Tagged: ESPN

El Duque’s rocky road shown in “Brothers in Exile”

When I was a kid I had an Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez poster hanging on my wall. To me he was one of the most unique pitchers the Yankees had, with his unorthodox leg kick and wild arm angles. The fact that he dominated opponents and led the Yankees to victory countless times also made me take a liking to him.

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This past Tuesday, ESPN ran its 30 for 30 piece on El Duque and his brother Livan Hernandez entitled Brothers in Exile. There was so much more to the two brothers from Cuba that met the eye. For anyone that missed it or didn’t care to watch it, here’s (sort of) a BuzzFeed style article filled with did-you-knows and tidbits from the documentary.

The film was jam-packed with the Hernandez brothers’ story, so bear with me in terms of the length of this article and such. Maybe it’ll be so good BuzzFeed will pick it up and hire me, and I’ll get one of those special blue check boxes next to my Twitter name…

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Dare to dream.

Anyway, here goes.

1) Orlando and Livan Hernandez are half-brothers

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They share the same father, but not the same mother. Their father was a semi-pro pitcher, so you have to figure the baseball genes were passed down. Orlando is 10 years older than Livan, and the two didn’t meet until Livan was five years old.


 2) The Duke of Havana

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Long before Orlando Hernandez was fooling MLB hitters he was a stud in his native land, Cuba. He racked up 126 wins in the Cuban league throughout his career. His winning percentage was .728, good enough to give him the record for highest winning percentage by a pitcher – a record that still stands today in Cuba.

Orlando pitched for the Industriales, a team much like the Yankees. The Industriales had the best players, were tremendously successful, and maintained a huge fan base. What’s more, Orlando pitched for the Cuban national team from 1988-95. During that span, the team was undefeated in international play.

Becoming a superstar, as it was, Orlando went to visit Livan in school in later years. Livan’s classmates went insane; “fan-boyed” for his brother, because he was the best pitcher in Cuba.

He was the Duke of Havana. El Duque.


 3) Times got tough

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Cuba was economically dependent on the Soviet Union up until 1990, when the Soviet Union dissolved. Fidel Castro, the Cuban President, declared a “special period” on the island, although the only aspect of this period was poverty – and there is nothing special about that.

The special period didn’t just impact regular folks; baseball players were affected too. Orlando was paid three Cuban pesos per game, and if he played a doubleheader, he was only compensated for one game.

“That was tough,” El Duque described.

To combat poverty, ballplayers strived to play for the international team. That way, they could compete overseas and sell their jerseys for money, as well as accept gifts from fans in private. Players had to accept favors privately, because taking from fans was not permitted.

Resources were so scarce that Livan had to take soap and shampoo from hotels to bring back home. By 1994 the special period morphed into an economic crisis. Tons of people started leaving Cuba on makeshift rafts and boats, in hopes of reaching the United States.


 

4) Defection by way of Joe Cubas and Juan Ignacio Hernandez

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A man by the name of Joe Cubas was the agent that recruited players to defect to the United States – and yes, it is indeed ironic that his last name is Cubas and he dealt with Cuban ballplayers.

His cousin, Juan Ignacio Hernandez was his helper, and would follow the Cuban national team around the world to scout potential defectors. El Duque said, “The thought of playing baseball in the majors was intriguing. But the thought of defecting also scared me.”

Orlando’s family was a priority. He had a wife and two daughters who he’d lose if he defected.

“I didn’t want to do it because I have two daughters. It was hard, it really was.”

Livan on the other hand was single and was growing tired of the poor conditions in Cuba.


 

5) Livan defects

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In 1995 Livan was pitching for the Cuban national team. The Cubans went over to Japan to work out with the Tokyo Giants; Livan spent 45 days there. Of those 45 days (along with baseball) he spent 20 collecting soap and shampoo to bring back home. Security told him, though, that if they found anything that he was trying to sneak back to the island in his suitcase, he’d no longer be allowed to travel. He had to throw away all the soap and shampoo he’d gathered – which made him angry.

“I don’t want to go through this, anymore,” he said.

On the next trip – which was to Monterrey, Mexico – Livan started the process of defecting. He obtained Cubas’s phone number from a woman asking for autograph, which just goes to show how strict conditions were. Everything had to be done discreetly.

Livan was picked up by Juan Ignacio Hernandez in Monterrey and went to the Dominican Republic from there. In the D.R. all he had to do was gain residency in order to become an MLB free agent. He did just that, and was on the board. 


 

6) Orlando’s thoughts

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Livan was free; out of Cuba and about to be taken by an MLB team. He told his brother what was happening and that his mind was made up, to which El Duque responded,

“Don’t worry. I support you no matter what. If that’s what you want to do, go for it.”


 

7) Livan went to the Marlins, but other teams wanted him

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In the Dominican Republic Livan was showcased and sought by the (then) Florida (now) Miami Marlins. A few other teams were watching him, namely the Yankees (shocking, right?) and the Toronto Blue Jays.

Coming from Cuba, the Marlins made the most sense. Miami is a Spanish-speaking city and Livan would likely be most comfortable there. The right-hander signed for $6.5 million with a $250,000 signing bonus. At the time it was the biggest contract given to a Cuban baseball player. 


