clearly there wasn’t.
Ramirez angrily tried to approach Clemens with the bat in his hand before being subdued by his teammates when the benches cleared. Needless to say all Hell broke loose at Fenway, but the victim of the fracas wound up being a coach, not a player.
Yankee bench coach, the late Don Zimmer (72 at the time) lunged towards Martinez, who grabbed him by the head and force-fed him to the ground. The Yankee trainers were able to help him up and get him back into the dugout free of serious injury, but the ugly incident further proved how the Yankees and Red Sox were at extreme odds.
Eventually the situation calmed, and Clemens fanned Ramirez with a fastball on the outer part of the plate to get the game going again; the players back to their professional ways.
But just when it seemed everything was back to normal, it became a mess again.
An altercation broke out in the Yankee bullpen in right field between Nelson and a Boston grounds crew member, Paul Williams. Garcia, stationed in right field, also sampled the action. He hopped the wall into the ‘pen and got involved; a scrum of police officers, security officials, and Yankee relief pitchers creating an unpretty scene.
Days later the Yankees’ personnel, notably president Randy Levine, defended the New York relief corps. Meanwhile the Red Sox brass were less than happy, and went to bat for their groundskeeper, explaining that he did nothing wrong. The Yankee side relented, though, and contended Williams had antagonized Nelson, and wanted an apology issued from the Boston side.
Yeah. That never happened.
Once the roller coaster ride finally ended, the Yankees escaped with a 4-3 win and a 2-1 ALCS lead. The reaction by a couple of individuals after Game 3, however, was unlike anything this writer had ever seen in sports – ever.
In terms of the Martinez-Zimmer incident, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg went on the record saying, “If that happened in New York, we would’ve arrested the perpetrator. Nobody should throw a 70-year-old man to the ground, period.”
That would’ve been quite a sight: the Red Sox ace being cuffed and escorted off the Yankee Stadium diamond by New York’s finest.
BoSox skipper Grady Little only had this to say:
“I think we’ve upgraded it from a battle to a war.”
The war raged on. The Red Sox won Game 4, 3-2, to even the series, then the Yankees grabbed Game 5 with a 4-2 win, taking a 3-2 series lead back to the Bronx. The Red Sox raised the eyebrows of the world by beating the Yanks 9-6 in Game 6, overcoming both Andy Pettitte and a raucous Yankee Stadium crowd.
Game 7. Roger and Pedro, again. He we are.
Is this happening?
Before Game 7 took place, Boston sportswriter Howard Bryant caught up with Willie Randolph, a longtime pinstriper who had endured the “Bronx Zoo” era of the late 1970s as a player, and enjoyed the year-by-year success of the dynasty of the ‘90s as the Yankees’ third base coach.
Bryant asked Randolph what he thought about the deciding game. What do you think?
“Listen,” Randolph said. “Every single time we’ve had to beat them, we’ve beaten them. Tonight’s not going to be any different.”
But in the early going, it was different – a lot different. Clemens struggled, surrendering a second inning, two-run home run to Trot Nixon. Later in the frame a throwing error by starting third baseman Enrique Wilson allowed Jason Varitek to come in, making it 3-0 Red Sox.
Clemens pitched into the fourth, although “the rocket” was all but gassed by then. Millar backed up some of his talking by sending Clemens’s offering into the seats in left field, a solo blast to give the Red Sox a 4-0 lead. Yankee manager Joe Torre had told starter Mike Mussina that he might use him out of the bullpen, which would’ve been the first time in his MLB career he would’ve pitched in relief.
A caveat, though: Torre had told “Moose” that, if he were to use him, he’d bring him into the game when nobody was on base. That plan went by the wayside, as Mussina was summoned to mop up a first-and-third, no out mess.
Number 35, cleanup on aisle four.
Mussina was brilliant, striking out Varitek by utilizing his patented knuckle curveball, and followed by getting Johnny Damon to bounce into an unassisted 6-3 double play to skim out of further peril.
After the game Mussina teased Torre, inquiring, “I thought you said you were only bringing me in if there weren’t going to be men on base.”
Torre quipped back: “I lied.”
Jason Giambi, whom the Yankees had acquired after the fall of the dynasty in 2001, kept the Yanks close with two solo home runs off Martinez – a bomb in the fifth and another in the seventh.
The Yankees trimmed the deficit to 4-2 but in the top of the eighth, Ortiz played pepper with the short porch seats, homering off another starter playing the role of reliever that night, David Wells. The solo job (that left Wells in utter disgust, putting it mildly) gave the Red Sox a run right back, making it 5-2 in favor of Boston.
Now Martinez, his pitch count over 100, came out to toss the bottom half of the eighth with a three-run lead, and while most members of Red Sox Nation thought this might ultimately be the year the Curse of the Bambino would be vanquished, some fans back in Beantown were not so convinced.
Baseball historian and Red Sox fan Doris Kearns Goodwin explained:
“When Pedro came back out in the eighth inning, we all started screaming ‘No! No! You can’t be doing it!’ I mean, fans think they know more than the managers – and often we don’t – but at that point everybody knew the pitch counts that Pedro would suddenly fall off the cliff, if he were over that pitch count.
“He was way over that pitch count, and so there was this huge sense of dread when he came to that mound.”
That dread was well-founded and soon realized.
Jeter pounded a one-out double off the wall in right field. Bernie Williams brought him in with a well-struck single in front of Damon in centerfield, cutting Boston’s lead to 5-3. The RBI base hit prompted a mound visit from Little, who shockingly stuck with his ace; Martinez not leaving the mound after the powwow, even with hard-throwing righty Mike Timlin and lefty specialist Alan Embree going double-barreled in the Red Sox bullpen.