 

8) After landing the deal, Livan went splurging

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Livan never had money before. When he came into the big bucks on account of the contract, Livan bought cars and lived the lifestyle most young, rich and foolish people live; spending money on expensive material. He also started gaining weight; eating at fast food joints such as McDonald’s.

The Marlins kept Livan in the minors for the bulk of the 1996 season as not only way of getting him to shape up, but also a way to spread some discipline on him.

It worked. Livan eventually wised up and everything panned out for him.


 

9) Back at home, things got unfair

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The Cuban government began to feel Orlando might follow in Livan’s footsteps and defect, even though Orlando had a family and made it clear he was afraid to defect. It didn’t matter. He was harassed by Colonel Mesa – the man in charge of security for the national team.

El Duque told Mesa he didn’t support his brother’s decision (in contrast to what he told Livan) but nonetheless he respected him.

After that, Orlando started to suspect something was up.

Juan Ignacio Hernandez cut ties with Cubas, and got arrested for holding false travel documents, hoping to use them to get Orlando to defect. Police found the fake visas and they turned their attention to El Duque.

In fact, they brought him in and interrogated him.

The government wanted Orlando to testify against Juan Ignacio Hernandez, but he wouldn’t do it. Yet, even without El Duque’s testimony, they sentenced Juan Ignacio Hernandez to 15 years behind bars.

El Duque was also sentenced, but not to serve prison time. He was given a lifetime ban from Cuban baseball, essentially for not doing anything.

One cop even went as far as asking him for identification while he was sitting on his own front porch. When Orlando asked why he needed ID, the rude officer said,

“You used to be El Duque, now you’re a nobody.”


 

10) He wasn’t making a living playing ball – but he still played

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Orlando’s feelings were not just hurt; they were shredded and left for dead. When he was banished, he vowed that he would play baseball again. It didn’t matter if “he was 65 or in Haiti,” he said he was going to play baseball again no matter what.

Since he couldn’t step foot on an official field, like the Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana, El Duque played in unofficial pickup games on Cuban sandlots.

Orlando was basically the Benny “the jet” Rodriguez of his group: the best of all of them, who went on to play bigger and better games, as Scotty Smalls described it in the movie. El Duque didn’t pitch in these pickup games because it wouldn’t have been fair to the other players, but he hit and played the field.


 

11) Livan makes his mark

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In 1997 Livan got the call to the show – and he was impressive, to say the least. He started the year with a 9-0 record, which was the best start from a rookie pitcher since Whitey Ford in 1950. The Marlins captured the National League Wild Card in ’97, and Livan pitched brilliantly.

Brilliant, in fact, was the operative word. In Game 5 of the National League Championship Series he went the distance and pitched the Marlins to a 2-1 win, striking out 15 Atlanta Braves along the way. He took advantage of home plate umpire Eric Gregg’s Grand Canyon-like strike zone. Livan’s 15 strikeouts in Game 5 set an NLCS record for most Ks in a single game.

He had also picked up the W in Florida’s 5-2 victory in Game 3. When it was all said and done, he was named NLCS Most Valuable Player.

It only got better for Livan in the ’97 World Series. He won Game 1, won Game 5 and was subsequently named World Series MVP. In hoisting the trophy over his head, Livan declared,

“I love you, Miami!”


12) A thought provoking World Series win

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El Duque watched most of Livan’s excellence from back in Cuba. He was proud his brother was succeeding, but felt bittersweet about it. Orlando thought he could’ve been in the same position Livan was in: playing baseball freely.

He listened to Game 7 of the World Series on the radio, and rejoiced when the Marlins walked off to win the title. But after Livan became a winner, El Duque’s thought process changed; he considered defecting himself.


 

13) Help from an unlikely source

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Cuba’s relations with the Catholic Church improved in ’97. Pope John Paul II visited the island and President Castro allowed the Christmas holiday to legally be celebrated in Cuba for the first time since 1960.

El Duque decided that, since everyone would be preoccupied with the holiday, he would stage his escape on Christmas night; the members of the Coast Guard wouldn’t be as alert and he’d be able to narrowly depart. His best friend Osmany Lorenzo helped orchestrate his flight from the island.

But, give an assist to the Pope.


 

 

14) Nerves were in the way

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Just because El Duque decided he was fleeing Cuba didn’t make the idea of defecting any less scary. A study showed that between 1959 and 1994 an estimated 16,000 people died at sea attempting to leave Cuba for the United States.

Orlando could’ve made it to the U.S.A. or he could’ve become just another statistic.

He also had to leave his mother and two daughters behind, which pained him.


 

15) Not an easy exit

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On Christmas night ’97 Orlando, his (now second) wife Noris, Lorenzo, and a smattering of other escapees set off for Caibarien – a city in Cuba where many defectors went to try and leave the island. They left Caibarien in a small fishing boat at 7 a.m. on Dec. 26, and had to hit the deck as to not be seen upon departure.

If hiding face down in order to leave the island wasn’t bad enough, the motor on the boat stalled not long after they left, and thus the owner of the boat wanted to turn back. El Duque protested, and the man swam into the water to fix the engine. After he managed to correct the malfunction, they continued on.

Jeesh. Not as simple as just speed-boating away.


 

16) Like Robinson Crusoe, it was as primitive as can be

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The boat took El Duque and the group of runaways to a Bahamian island called Anguilla Cay. There they were to await another boat that was to come and ferry them to the U.S.A.

Seemingly everything was working out, as the first part of the plan had been executed, but they weren’t in the clear just yet. The second boat never came. The group was basically stuck, Gilligan’s Island style waiting for help that wasn’t showing up. El Duque’s wife Noris even noticed makeshift crosses on the island – figuring they were graves.

People had come to Anguilla Cay and never left. The thought struck terror into Orlando and everyone involved. Four days passed before the Coast Guard discovered them and brought them to Nassau, Bahamas.


 

17) More help

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If you were a Cuban refugee, the Bahamas were not where you wanted to be. Cuba had a treaty with the Bahamas stating all refugees in the Bahamas were to be extradited back over to Cuba. When the Coast Guard brought El Duque to the Bahamas, they arrested him.

But he used his phone call wisely.

He dialed up Cubas, who was able to help him. He set up a press conference on Orlando’s behalf, and El Duque finally got to tell his side of the story to the media and the world; that he was trying to reach the United States in hopes of obtaining the freedoms and rights that were stolen from him in Cuba.

By Cubas’s doing, Orlando and his wife were approved for visas. He made sure Lorenzo, his friend, was approved for one as well. From there El Duque gained residency in Costa Rica, thus making him eligible to become an MLB free agent.

Just like Livan, El Duque was set up. But what team would get his services?


 

18) The big deal

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Scouts from multiple MLB teams attended an El Duque tryout staged by Cubas. Orlando wasn’t particularly lighting up the radar guns, topping out around 88-90 mph, but the fact that he wasn’t throwing hard didn’t negate his value.

Gordon Blakeley, a scout for the Yankees, took an interest in him. However, General Manager Brian Cashman was a bit iffy about signing him, coming off a bust in the form of inking Japanese pitcher Hideki Irabu. Blakeley assured him not to be afraid to go after him – and added if the Yankees didn’t grab El Duque, they could’ve been missing out on a potential Cy Young Award winner.

El Duque proclaimed his Yankee fandom, and when the Bombers offered him four years and $6.6 million, he gladly took it.


 

19) Reunited and it feels so good

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When everything fell into place for El Duque, he eventually reconnected with Livan. They attended a press conference together, and when they saw each other they embraced. They cried tears of joy. They had a Kodak moment, if you will.

One reporter asked what kind of advice Livan would give Orlando, now that they were both major leaguers living in freedom. Livan’s answer:

“Stay away from McDonald’s!”


 

20) The Duke of New York

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On June 3, 1998 Orlando made his MLB debut at Yankee Stadium. He was nervous, but when he looked up to the stands walking in from taking his warm ups in the bullpen – and saw Cuban flags fluttering around in the stadium’s upper deck – he calmed down. The show of support even brought tears to his eyes.

The first batter he faced in MLB was Quinton McCracken of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. El Duque pitched seven innings, and puzzled every hitter he faced, giving up just one earned run on five hits. He walked two and struck out seven on the way to his first big league win, the Yanks pounding Tampa Bay 7-1.

“He’s a warrior,” Livan said of his brother’s first MLB outing. “He proved it in that game.”


 

21) Not a simple catch

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Jorge Posada mostly caught El Duque in 1998. And in looking at his record and ERA on paper, one would think they had an easy go of it most of the time when they went to work: Orlando finished 1998 with a 12-4 clip and an earned run average of 3.13.

Yet, much like El Duque’s path to the US, it wasn’t smooth sailing through calm seas.

“He wasn’t easy to catch,” Posada said, adding Orlando would shake him off a lot. “I’d go to the mound … Orlando, what do you want to throw?

“Fastball.”

“I called for the fastball twice and you said no both times!”

Apparently El Duque didn’t want to throw a fastball when Posada called it. He wanted to throw a fastball when a hitter least expected it, to get inside his head.

Very tactical, El Duque was. His numbers and approach gave him a fourth place finish, in fact, for ’98 American League Rookie of the Year.


 

22) Like brother like brother: playoff hero

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The Yankees won a record 114 regular season games in 1998, and made it to the ALCS, where they were pitted up against the team that had eliminated them the year before, the Cleveland Indians. Down two games to one, they turned to El Duque in Game 4, who came up with a spectacular performance of seven shutout innings to lead the Yankees to a 4-0 win, keeping the pinstripers from going down 3-1 in the series.

Unlike Livan, Orlando didn’t capture the LCS MVP in ’98 – that honor went to David Wells. But El Duque did pick up the award the next year, winning the ALCS MVP in 1999 after the Yankees beat the Boston Red Sox in five.

El Duque went on to start Game 2 of the ’98 fall classic against the San Diego Padres. The Yankees were up 1-0 in the series thanks to some grand Game 1 heroics off the bat of Tino Martinez. The Cuban import made sure the Yanks stayed on point, tossing seven innings and letting up just one earned run on six hits.

He walked three and fanned seven on the way to a 9-3 Yankee win.