Hideki Matsui, a left-handed hitter, was due up next. Embree would have been the obvious choice to match up with Matsui, but Embree could only watch from the ‘pen as Matsui ripped a ground-rule double down the line in right field off a tired Martinez, passing the baton to Posada.
The switch-hitting Yankee catcher, batting from the left side, punched a blooper into centerfield, falling in the middle of shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, second baseman Todd Walker and Damon to bring both Williams and Matsui to the plate. Posada reached second base – getting the last laugh off Martinez, thinking back to their chinwag in Game 3 – and Game 7 was tied, 5-5.
Martinez then departed to a Bronx cheer; there was no undoing the damage the Yankees had done. The decision to keep Martinez in the ballgame haunted Red Sox Nation for a year. Fans were outraged at Little for not removing Martinez before the game turned, but Martinez – and others – have defended the move.
“I was just trying to do it,” Martinez said. “That’s what a lot of people don’t understand. Why didn’t Pedro give away the ball? Well, they didn’t ask me to give away the ball. They asked me if I could face the guys. I said yes! Of course I can! I’m in the middle of the game; I’m here to do this.
“When Grady came out, the simple question was whether I could pitch to Matsui or not. And I said yes.”
Former Red Sox favorite Johnny Pesky (for whom the foul pole in right field at Fenway Park is named) also was a proponent of allowing Martinez to stay in the game, and was quoted as saying,
“When he’s your best pitcher, and he tells you, ‘skipper, I got enough left in my tank’ you’re not going to take him out.”
The fans on the other hand turned their ire on the call, and even went as far as constructing a poem about it, penned by Boston loyalist James Bair:
Why Did You Keep Pedro In?
We couldn’t have got there without you.
We were five outs away from a win.
You were the smartest guy in the stadium.
But why did you keep Pedro in?
We don’t believe in those curses.
We could care less about old Harry’s sin.
But with such a powerful bullpen,
Why did you keep Pedro in?
We know there is one consolation:
We know you’ll never do it again.
Still the cry rises from Red Sox Nation:
Why did you keep Pedro in?
You made us now root for the Marlins,
And we hardly know how to begin.
You almost upended the Empire,
Why did you keep Pedro in?
You brought new pizzazz to the clubhouse:
The crew found the cowboy within.
You did so much for the guys, but with tears in our eyes,
We say, why did you keep Pedro in?
The question could be asked until the end of time. But it was moot. The game was knotted at five, and the Yankees used the unflappable closer Mariano Rivera for the 9th, 10th, and 11th innings. The stage was set. The question was no longer, “why did Grady leave Pedro in?” Rather it became “how is this saga going to finally end?”
Sleeping on the X-Factor
What probably gets lost in the shuffle was the fact that Boone had come into the game as a pinch-runner during that eventful bottom of the eighth. He took over at third base for Wilson on defense, who was surely not the Yankee fans’ favorite player that evening, because remember – he committed that costly error in the third which led to a Boston run.
It’s funny to me because, personally, I can recall the “due up” graphic in the middle of the 11th inning, watching in my Yankee pajamas from my bed in Beacon, New York; soon to be a droopy-eyed high school junior the following day, but the exhaustion coming with the excitement of a possible World Series berth. I even said to myself,
“Aaron Boone. Forget it, easy out. The next few guys have to hit, though! Let’s win this game!”
Perfectly logical assumption. In 31 postseason at-bats, Boone collected just five hits. The Yankees, however, had a lot more faith in Boone than this scribe did. Before he went into the on-deck circle while knuckleballer Tim Wakefield was warming up, Torre told Boone,
“Just hit a single. It doesn’t mean you won’t hit a home run.”
Randolph then issued the ultimate sign of faith:
“That inning, he came to the dugout and I met him at the top step. I patted him on the back and I said, ‘listen. You’re my sleeper pick. You’re the x-factor of the series.’”
Keith Olbermann – a bright sports pundit and someone for whom I have respect, albeit I disagree with him on plenty of topics – analyzed Boone’s at-bat this way:
“The odds were favoring a hitter in a slump. Because a hitter in a slump’s timing is already off. A knuckleball pitcher throws your timing off. Put a guy with bad timing, and add more bad timing to him, suddenly he has good timing – it’s a zero sum game in terms of timing.
“So you’re thinking, who on earth is going to get the base hit for the Yankees? Who can do anything against Tim Wakefield? Boone.”
Sure enough, the timing worked out. Everything worked out.
Boone slaughtered Wakefield’s first pitch for a home run deep into the New York sky; the ball landing behind the wall in left field to give the Yanks a 6-5 win, sending the Bronx Bombers to their 39th World Series in franchise history. Pandemonium commenced; Yankees Stadium completely erupted, became unglued.
The Red Sox were crushed, the pennant was won, and the Curse of the Bambino was alive and well.
Boone was speechless after clubbing the death blow, and managed just a few words:
“Derek told me the ghosts would show up eventually. And they did.”
The Captain verified those words postgame, saying,
“I believe in ghosts, and we got some ghosts in this Stadium!”
Torre went on to admit he thought there was some divine pinstriped intervention, later saying,
“It is weird to me that certain things happen that don’t seem logical. Yeah, you have to believe we’re getting some help from somewhere.”
What’s also not well known is that, after the bliss of a love-fest at home plate for Boone and the champagne celebration; after the presentation of the Will Harridge Award, and after Rivera was named ALCS MVP, the Yankee players made a pilgrimage out to Monument Park, donned with championship hats soaked in champagne. Specifically, they made a visit to Babe Ruth’s monument.
“Look, he’s smiling! He’s smiling!” the Yankees gleefully exclaimed, whilst rubbing the forehead of the Great Bambino’s likeness on the monument.