“He looked like a veteran of 15, 20 years,” teammate Mariano Rivera said.


 

23) Family first

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The Yankees continued their assault on the Padres in Game 3 of the World Series, teetering on the brink of a world title. Yet El Duque’s thoughts were elsewhere. He couldn’t get his daughters, his ex-wife and his mother off his mind, thinking about their hardships back home.

Then finally, he got his chance to reunite with his family.

A woman by the name of Pamela Falk lobbied to bring his daughters, his mother and his daughters’ mother to the states. Falk used the positive relations between Cuba and the Catholic Church to her advantage, reaching out to New York Cardinal Archbishop John O’Connor.

After his conversation with Falk, O’Connor spoke to President Castro about the possibility of El Duque’s family coming to New York. Long story short Castro obliged, and even spoke highly of Orlando, calling him “a good muchacho; one of the glories of Cuba.”

And the rest was history. El Duque’s family was cleared to embark for the Big Apple.


 

24) A reunion in Teterboro, then a parade down the canyon of heroes

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The Yankees swept the Padres in the 1998 World Series, giving the franchise its 24th world championship in history. El Duque found out his family was coming the night the Yanks clinched the series.

Doesn’t get much better than that, does it?

The next night his family landed at the Teterboro airport in New Jersey. El Duque walked right up the runway, to the plane to greet his family. He said he wasn’t nervous, just excited; he hadn’t seen his girls in about a year.

“I’m complete,” he said, embracing his daughters on the steps of the plane. “Finally happy.

His daughters then rode with him in the victory parade in New York City the following day.

“During the parade he was so happy that his family was there to celebrate with him,” Posada described. “He was so emotional during that time; we won but more importantly his family was there.”

His wife Noris couldn’t believe toilet paper rained down from the skyscrapers into the streets of New York – being that in Cuba they didn’t even have toilet paper, whereas in New York it was being thrown from windows.

When the Yankees reached City Hall, El Duque made the brotherly connection:

“I just want to tell you … Last year my brother shouted ‘I love you, Miami!’ And this year I declare, I love you, New York!”

Livan went on to say,

“There are players with 20-year careers who never won the World Series. But my brother and I did.”


 

25) Never going back

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Both Livan and Orlando went on to have careers in MLB that anyone would sign up for. El Duque won three more world titles (two more with the Yankees, 1999-2000; 2005 with the Chicago White Sox) while Livan pitched in over 500 games and became a two-time All-Star.

Both are retired now, but maintain that sibling love. They live near each other in Miami, and both are doing well these days with their families. They can sit on the porch on hot summer nights and smoke fine Cuban cigars together, and share life stories from here on out; reflect on the good ol’ days pitching in the big leagues.

Oh, and neither has since gone back to Cuba – and they’ll never have to.

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Can we take it down to about a 4?

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The Boston Red Sox are your 2013 World Series Champions. And in case you haven’t heard, just look to your left. Or your right. Or up. Or down. You haven’t been able to look in any direction without seeing or hearing about “Boston Strong” these past few days, and not one to be a sore sport, congratulations to the Red Sox.

The team that wins the World Series is the best team, and there’s no doubt Boston put the best team in baseball on the field in 2013, capping a tremendous turnaround. Any Yankee fan or Red Sox hater would clearly look like an idiot trying to deny the resiliency, power, and fortitude the BoSox put forth this year.

Boston winning the World Series doesn’t bother me. However, there is an issue that has gotten underneath my skin, not just as a Yankee fan, but as a baseball fan.

Since the Red Sox clinched the title last Wednesday, the Twitter and Facebook feeds of MLB Network, MLB, and ESPN have gone absolutely berserk. Each social media contingent has gone fawning over Boston’s World Series victory – almost to the point of absurdity.

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Sure, there was bound to be a lot of chatter on social media the night of and the day after Boston beat St. Louis in Game 6. That’s acceptable and inevitable. Yet now, some four (nearly five) days after the fall classic has ended, social media is still abuzz with Red Sox pictures, posts and praise.

It’s funny. I do not remember the San Francisco Giants receiving this much laud days after winning it all last year. In 2011 I do not recall the Cardinals being shoved in the MLB fan base’s collective face so strongly.

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Even in 2009, the Yankees were not worshipped this much by MLB and ESPN. It’s almost as if everyone (running these social media sites) believes the 2013 Red Sox represented the second coming of Christ. In fact, I’m not even positive the New York Giants received this much adulation from the world in the days following their upset of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 42.

We understand. We comprehend. We get it. The Red Sox won. Point taken.

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Probably the cheesiest picture and aspect of it all was the Twitter account I came across representing the World Series trophy. Yes, a Twitter account made for the World Series trophy. The “trophy” sent out a picture of itself with a fake beard on it, coinciding with the Red Sox trademark, scraggly facial hair this season.

Could you get any tackier, or any more shallow, MLB?  

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I also found it quite ironic that, on ESPN Baseball Tonight’s Facebook page, posted was a photo of Boston celebrating. Adjacent to it was a story with an attached picture of Alex Rodriguez, posing the question, “when his career is over, will Alex Rodriguez have been bad for baseball?”