The aftermath and the impact of another curse
While Little was quickly fired by the Red Sox and the image of Boone’s home run was tattooed on the minds of Red Sox fans everywhere, the Yanks were in the 2003 fall classic, matched up with the Florida Marlins – who Chicago Cubs fans felt had snaked their way in on account of fan interference in the ’03 NLCS. The Cubs had been winning 3-0 in the eighth inning of Game 6, and had they held on would’ve punched their first ticket to the World Series since 1945.
Steve Bartman, a Cubs fan sitting in the front row of the left field stands, accidently reached for a foul ball that was perhaps catchable for left fielder Moises Alou near the wall. Bartman got his hand on it, and the ball took a wrong bounce back into the seats, not going for an out – much to the infuriation of not only Alou, but every Cubs fan in the ballpark. Almost right after the gaffe, the Marlins wound up rallying to score eight runs to win the game, and carried on to win Game 7 by a count of 9-6.
Not unlike the Red Sox and their Curse of the Bambino, the Cubs had the Curse of the Billy Goat hanging over their heads – a long story about a Chicago bar owner, who in 1945 was asked to leave Wrigley Field because the stench of the pet goat he brought to the park was bothering other fans.
He proclaimed, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”
Subsequently the Cubs haven’t won the World Series since 1908.
I can’t help but think how the ’03 World Series would’ve gone had it been Yankees-Cubs, the matchup America wanted to see, instead of Yankees-Marlins – a bland fall classic that ended in a six-game series win for the fish.
Would the Yankees have been able to beat the 1-2 punch of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior? Would they have been able to silence the bat of Sammy Sosa, who just five seasons earlier had smashed 66 home runs, and had hit 40 during the ’03 regular season? Would the Curse of the Billy Goat been upheld in the fall classic, the same way the Yanks kept up the Curse of the Bambino in the ALCS?
Would 2003 have been the year of title number 27 in the Bronx, if only the Yankees faced the Cubs and not the pesky Marlins, equipped with the likes of scrappers Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Josh Beckett and Juan Pierre?
We’ll never know.
To this writer, though, the ALCS was the World Series in 2003. Passion, heat, unmitigated physicality, the will to win intense rivalry games, and excitement that puts you on the edge of your seat – you want nothing more than that as a fan, or at this stage in my life as a journalist.
Hopefully we see it again, in baseball, sometime soon.
And hopefully, again, it’s between the Yankees and Red Sox.
SOURCES FOR THIS PIECE: Websites: Baseball Almanac, Baseball Reference.
DVDs: The Boston Red Sox vs. The New York Yankees: The Ultimate Rivalry (2005)
Ken Burns: The Tenth Inning (2010)
I have been told in life there are three types of people: those who make it happen, those who watch it happen, and those who wonder what happened.
As a current high school sports reporter and MLBlogger trying to take the next step in his career, I’m at the point where I want to make it happen. And what I have in mind might provide me with that chance.
Recently I was tossing ideas around in my head, thinking of companies to apply to while job hunting, and I somehow managed to venture over to the YES Network’s career page. In the past I’ve checked out the YES Network’s career page, but there was never anything listed. This time was a little different; there was one job posted:
Social Media Specialist.
As soon as I noticed the listing, I jumped on it. I tweaked my resume, pieced together an appropriate, well-written cover letter, and gathered the right material together to apply for the job – the right material basically being proof of all the times YES has used my insight via social media on its TV shows.
On May 8, 2010 YES used a comment I posted on its official Facebook page for the “Extra Innings” postgame show. There were no words to describe my excitement level, seeing my name and comment on TV when it first happened.
Fast forward to April 10, 2011. I wrote in another Facebook comment, and once again YES used my name and my words on “Extra Innings.”
June 9, 2012, same thing.
All of this YES Network social media craze reached new heights on Aug. 6 this year when YES actually used my question during the “YES Network Games,” a contest designed for viewers to tweet in trivia questions with the commentators trying to answer them.
After my name appeared, a few of my friends attempted to stage a Twitter hashtag rally entitled, #HireAJMartelli.
The YES Network should already know (just based on the history) how finely tuned my skills are when it comes to social media. In fact ESPN should also have the same idea, considering two of my comments made it onto the exclusive Baseball Tonight show during the “Chatter Up” segment in 2008 and 2009.
It’s also not as if I’m an uneducated, inexperienced stranger. My past work in other media outside of social media speaks for itself. If I could show something to the YES Network right now, this would be it; some highlights of my young career:
- B.S. in journalism from Mercy College (class of 2010) where I served for two years as the sports editor of the Mercy student newspaper. The Mercy student paper won two New York Press Association awards while I served as sports editor, and I was awarded two Quill Awards (2009, ’10) for sports reporting, given to me by Mercy’s media studies department.
- Interviewed former Yankee and current YES personality John Flaherty while at Mercy and wrote a feature story about his career for the paper.
- Interviewed Brian Sweeney, a Major League relief pitcher who had faced the Yankees weeks before I conducted the interview.
- Worked for the Hudson Valley Renegades in 2010, assisting with baseball operations.
- Went on to cover the 2012 Hudson Valley Renegades this past season. The ‘Gades captured the New York-Penn League Championship, beating the Tri-City Valley Cats. For their successful and winning campaign, the Renegades were voted the 2012 Minor League Baseball team of the year.
- Interviewed two-time Super Bowl Champ and MVP Eli Manning at the sixth annual Guiding Eyes for the Blind Golf Classic this year.
- Have worked for the past two years (and continue to work) as a high school sports reporter. To coincide with the Yankee motif, one of my favorite times covering a high school game was sitting next to Bernie Williams, covering his daughter’s basketball game this past February. I even wrote an OP/ED that ran in the paper about how interesting it was, sitting next to a Yankee legend while working.