It should come as no shock. Ever since 2004, a lot of fans have been under a well-founded impression that ESPN does the Red Sox bidding. Something like this only helps prove the point.

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When Boston swept Colorado in 2007, it was much easier to take, at least for me. I was a junior at Mercy College in New York with no Facebook and no Twitter. I had no interest in watching Boston win, and only watched briefly during Game 4 when Rodriguez opted out of his contract, a few short innings before Boston went on to win the title.

The Red Sox clinched the ’07 World Series on a Sunday night. With an early Monday morning class, I didn’t watch any TV; I was not subjected to the agony of watching the Red Sox dog pile, or the pain of the Boston champagne party.

The only tidbit I heard from anyone in 2007 – on Boston’s World Series victory – was from a professor, when I arrived at school that Monday. Wearing my Yankee jacket, the prof spotted me with a (bleep)-eating grin and remarked,

“Yankees, huh? I’m from Boston. A Red Sox fan. I’m having a good day today!”

I forced a laugh and replied, “Yeah, man. Live it up.”

That was it. Other than that, I heard absolutely nothing about it.

Fast forward to 2013 and it’s a totally different story. The advent of Facebook and Twitter did all but whack me over the head with a “Boston Strong” sign. The posts have gotten way out of hand and taking it as far as creating a Twitter account for the trophy is downright ridiculous.

This year took winning the World Series to a new atrocious level – and I mean a whole new level. Boston won. Congratulations Red Sox Nation.

Now, can we “take it down to about a 4” in terms of glorifying the Red Sox?

FINAL THOUGHT:

We can only hope the Yankees are not visiting Fenway Park when the Red Sox receive their rings next season. The Yanks had to suffer in 2005 (for the ’04 ceremony), the least the schedule maker can do is keep them away from Fenway for the 2013 ring party.

Then again, looking back on all these tweets and posts, MLB just might give us Yankee fans one final kick in the face for good measure, and schedule the ring ceremony on a day the Yankees are in Beantown.

The Shot

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The 2013 baseball season is in its baby stages, Spring Training in full swing and the third annual World Baseball Classic underway. April will bring the full-time cracking of the bat and the popping of the leather, but the basketball craze known globally as “March Madness” is here.

And boy, did yesterday I witness some madness – in fact, madness might not even be the right word for it. Absurdity is more like it.

Yesterday was Championship Sunday in New York’s Section 1 high school hoops season. My beat this entire winter has been girls’ basketball; two teams I’ve been covering all season (Ossining and Peekskill) were playing in their respective title games. Not that it’s all that relevant (although interesting to me) the Ossining team even faced off with the team from the high school I graduated from in 2005, Our Lady of Lourdes (Poughkeepsie, NY).

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I was excited to cover this pair of big games, so I arrived at the Westchester County Center – the site of the Section 1 finals – a little bit early. I found an open seat in the press row, and figured I’d tweet the final few minutes of the New Rochelle vs. Mount Vernon Class AA boys’ championship game.

At 1:35 p.m. I sent out:

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New Rochelle down by nine and with such little time to bounce into a clean offensive rhythm, I thought it was a foregone conclusion Mt. Vernon would be taking home a gold ball; the Class AA crown theirs. Yet somehow, by a stroke of turnovers, defense, rebounds and foul shots, New Rochelle fought its way back into the game, the Huguenots turning a nine-point deficit into a two-point game: 60-58. New Rochelle even had possession, a glimmer of hope.

Despite that, time and location were not of the essence. 2.9 seconds left on the clock, and the Huguenots on the wrong side of the court; the inbounds pass needing to travel a long way in order for New Ro to even have a termite-sized chance of knotting the game up.

What followed would have probably left God himself in utter disbelief.

Khalil Edney, after making the inbounds pass, recovered the ball; took a 55-foot Hail Mary-esque shot from beyond half court that was eventually deemed good by the officials, who initially waved the spectacular basket off, thinking the game clock had expired before he got the shot off.

The refs conferred, ruled it good – a tenth of a second left on the clock before he shot the ball. Just like that, New Rochelle wins it 61-60 to snag the Class AA title from right underneath Mt. Vernon’s nose.

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ESPN was all over this story, as were a number of national media outlets.

Two points I would like to make. First, I’m glad I arrived at work early, which has kind of been the story of this season for me. Come to think of it, my colleague and former editor at the North County News Rob DiAntonio nicknamed me “On Time A.J.” this year. I was not scheduled to cover the New Ro/Mt. Vernon epic (neither team is in my newspaper’s coverage area), but in getting there ahead of time, I was treated to some history.

Secondly, I was able to, I suppose, sneak my way into the footage of it; the MSG Varsity cameras facing the press row. Yes, that’s me (circled), the blur in the white sweater. If you look close enough, the video even shows my dumbfounded reaction; putting my hands on the top of my head in sheer amazement.

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What I hadn’t realized until this morning is that, in October, I had seen Edney play football. New Rochelle visited one of the schools in my newspaper’s coverage area – Mahopac – and I covered that game. Edney was New Ro’s quarterback and led them to not only a 6-0 win over Mahopac in the game I covered, but a state football title.