But I think what puts it all over the top for me is what you’re reading right now. Yankee Yapping has been lauded by MLB. It has been ranked in the top three MLBlogs and featured multiple times; it has garnered a solid amount of fanfare since I launched it in July, 2009.
The bottom line is, I have done a lot of work and paid a lot of dues. And now, if there is a chance to move up the ladder, I’d like to take it.
To anyone reading this with a Twitter page, and would like to help, tweet the link to this blog to @YESNetwork and help #HireAJMartelli.
Together, we can make it happen. Not watch it happen, or wonder what happened.
In the meantime, I have high school ice hockey to cover this weekend after the holiday. And if you were to ask me what I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving, it’s having a job in the print media field, covering sports. No matter what level it happens to be on.
Following the untimely and bitter end of the 2012 season last night, the Yankees are undoubtedly heading back to Yankee Stadium to clean out their lockers, and are going to prepare for what will be about a five month layover until Spring Training kicks up in February.
Now that the season has come to a close, it’s time to reflect on everything that made 2012 a great baseball season. There’s no need to dwell on the tragic ALCS sweep at the hands of the Detroit Tigers, so instead, let’s take a look back at some of the best moments and times of this past season.
Just a note, I’ll be including some personal highlights as well; some moments that made it personally a fun season for me, as a writer, a reporter, and most importantly, a fan. Without any further ado, Yankee Yapping is proud to present its Top 12 of 2012!
12. Catching up with Bernie Williams
Believe it or not, one of the best highlights of the season (for me) came before the season even began!
While I was covering a high school girls’ basketball game in February, I happened to be sitting next to none other than the former Yankee center fielder, Bernie Williams. His daughter Bea led her team to a win, and getting to sit next to a Yankee legend – and a proud father – while it happened was truly an honor.
Read all about my evening with Bernie here!
11. The return of Andy Pettitte
He had an itch to come back, and he went ahead and scratched it.
In March, retired longtime Yankee favorite Andy Pettitte announced that he would be coming out of retirement. He signed a contract, got back in shape, and unfortunately it didn’t work out for him in the end.
Pettitte was sidelined for the majority of the season after getting struck in the left ankle with a come-backer on June 27 – fracturing his fibula.
I’ve discussed my feelings on the whole “coming-out-of-retirement” spiel, but when Pettitte went down, I legitimately felt bad for him, knowing he wanted to pay dividends for the Yankees. At the very least, however, he pitched well in the postseason, as he always does.
10. Home opener shutout
There is nothing like Opening Day. Spring; the feeling of new life is in the air, and baseball is back.
The Yankees made their home opener this year one to remember, beating Albert Pujols and the LA Angels 5-0 behind a brilliant start from Hiroki Kuroda. The Yankee win was one of the first of their 95 victories in 2012, setting the table for yet another strong, winning campaign.
9. Beating up the BoSox
On April 20 the Yankees’ most hated rivals, the Boston Red Sox, honored Fenway Park; their home that turned 100 years old. Red Sox Nation could only hope a nice ceremony and a champagne toast would be followed by a Red Sox win over the Yankees.
No such luck.
The Yankees beat the Red Sox quite decisively, 6-2, ruining their centennial celebration.
And it only got sweeter the next day.
Boston rebounded from the loss with a bang, touching up the Yanks for nine runs through the first six innings. Leading 9-1 in the seventh, the Red Sox had seemingly answered their loss with a win, but things are rarely what they seem in Beantown. The Yanks came back with a vengeance; plating seven runs in the seventh and adding another seven in the eighth, clawing their way back for a huge, 15-9 win over Boston.
Without question those two losses took a lot of air out of Red Sox Nation, and the BoSox went on to have one of their worst seasons since the 1970s.
8. A YES contribution
On June 8 the Yankees absolutely clobbered the Mets, beating their inferior cross-town rivals, 9-1. Robinson Cano led the way with two homers off Mets’ ace Johan Santana, and Nick Swisher and Andruw Jones followed with homers of their own.
As a matter of fact, the Yanks smacked three consecutive homers that night.
During the game, I submitted a tweet to the YES Network, and they used it on their “Extra Innings” postgame show – marking the third time they have used my insight on TV.
Hosts Jack Curry and Bob Lorenz even agreed with my comment.
More YES Network action to come later.
7. A win over Atlanta
There’s nothing like going out to your first game of the season. It took me a couple months, considering covering Minor League Baseball basically consumed my summer, but on June 18 (three days after my birthday!) I finally got out to the big ballpark in the Bronx.
The Yanks hosted the Atlanta Braves in an inter-league showdown, and backed by a dominant, complete game performance from CC Sabathia, won 6-3. The victory kept a 10-game Yankee winning streak alive; Cano and Mark Teixeira each going yard to pace the Yanks at the plate.
I did get out to one more game on Aug. 31 – yet it wasn’t as memorable, the Yankees losing 6-1 to the team they eventually ousted in the ALDS, the Baltimore Orioles.
6. Welcome, Ichiro!
The Yankees made a splash before the trade deadline, acquiring Ichiro from the Seattle Mariners. The 38-year-old veteran outfielder joined the team on July 23, and certainly did a fine job on both sides of the field.
Ichiro played in 67 games for the Yankees – and 162 overall, proving just how durable he really is. In those 67 games in pinstripes he recorded 73 hits and scored 28 runs with 14 stolen bases, 13 doubles, and five homers.
Yes. He’s still got it. Much like Derek Jeter, Ichiro has shown he is ageless. And he certainly helped propel the Yankees down the stretch and into the postseason.
Domo arigato, Mr. Suzuki.
5. YES Network Games
Another game, another YES Network appearance.
On Aug. 6, my tweet was used on the YES Network, during their “YES Network Games” competition. Michael Kay even admitted my question was difficult, although he, John Flaherty, and Meredith Marakovits all came up with the correct answer.
It’s only too bad the content and nature of the question in a way foreshadowed the season’s end.
4. Not so fast, Oakland
The 2012 Yankees had a handful miraculous late-game wins under their belt – maybe not as many as the ’09 Yankees – but when the Bombers fought back this season, you could be sure they would win.
Case in point: Sept. 22 at home vs. Oakland.
Tied 5-5 in the top of the 13th, the A’s were able to score four times and take a 9-5 lead.
Facing a surefire loss, the Bombers showcased some resiliency, and battled back to knot it up at nine, highlighted by a game-tying, two-run homer off the bat of Raul Ibanez. Ichiro later scored on an error for a 10-9 Yankee victory.
To think, while all this was happening I was hanging out with (of all people) Hulk Hogan.
3. Taking the tour
Game after game, the Yankees sit in their dugout; chill in the clubhouse. On Sept. 30 I got a taste of what that feels like.
The Yankee Stadium tour is offered year-round and on Yankee off-days during the regular season. It was something I had wanted to do for awhile, and I finally had my day.
Read all about my Yankee Stadium tour here!
2. Raul Ibanez’s heroics
Baseball in October is sometimes defined as, “unlikely hero.” And the Yankees certainly had one this year.
At the end of the regular season and into the postseason, Raul Ibanez proved to be the Yankees’ most clutch player. With game-tying and game-winning hits, he made a name for himself and earned the respect and love of all Yankee fans.
Trailing 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth on Oct. 2 vs. Boston, Ibanez slammed a two-run home run, tying it all up, 3-3. Three innings later he came up and sank the Red Sox with a walk-off single – a hit that gave the Yankees a 4-3 win over their humiliated hated rivals, but more importantly, kept them alone in first place in the AL East going into the game number 162 of the regular season.
Talk about enough drama for one season. But it was only the beginning.
Against the Orioles – the team that crept up on the Yanks for first place in the AL East towards the end of the year – in Game 3 of the ALDS, Ibanez put on an encore performance.
Down 2-1 this time in the ninth, Ibanez swung his bat hard, lifting the ball deep into the New York night and into the seats for another incredible, game-tying homer. He came up, again in the 12th, and clubbed another death blow; another long ball to give the Yankees a 3-2 victory, sending the Bronx faithful home with smiles on their faces.
Two game-tyers and two game-winners within eight days of each other. And he still had some left.
Last Saturday in Game 1 of the ALCS when defeat looked imminent, Ibanez tied the game with one swing yet again, taking Detroit closer Jose Valverde’s offering into the seats in right field.
Sadly for Ibanez and the Yankees the magic stopped there. But there’s no question that Ibanez had the best October of any Yankee player on the roster.
1. Getting past the O’s
The ALCS may not have ended the way the Yankees would have hoped for, but if nothing else, they should take winning the ALDS away from this postseason as a huge step in the right direction.
After all, the Yankees had not beaten a team in the ALDS not named the Minnesota Twins since 2001, when they beat the A’s. By the numbers, the Yankees were 4-0 vs. the Twins in the ALDS – and 0-5 vs. everyone else. The biggest question on my mind entering October was, “if it’s not the Twins, can the Yankees even win?”
Yes, they can. And moving forward, hopefully it gives them confidence. Let’s say (hypothetically) the Yankees are up against the Chicago White Sox, or the Texas Rangers, or the Angels – or even the Tigers again in the ALDS next year. With the win over the Orioles this year, they now know they can win an ALDS against a team other than the Twins.
Beating the Orioles may have taken a lot of effort, but perhaps it gave them some knowledge.
Honorable Mention: The Hudson Valley Renegades
As I’ve written about several times, I had the pleasure of covering the Hudson Valley Renegades this season, a MiLB team. The ‘Gades were a huge part of my summer. I spent many nights in the Dutchess Stadium press box, watching the team battle to win after win.
The Renegades went on to beat the Tri-City Valley Cats in the New York-Penn League Championship Series, winning their first league title since 1999 – and only their second league title in team history.
I had so much fun covering the Renegades, and it meant a lot when their manager, Jared Sandberg, told me that not only had he read several of my articles about the team/game recaps, but he was impressed with how well-written they were.
Very encouraging to hear, especially from a former big leaguer and the nephew of a Hall of Famer.
It’s tough to say goodbye to the 2012 baseball season, because it was one heck of a time.
My only hope now is that 2013 will be just as awesome.
Despite going 2-5 on their recent road trip which included a sweep at the hands of the suddenly “Moneyball” Oakland Athletics team, the Yankees still possess the best record in baseball at 59-39 and continue to sit atop the AL East, looking eight games down at the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays, and 10 1/2 games down at the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox.
A number of things have happened in Yankees Universe and the baseball world in general these past couple of days. Therefore in the spirit of old-fashioned blogging, I figured I would give some thoughts, opine on some topics, and even throw in a story or two – just for old time’s sake.
Ichiro Joins the Yankees
Before Monday’s series opener vs. the Mariners huge news broke via the Twitter wire: the Yankees had acquired Ichiro Suzuki from the Mariners in exchange for minor league pitchers D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar.
Just like that, Ichiro is a Yankee.
The news came as a shock to most Yankee fans, as well as me, seeing as how Ichiro spent his entire MLB career with the Mariners. Not only that, but the move was on no one’s radar; nobody saw it coming. It was obviously a trade General Manager Brian Cashman kept under wraps until it became official.
The first notion that entered everyone’s mind was the jersey number. Throughout his career Ichiro has always worn number 51, a number that has meant a lot to the Yankees – being that Bernie Williams wore it for 16 years in pinstripes.