It’s also worth mentioning New Ro beat Mahopac to reach the basketball finals vs. Mt. Vernon, the Huguenots really playing spoiler to Mahopac’s sports teams this season.

And on top of all that, Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice – New Rochelle high alum – won a Super Bowl back in February.

The Huguenots received a lot of glory this past year.

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SportsCenter showed two more high school buzzer-beaters from half court yesterday, and in the first girls’ hoops game I covered (Ossining/Lourdes) a young lady headed to UConn next year by the name of Saniya Chong made two shots as time expired in the first and second quarters from beyond half court. (The first shot by Chong was ruled good; the second shot was waved off, as she was called for a travel).

I don’t know what it was yesterday. It’s inexplicable. But half court glory was the order of the day.

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YES, please!

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.

  • 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.

 

  • 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.

What Makes a Great Sports Writer?

On May 20, 1927, a fight was held at Yankee Stadium. Jack Sharkey vs. Jack Dempsey. Joe Humphreys, the ring announcer, came to the center of the ring and asked for silence.

He had no megaphone, and no microphone, but he screamed at the audience to quiet down.

“May I have your attention? Silence please! Silence please!”

After a few more times, the audience finally quieted down.

“Ladies and gentlemen, young Charles Lindbergh is in the air. May God save him for a safe flight. Bow your head in prayer.”

After a moment of silence, the capacity crowd at Yankee Stadium said, in unison, “Amen.”

I first heard this rather unique story told by Bert Randolph Sugar, a renowned sports historian, writer, author, journalist, and analyst. Sunday evening ESPN reported Sugar, 75, passed away from cardiac arrest and heart complications.

The news of Sugar’s passing in a lot of ways shook me up. He was a colorful reporter, and a well-spoken individual. Sugar’s forte, or his passion if you will, was boxing. Typically seen with his trademark cigar, he was probably the best writer ever when it came to reporting on action inside the squared circle, as evidenced by his induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2005.

But writing and reporting about boxing wasn’t all he could do from a sports journalism standpoint. Sugar had such range, being able to talk about and analyze sports other than boxing.

As a matter of fact, Sugar wrote a baseball book and even co-authored a book about pro wrestling. A wealth of sports knowledge and a well-respected historian, Sugar will be sorely missed.

There were just so many things that made him an elite, top-notch sports writer.

As a young journalist, cutting my teeth into the business, Sugar has left me a wonderful example of what a sports writer should be. The ability to story-tell, range, and knowledge are three essential skills that are basically must-haves for all sports writers, and there’s no question Sugar possessed each of them. 

The media studies department at my alma mater, Mercy College, holds an award ceremony called the Quill Awards at the end of every academic year. Typically at the Quills, a Mercy alumnus is given an award, a journalist in the field receives a special recognition, and students in the department are rewarded for their hard work throughout the school year.

I served two years as sports editor of The Impact, Mercy’s student newspaper. Because of that service, I received the Quill for sports reporting in 2009 and the year I graduated, 2010.

The second time I was given the award (which also happened to be about a month before I graduated) for my work as far as sports reporting, it felt good to hear my journalism professor acknowledge my dedication. He announced to everyone in attendance at the ceremony that I would be “a sports writer you will be hearing about.”

And in a sense, I have gotten my name out there. At least a little bit.

ESPN has featured my insight on their “Baseball Tonight” show multiple times, the YES Network has put some of my thoughts on their “Extra Innings” postgame show, and even MLB has showcased Yankee Yapping on its main page.

As far as work I’ve had the opportunity to interview and hear stories from interesting players, like former Yankee John Flaherty and Seattle Mariners’ relief pitcher Brian Sweeney.

I had the chance to interview former baseball coach Rick Wolff, who is the son of former Yankee announcer Bob Wolff – the famed announcer who called Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. In fact, it was Mr. Wolff that encouraged me to start my own blog, putting the idea of Yankee Yapping in my head.

Recently, I had the chance to cover a high school basketball game sitting next to Yankee legend Bernie Williams – and got to chit-chat with him watching his daughter play ball.

If I had to sum it all up in one word, to this point: blessed. I personally know sports writers who have graduated from college that are struggling greatly to kick-start their careers, so taking into consideration everything I have accomplished thus far, I truly believe “blessed” is the correct word to use.

Either “blessed” or maybe just “lucky.”

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren once said, “The front page chronicles man’s defeats. The sports page chronicles man’s triumphs.”

Sugar made his whole life chronicling man’s triumphs – which is why I think I love the sports writing business so much. I take so much pride in attending games and writing about the swagger of individual players and teams.    

I’ve had quite a few people use certain adjectives to describe my writing. An old friend once called it “amazing” and “incredible.”

As nice as that is to hear, I look at Sugar’s work and a lot of the other writers out there, and the same logic repeats in my mind:

“I may be good, but it’s going to be awhile before I get up to that level.”

And it is my hope that one day I am at the level of a Bert Sugar, because when it was all said and done for him, he was one of the most respected, renowned, and well-loved sports pundits in the world. For his intelligence and wide array of sports knowledge, he will never be forgotten – at least not in this writer’s mind.

 Rest in Peace Bert Randolph Sugar (1937-2012)

 

ESPN’s E:60 Made Me Cry

 

New season of E:60 started tonight

In college I learned a lot about feature stories. If you are not familiar with them or if you are unfamiliar with the journalistic term, feature stories are basically a break from the hard news; a look at people’s lives without the craziness of what is happening at that moment. They can be interesting, unique, and moving, if written or conveyed properly.

Tonight ESPN’s series E:60 began its new season. The show airs every Tuesday night and it is basically a program about feature stories; a break from SportsCenter and the game recaps with a focus on different athletes and their personal triumphs and tragedies.

On tonight’s season premiere, my eyes were opened – and eventually swelled. ESPN did an investigative and gripping piece on Christina-Taylor Green, the 9 year-old girl who was killed in Tucson, AZ on Jan. 8 of this year.

I didn’t realize until tonight that Christina was the granddaughter of Dallas Green, manager of the Yankees in 1989. Green also managed the Philadelphia Phillies to their first World Series in 1980.


Christina;s grandpa is Dallas Green, a former Yankee skipper 

Christina was born on Sept. 11, 2001, one of the worst days in American history. Her parents said she was a “glimmer of hope” in the wake of such tragedy; out of the worst day in America’s history came their sparkling little girl.

Christina enjoyed baseball and she was very close with her Little League teammates. I suppose she had to be, considering her background. There was only one other girl on her team, 8 year-old Mae Sinclair. Even as a girl, she had the respect of all her male teammates, and she never thought of herself of as a female ballplayer – just a ballplayer.

Poor thing. God bless her.

When she died, at the hand of a sick gunman who was looking to assassinate Senator Gabrielle Giffords, everyone around her seemed to be impacted in such a major way. Although I am not a parent myself, I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to lose a child at such a young age. Her grandfather seemed devastated and heartbroken while her young teammates expressed how sad they were, not to be playing with her this year.

“It feels good to be playing baseball again, but without her it’s a little bit lonely,” remarked one of her teammates.

Another said, “I think that it’s just sad that she’s not here anymore.”

The sincerity in the eyes of these young ballplayers was just overwhelming. I think the sadness in their eyes is what turned my eyes into Niagra Falls.

ESPN takes you the viewer through the whole story, as emotionally draining as it is. The most breathtaking part of the whole story is the end. They show how an angel, fashioned out of steel from the World Trade Center, now sits behind the field Christina once played on – as well as how that field is now named after her.

She is an angel now.

There have not been many programs or movies that I have seen that have driven me to tears. This story did, and more importantly, it taught me a lesson. One person, no matter how small, can make a world of difference in someone’s life. Christina’s personality seemed to touch so many people around her and I think it lives on through her legacy.

I also feel I learned that no matter how bad I think I have it, things can be worse. A young lady, who had such a zest for life and possessed such a positive attitude, is now gone. And not only is she gone, her loving family is without her and I know that I shouldn’t take my life for granted because there are other people who valued their life and aren’t here anymore.

If you would like to be moved and watch Christina’s story, click here.

Also, be sure to catch E:60 every Tuesday night at 7:00 on ESPN. You will see some wonderfully compiled feature stories and some top-notch reporting. I don’t agree with some of what ESPN has to say, but trust me, this show is a must-see for any sports fan.


Good reporting, guys.

Analysis of the Winter Meetings

 

Winter Meetings start next week.

 

The Major League Baseball Winter Meetings are in full-swing and so far a number of deals have been completed. There are players on the move, players staying put, and some free agents who have drawn interest from teams, but so far nothing has happened.

Here’s a little rundown of some Winter Meeting notes and thoughts. As always, I’ll begin with the Yankees:

·         Derek Jeter was reintroduced…well, not technically, but he had a press conference yesterday to announce his new deal with the Yankees. He told the media that he was upset with them because his negotiations became public. He wanted to keep his talks with the Yankees private.

I can’t blame Jeter for getting upset about it. If he wanted everything kept under wraps, in terms of negotiations, and did not want everything to become public knowledge, the media should have respected that. I suppose that’s the press these days; they stir the pot and bring out the worst of everything in professional sports.

I love how Jeter responded by saying he didn’t like the way he was portrayed. In fact, I’m glad he finally spoke up for himself. In his words, “All the sudden I have an ego? I’m greedy?”

Jeter's P.C.

Jeter has had respect for the media his whole life. Yes, I understand his interviews are about as boring as watching an entire soccer game, but he never crosses the line; he never breaks down and makes a spectacle of himself. Jeter never explodes in front of the cameras and microphones. He always gives the media a professional sound bite–which is his job as captain of the New York Yankees.

 

Really?

You would think after all those years the papers would have a little more respect for him. You would think they wouldn’t photo-shop his face on a Mets or Red Sox uniform. Well, I guess we all have to think again.

Jeter simply laughed at photo-shop nonsense.

Come on, man!!!

At any rate, I’ve already offered the majority of my thoughts on the Jeter deal in my last video blog. Now that the deal is complete and I have offered all of my thoughts on Jeter’s “return,” I will no longer mention anything about it.

Jeter is back and we all knew he wasn’t going anywhere from the very beginning.