To everyone’s relief, Ichiro chose to take 31, respecting Williams and the jersey number. Unfortunately Dave Winfield didn’t seem to take too kindly to Ichiro taking 31.
Right on, Dave.
In his first three games as a Yankee, Ichiro has collected three hits and has stolen a base. He hit eighth in the batting order in his first two games, and led off yesterday, showing his versatility in the lineup. Plug him in anywhere and he can still hit.
This was a good move for the Yankees. With Brett Gardner’s season over and Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones signed to be designated hitters and fourth outfielders, the trade makes sense. The Mariners organization is becoming tailor-made for young players and the veteran Ichiro, 38, didn’t feel he fit in with them – hence why he requested the trade.
Hats off to the Mariners not only granting his wish, but commenting on how he deserves to a chance to win a title before his career ends. It’s obvious Seattle isn’t going anywhere this season while the Yankees, now with Ichiro’s help, could potentially go very far.
After the final out was made in yesterday’s 5-2 win over the M’s, Ichiro waved goodbye from right field to the Mariners faithful. The fans seemed heartbroken at the thought of their golden boy for so many years leaving town.
The sight of it all made me sad. I couldn’t help but remember the way I felt when Joe Torre managed his last game in October, 2007. When someone has meant so much to a franchise, I know first-hand that it’s extremely difficult to see them leave.
Alex Rodriguez out 6-8 Weeks
On Tuesday night in Seattle, Alex Rodriguez was beaned on the left hand during an at-bat in the eighth inning – the third HBP in the game (Ichiro and Derek Jeter had previously been plunked). Rodriguez fell to the dirt in agonizing pain and left the game.
Afterward it became known that A-Rod has a broken hand and will miss 6-8 weeks; the Yanks are hoping to have him back by the middle of September.
Losing A-Rod is a blow, but perhaps it’s better the Yankees lost him now as opposed to a time when they really needed him. For example, if this injury occurred in 2005 or 2007 when Rodriguez put the team on his back and carried it, the Yanks would be in serious trouble.
Thank God we live in the year 2012.
Because now there are several players who are capable of coming up in big spots to bring the runs home, like Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, and Robinson Cano, among others. Not to mention in ’05 and ’07 the Yanks were constantly battling for first place, locked in a dogfight with the Red Sox for the division.
Obviously that’s not the case this year.
Although taking Rodriguez’s bat out of the lineup basically takes an offensive threat and a presence out of the Yankees’ arsenal, there’s more than enough power to compensate for it. As far as defense is concerned, Ramiro Pena was called up to fill A-Rod’s roster spot and will obviously see time at third base along with Eric Chavez and yesterday’s hero, Jayson Nix.
There’s also speculation the Yankees might go after Chase Headley, the Padres’ third baseman, before the trade deadline on Tuesday. Headley, 28, is hitting .267 this year with 12 homers and 51 RBIs.
A-Rod looked devastated after the game; he was clearly not just in physical pain from the HBP and the fracture, but emotional pain as well. It was apparent the news of him missing more time due to another injury impacted his psyche and left him in disbelief, as evidenced by his words when he met with the press.
“It’s difficult; tough break,” he said, masked in a shell-shocked expression. “I never thought ‘fracture’ but it was. Tough blow. Tough blow.”
The Boston Red Sox will visit Yankee Stadium for the first time this season tomorrow night, as the Bombers and BoSox get set for a three-game weekend series. The last time these teams met, the Yankees took three of four from the Sox in Beantown.
The Red Sox are coming off a losing series to the Texas Rangers while the Yanks (as it’s known) just took two of three from the Mariners. Aaron Cook (2-3, 3.50) will start for Boston tomorrow night while the Yanks will counter with Phil Hughes (9-8, 4.09 ERA).
Saturday afternoon in a match-up of aces, CC Sabathia (10-3, 3.30 ERA) will toe the rubber, facing off with Jon Lester (5-8, 5.46 ERA). Finally on Sunday night, 10-game winner Hiroki Kuroda will gun for win number 11 – while Boston has not yet listed a starter for the finale.
MLB posed an excellent question a couple days ago:
Has the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry lost its luster?
Right now, I think it’s almost dormant. With Bobby Valentine shooting off his big mouth about Derek Jeter over the off-season, I thought for sure the rivalry would be ignited and something would happen this year; perhaps the boiling of some bad blood.
So far, however, nothing. But I suppose it’s not necessary when the Red Sox are AL East cellar dwellers and not pushing for first place at all. If Boston was in the pennant race, there might be more of a competitive element thrown into the mix.
Yet, it is clear that the days of A-Rod and Jason Varitek duking it out are long gone; Curt Schilling wanting to “make 55,000 people from New York shut up” is surely passé. It could take awhile – maybe even a number of years – before the Yankees and Red Sox go back to where they were in 2003, 2004, and even 2005.
Then again, you never know. It only takes one bean ball to start a fire.
Some Encouragement from Sandberg
As promised, I’ll throw in a little story to close this one.
The last time I blogged, I wrote about my experience covering the Hudson Valley Renegades, as most readers probably know by now, the same team I interned for. I wound up covering them again last Friday after I saw “The Dark Knight Rises” (go see that movie if you haven’t yet done so).
Escaping damage in the ninth inning and with some eighth inning heroics, the Renegades beat the Aberdeen Ironbirds 3-2 – the Ironbirds being a farm team of the Baltimore Orioles, for the record.
After the game I went from the press box to the clubhouse and interviewed Jared Sandberg, the Renegades’ skipper, former Tampa Bay Devil Ray, and nephew of Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg.
Tampa Bay Rays’ 2011 first round draft pick Taylor Guerrieri once again started, and Sandberg actually noticed that I had been there for Guerrieri’s previous start.