·         Brian Cashman apparently sat down for dinner with Carl Crawford and his agent last night. Interesting, but he is also set to meet with the Los Angeles Angels. I don’t really expect him to come to the Yanks. However, it has been said that if the Yankees don’t sign Cliff Lee, they will probably make a bid for him.

I think the Angels will land him, or another team like the Red Sox will make a huge push for him. The Rangers are also looking to sign Crawford, as reported today by MLB.com, so Texas could be in his future. Although sources are now saying he is most likely headed to L.A. Right now nothing is certain.

Crawford to the Angels?

What is certain is that Crawford’s deal is basically being held up because of, well… Lee. And…

 

·         According to reports today, the Yankees offered Lee a preliminary deal. Lee’s agent Darek Braunecker claims a team is out of the sweepstakes (he wouldn’t say which club) and also stated he has “zeroed in on a few things.”

What that means, I have no idea. What I do know is that the Yankees and Rangers (obviously) are not the clubs that were eliminated from the sweepstakes. Today Cashman said that he is willing to “get serious” about Lee and the Yanks could possibly offer him six years at around $140-150 million.

Lee a Yankee?

Now that the Jeter drama has ended, I am tired of hearing about the Lee drama. I know he is the hottest free agent on the market this off-season, and all the teams that were contenders last year want to try and get him.

Yet, he is making himself look bad; it’s almost like the LeBron James decision revisited. I understand he is good enough to earn a fat contract, but he needs to make a decision already. I really hope wherever he goes, he wins a lot of games next year. God help him if he doesn’t. A lot of other deals are being held up because of him, including the future of…

·         Andy Pettitte. According to ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian, Joe Girardi said he was going to reach out to Pettitte in a couple of days to see whether or not he has made a decision on his future.

Originally reported, Pettitte was leaning towards retirement. But other sources have now said he may want to pitch in 2011. If he does come back, I cannot imagine him pitching anywhere else but New York.

There was a report a few weeks ago claiming the Rangers contacted Pettitte. The report was later denied by Rangers’ President Nolan Ryan, who said the team never talked to Pettitte or tried to lure him away from New York.

To be or not to be?

Again, his future depends on what Lee does. If the Yankees sign Lee, their efforts to bring Pettitte back might subside, or at least dwindle. If the Yankees don’t land Lee, however, his decision regarding his future will certainly have an impact on the Yankees.

If you ask me, the Yanks should make a run for Pettitte any way it goes. If Pettitte chooses to pitch next season and the Yanks sign Lee, the starting rotation will be phenomenal. Lee would join CC Sabathia at the top half of the rotation, which would mean practically two aces pitching in success of each other. Both starters are capable of winning 18-20 games per season.

Add Pettitte to that mix along with Phil Hughes, who won 18 games last season. And even if A.J. Burnett has another off-year and only wins another 10 games, it’s not bad; if a team receives 10 wins from the fifth spot in the rotation, in my mind that’s a plus.

But as stated before, Lee needs to make a decision first–preferably sooner than later.

 


Some deals have gone down.·        
Today the Chicago Cubs signed former Tampa Bay Rays’ first baseman Carlos Pena. He received a one-year deal at $10 million. Not bad for only averaging .196 this past season.

I’m just glad we don’t have to face him anymore. I was pretty tired of watching him these past few seasons, blasting the ball over the Yankee Stadium right field wall. I see it as a plus for the Yanks. Obviously Pena is not a great hitter for average but he does have pop. Maybe he can help the Cubs out.

·         Jayson Werth went to the Washington Nationals on Sunday, agreeing to a seven year, $126 million contract.

I hope money buys happiness. Werth went from the Philadelphia Phillies, a team that in recent years is always contending and usually winning the NL East, to the Nationals–a team that basically fights for last place every year.

Werth has never driven in 100 runs in his career and at best is a good, above average right fielder. I don’t think he really deserved that much money and time. He is a good player, but not good enough for $126 million.

We’ll see if he lives up to that contract, and maybe in the distant future, the Nats will get better. I think they might be going in the right direction in terms of players–perhaps building around Stephen Strasburg and now Werth. But they won’t be making an immediate impact, that’s for sure.

·         The A’s are interested in Hideki Matsui. Don’t do it, Godzilla!!!

 

·         ESPN said yesterday that Kerry Wood might come back to the Yankees. I sure hope he does. Wood solidified the bullpen last year and was the only reliever worth anything in the postseason.

 

 

·         Paul Konerko re-signed with the White Sox. Good for him! I look at him almost like Jeter. He has been with the organization for a long time and I cannot picture him with another team.

I hope he can continue to wow the fans on the south side and good luck to him this year. $37.5 million is a lot of coin and he earned it because of his good numbers year in and year out, coupled with his faithful service to the White Sox.

 

 

The Baseball Winter Meetings will conclude tomorrow in Orlando. Rule 5 drafts will take place and hopefully this Cliff Lee nonsense will end.

As I said, it’s like LeBron James. He and his agent are making things difficult and negotiations are taking a long time, probably because he can’t decide where he wants to go or what he wants to do.

Why don’t they just give him an ESPN hour-long special? Where will Lee take his talents next? All I  know is, he better decide. Soon. Because I’m quickly becoming tired of hearing about it.


The Decision pt. 2...?