“You were here the last time Taylor pitched (against Mahoning Valley) weren’t you?” he asked me after the interview.
“Yes,” I answered.
Jokingly he looked at me and asked, “Oh, so you only cover the games Taylor pitches?”
I let out a chuckle and said, “Well, we’re a newsweekly with so many coverage areas, so there are a lot of games and only so many we can get to every week.”
Sandberg answered, “Oh, I understand. I was just kidding. Which paper are you with again?”
The Examiner,” I replied.
“Oh, I saw that article from last week!” he exclaimed. Frightened, I had no idea what he was going to say next.
“That was really well-written and very nicely done; nice spread – and the pictures came out great, too.”
I thanked him and told my editor about it. He was happy Sandberg saw it and basically said, “Now the pressure’s on us. He might expect great articles from now on.”
Honestly though, I am having a great time covering this team. They are performing extremely well, and are in first place in their division in the New York-Penn League, ahead of the likes of the Brooklyn Cyclones and Staten Island Yankees.
I’m looking forward to covering more of their games and I’m anxious to see how they are going to finish. When I interned for them in 2010, they ended at 39-36, missing the playoffs. At 24-13 right now, it looks as if they will indeed eclipse their 2010 record and go who knows where.
Hopefully to a League title.
At work yesterday, my editor (also a photographer) decided it would be funny to take a shot of me sitting courtside next to a certain person. He e-mailed it to me, calling it a “souvenir” from the game he sent me to cover.
Although I look like the Angry Video Game Nerd in the photo, I’m happy he took it.
On Feb. 7 I had the honor of meeting Yankee legend Bernie Williams, covering his daughter Bea’s basketball game. Bea’s team made the playoffs and I was once again assigned to cover her team yesterday evening. Just being able to shake Bernie’s hand and the fact that he signed an autograph for me was enough of a memory to last me the rest of my life.
But it got even better. More good times. More great memories.
I hit some traffic on the way to the game, but got to Byram Hills High School in Armonk, N.Y. and sat down literally right before the girls tipped off. Bea gained possession of the ball, drove to the hoop on a fast break, and banked in the first basket of the game.
Maybe a minute later, Bernie walked in, and I was the first person he noticed. He smiled at me, reached out to shake my hand, and said,
“Hey! How’s it going? Good to see you again.”
I shook his hand and answered, “Good! Nice to see you again, too.”
Bernie took the seat right next to me. He leaned over to me and said, “This is going to be a tough game for them.” I replied, “Yeah, the playoffs are always tough.” He gave me nod and a look expressing agreement.
I mean, Bernie would know a lot about postseason play. In 12 out of his 16 seasons with the Yankees he was playing in October. He would know about playoff difficulty better than anyone.
Bea’s team fell behind 12-7 late in the first quarter, and the coach called a full timeout. While the teams were in the huddle, Bernie leaned over to me again and kind of tapped me on the shoulder.
“So really, how’ve you been? Everything good?”
I tried to mask my amazement. As I described when I first met him, I felt just like Max Kellerman in “Rocky Balboa.” I grew up watching him belt home runs at Yankee Stadium, and afford me and the rest of the Yankee fans wonderful memories. Now he’s asking me how I’m doing?!
In the words of Kellerman I wanted to scream, “This is unbelievable! I’m a fan, I can’t help it!”
But I couldn’t express it. I had to show him I’m normal person, not just another Yankee fanatic.
Calm, cool, and collectively I answered, “Yep. Everything’s good. I hit a little bit of traffic getting here, but walked in right before tipoff. Bea actually had the first basket of the game, right before you came in.”
Bernie chuckled, and then gazed at his daughter. I could just tell by the look in his eyes how proud he was of her. It’s funny, because I bet when she was younger, watching him patrol centerfield at Yankee Stadium, she had the same, spirited look.
As it happened, Bea’s team rallied from behind to win, 48-46. They were trailing 34-27 after the third quarter and staged a come-from-behind victory, outscoring the other team 21-12 in the fourth. Bea led her team with 19 points, and bucketed three shots from beyond the 3-point arc.
Afterward I caught up with her and interviewed her about her outstanding performance. She was so happy that her team won – not only because she didn’t want her team to be eliminated from playoff contention, but to keep her High School basketball career alive.
Bea is a senior, and it’s never fun to be playing that last game.
I pretty much burst out laughing at what Bea’s mom (and obviously Bernie’s wife) said to me right before I conducted my postgame interview. She got behind her daughter and teased her with a big smile on her face, saying,
“It’s all her mother! She gets everything from me!”
All three of us just started to laugh. I thought it was classic; such a “mom” thing to do and say.
After I was done interviewing Bea, I offered my praise and let her know Bernie looked incredibly honored watching her play.
“Congratulations on the win Bea,” I remarked. “I was sitting next to your dad and he looked very proud.”
She thanked me with an ear-to-ear smile.
I know I said it last time, but I have to say it again: I feel extremely lucky to be doing what I’m doing as far was my job is concerned. Not many die-hard Yankee fans can say they get to go to work and sit next to a Yankee legend – and then get to write about it.
This is just another memory I’ll carry with me forever, and I’ll never forget.
Later on, Mike D’Antoni’s son (who I believe I mentioned before) played in the second game I covered. Obviously his father wasn’t in attendance, as the Knicks and their new phenom Jeremy Lin dropped their game at Madison Square Garden to the New Orleans Hornets, losing 89-84, thus ending their seven-game “Linning” streak.
If you’re wondering, D’Antoni’s son’s team also lost, 53-40, eliminating them from the High School postseason. Mike, Jr. is…well…a junior, however. He still has another year to win a basketball championship.
As for Bea’s team, I hope they keep winning and go all the way to win the Gold Ball in the Section 1, Class A finals. For as nice as the Williams family has been to me the two times I covered her team, she deserves to win.
In the last Rocky film produced, “Rocky Balboa,” HBO boxing analyst and commentator Max Kellerman becomes overwhelmed with emotion when one of his childhood heroes acknowledges him.
“Rocky Balboa just asked me how I’m doing!” he exclaims, with an ear-to-ear smile. “I grew up watching this guy; I never thought I’d be calling one of his fights! This is unbelievable! I’m a fan, I can’t help it!”
Last night I had that same feeling Kellerman had in the movie.
Although having to do my job as a High School sports reporter, the fan in me came out; the little kid who gets star-struck being in the presence of a hero. The childhood hero in my presence:
Former Yankee centerfielder Bernie Williams.
A few weeks ago I blogged about writing a possible story involving Bernie, being that his daughter Beatriz plays for the Byram Hills High School varsity girls’ basketball team, one of the teams my newspaper covers. My goal was to write a feature story about Bea, getting some quotes from her dad and insight from his perspective.
Think about it: Bernie is famous; one of the greatest players to ever put on the Yankee pinstripes. His family undoubtedly attended many of his games at Yankee Stadium and watched him play. What must he feel like now, on the other end of it watching his daughter play?
My editor thought it would be a unique, original concept for a player profile to put in the paper – that is if we could get the story. I would have to cover one of her games in the hopes he would be there in order to set up an interview of some sort.
Monday night I received an e-mail from my editor, letting me know the Byram girls had a home game Tuesday. The odds of Bernie being in attendance were pretty high, so he gave me the assignment of covering the game. Bea is a senior and yesterday afternoon was her final regular season home game, so naturally I thought I had a good shot to meet Bernie and inquire about the interview.
I was pretty excited. But of course when I got to the game, Bernie was nowhere to be found.
At halftime Bea’s team was trailing by one point, and my editor (who was photographing the game for the paper) came up to me and pointed out that Bernie had arrived, and was sitting near the front of the gym.
“Do you want to maybe go talk to him now?” my editor asked. “I’m sure it’ll be alright. We’ve interviewed him before, and we don’t have to do the interview today. We can just ask about it.”
We made our way over to where Bernie was sitting, and just being so close to him put me in a state of awe. I couldn’t believe I was literally standing inches away from a Yankee legend, when all those years watching him from the grandstands at Yankee Stadium, I felt as if I was lightyears away from him.
My editor showed Bernie some shots of Bea he took on his camera for the paper and then introduced me to him, asking about the story idea. Bernie looked at me and said,
“A story on her? Yes, you can interview me for that. Do you have a card or something where I can reach you?
I didn’t, so I went for the next best thing.
“Can I give you my e-mail address?” I asked.
“Yeah, that’s fine,” he replied.
While I was jotting down my contact information for Bernie, an older gentleman approached him and asked for an autograph. He happily signed for him, and gave the man a smile.
After the gentleman walked away, I handed over my e-mail address to Bernie. Even as I write this, I cannot believe I gave my contact info. to a man I grew up idolizing; a true Yankee warrior. Before I walked away, with a shy look on my face, I asked Bernie for an autograph.
“Sure,” he said with a smile.
I had no baseball for him to sign; not even a baseball card. Technically, I was at work. I didn’t bring anything with me, save for my reporting materials, so I just tore a blank page out of my reporter’s notebook and handed him my pen – the same pen I was using to write down the number of baskets his daughter was scoring in her game. (Just for the record, Bea netted 17 points to lead her team to a 49-39 win!)
Not just because I was thankful for his time, but as an objective reporter, I gave his daughter a polite compliment.
“Bea is a terrific ballplayer,” I remarked.
Bernie gave me a proud look and replied, “Yeah, she works hard.”
He signed my autograph, “To A.J. Best Wishes! Bernie Williams 51”
I reached out my hand in gratitude, and he shook it.
“Thank you so much Bernie, I really appreciate this.”
He nodded at me with a gentle expression and said, “It’s no problem.”
It is times like this I feel blessed in life; blessed to have a job that gives me chances like this. There aren’t many people in the world who get to go to work and run into a recognizable and famous athlete – and incorporate that famous athlete and his family into their work.
In a lot of respects I’m extremely lucky, only because Bea isn’t the only child of a famous sports-related figure I have seen play this year.
The past two weeks I had the pleasure of covering varsity boys’ basketball games featuring Mike D’Antoni, Jr., who is the son of New York Knicks’ Head Coach Mike D’Antoni. Coach D’Antoni didn’t attend either game to watch his son, as the Knicks had games both nights I saw Mike Jr. play.
I guess I take comfort in knowing that even though I’m not on the big stage yet – I’m not writing for ESPN or the YES Network, or even MLB – but at the very least I’m getting a small taste of it, even if it’s at the bottom level.
And days like this that only give me more confidence, as a journalist.
Right now I can really only think of the TV show “Smallville,” which tells the story of a young Clark Kent (the hero who went on to become Superman). Keep in mind, Kent occupied his time as a journalist when not saving the world as the Man of Steel.
There was an episode in which Kent’s friend Chloe gets a job at the Daily Planet newspaper. They gave her an office on the ground floor and a position as a cub reporter, not exactly her dream job. Yet it didn’t matter to her. She was just happy to be there and grateful to be doing what she loves to do.
Chloe’s feelings match so well how I’ve felt this last year and a half, covering High School sports. It may not be the top, but it’s a start and it’s what I love: sports. And Chloe’s words after they gave her the job keep echoing in my mind:
“OK, so it’s actually the basement. But it’s the Daily Planet…The way I look at it, I have no place to go but up, up, and away.”