I was holding my nephew in the standing room behind the right field wall.
We were on Yankee Stadium’s main level, looking down at Carlos Beltran. The Bombers were getting slaughtered by Tampa Ray late in the game. The Rays were on the verge of avoiding a sweep.
“Someday, we’ll be watching you down there, buddy,” I told him.
That’s what my dad said to me at my first game.
Do you remember your first time?
Maybe it was with your dad in the 1950s, when you walked into the old Yankee Stadium. You saw Mickey Mantle get on his horse and chase down fly balls in the outfield, only to later have that topped by watching him smash a 500-foot home run.
Perhaps, like this writer, it was with your family sometime in the 1990s, when you excitedly marched into the House that Ruth Built. You witnessed Don Mattingly make web gem after web gem at first base, and were then treated to his grandiose power with the bat.
Whichever game it was, you’ll never forget it. That game likely got you hooked as a Yankee fan for life.
That type of journey began for someone very close to me yesterday. That would be my 4-year-old nephew, Ryan.
My sister sent me a text message around 10:30 p.m. Friday night.
“You want to go to the Yankee game Sunday? We’re thinking of taking Ryan for his first game, and I’m sure he would love it if his uncle was there.”
Of course, I obliged. I’m not one to pass up a Yankee game, especially one so meaningful.
Ryan was very excited I was joining him, his mom and his dad (his mom and dad being my sister and her boyfriend) for the day. The excitement began in the car, long before we arrived in the Bronx.
But, we eventually got there without wearing ourselves out too much.
We walked into the Great Hall. I held Ryan’s hand as we walked towards our seats in the left-center field bleachers. We sat down and right away Ryan was cheering.
“Go Yankees!” he shouted.
In short, I thought the Yanks might win this one. I had that “we’re going to win today” mentality. What better way to introduce him to the Yankees than by a win?
Those high hopes were dashed pretty quickly, however.
Starting pitcher Michael Pineda got two quick outs in the first inning, only to get absolutely shelled thereafter. Just when it appeared it would be a fast, 1-2-3 frame, he fell apart and let up two two-run home runs and an RBI double. The hitting barrage gave Tampa Bay a 5-0 lead after just one half-inning.
Pineda finished the day having allowed 10 hits in five innings. Four of those 10 hits ended up in the seats.
The Yanks mustered just one run in the form of an RBI double in the bottom of the fourth off the bat of Alex Rodriguez, as the Rays avoided the sweep and took an 8-1 win from New York.
Despite the loss, I think Ryan enjoyed himself and wasn’t so concerned with the final score.
He took in the little things.
In particular, he was fond of how the stadium plays the “Stars Wars” theme during the lineup introductions — as we all know, the Imperial March for the visitors and the main theme for the Yanks.
In fact, I tried to use Ryan’s love of “Star Wars” in order to show him which team we were rooting for.
“The Yankees are the team in white. The team in grey – they’re the bad guys,” I told him.
Not saying it backfired, but he then thought Tampa Bay had Darth Vader-like evil status.
What I was most proud of was his behavior. There were other children his age in our section, moving all over the place and misbehaving. Ryan, on the other hand, sat still for most of the game and drew the attention of some of the other fans.
They complimented him on how well-behaved he was.
For the future, we now know we can take him to a game and can expect good conduct from him.
And hopefully, his good behavior can be rewarded at his next game with a Yankee win.
Ever since 2009, the Yankees have put on what they call HOPE Week.
Hope. Helping Others Persevere and Excel.
One week out of the summer, the Bronx Bombers spotlight individuals, families or organizations worthy of support and recognition. Each day during HOPE Week, honorees share their inspirational stories with the Yankee players, the fans and of course the media.
They are then treated to a special day courtesy of the Yankees — almost becoming like full-on members of the team, participating in team activities, in addition to the Yankees’ outreach. The experience is complete with a ceremony at Yankee Stadium before the start of the game. The Yankees have yet to announce when HOPE Week will take place this season.
Whenever HOPE Week happens, it impacts everyone. The interviews with the honorees and players alone are enough to tug at your heart strings.
Yankees.com says “all (HOPE Week) events are designed to generate attention and raise the profile of serious social issues affecting our nation and the world.”
We all have problems. A bad day. A career not going in the upward direction you may want it to. A breakup with a significant other. Trifles with paying bills. Whatever it may be.
Then you take a look at the folks involved with something like HOPE Week, and it puts everything into perspective. Take for example the first-ever HOPE Week honoree: a United States Army veteran who lost the use of his arms and legs to Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Imagine how hard this hero has to battle every day.
My experience in terms of putting everything into perspective came nine days ago.
As part of my job, I covered the figure skating event of New York’s winter Special Olympics. That day, I was battling a lot of pain from an agonizing toothache. I had been toiling with a long feature story I was working on, and recently I’ve been coming to grips with the loss of someone I care about.
It’s been challenging. And not so fun. Enough to get me feeling bad.
Then I met a few of the athletes of the Special Olympics. Young men, women older than me. All with difficulties. I watched as some of them struggled to just get out onto the ice and perform. A few of them fell down, but when they did, they regained their vertical base, brushed off the slush and kept skating.
I wound up interviewing a skater from Rochester, New York. I could tell she had a hard time getting through the interview. She seemed a little overwhelmed talking to a reporter, but within a few minutes she got the words out as articulately as she could.
She never gave up. That’s what I was most impressed with.
Whatever problems I have, I now know first-hand there are others with difficulties that surpass mine. Others who have to handle those difficulties in everyday life and in everything they do, yet they still find courage to do the things that make them happy, like figure skating.
And even when they fall down doing what they love, they get back up and finish.
They persevere. They excel.
I can only guess the Yankee players feel the same way during HOPE Week every year. They likely gain that same perspective. They hear stories and meet folks who make an 0-for seem quite inconsequential.
As for me. The toothache? I went to the dentist. I’m no longer in pain. The feature? It got done. You can read it here. The loss of that person I care about? Eh. That remains to nag me day and night.
But then I consider that figure skater who never gave up. How she competed then got through my interview with her, despite it clearly being an obstacle.
If she can keep going, so can I. So can all of us.
Frank William Abagnale, Jr. Does that name hold any meaning to you?
If you’ve seen the movie “Catch Me If You Can” you know who I’m talking about. At an early point in the film, Frank Abagnale, Sr. poses a question towards his son:
You know why the Yankees always win, Frank?
Frank Jr. gives the obvious answer: because they have Mickey Mantle.
No. It’s ’cause the other teams can’t stop staring at those damn pinstripes.
Perhaps those vertical navy blue stripes are overlooked. Or, at least not thought about a whole lot.
The pinstripes are an important part of the Yankee tradition, as the team has been wearing pinstriped uniforms dating back to as early as 1912. The Yankees’ road uniforms have been the same since 1918: plain grey with NEW YORK across the chest (although from 1927-30 “NEW YORK” was replaced with “YANKEES”).
Consistency in every sense of the word. The Yanks have worn same home uniforms for roughly 104 years and the same road uniforms for 86 years.
In an age of alternate home and road apparel and a time when teams change colors and logos seemingly every year, the Yankees have been the aberration. The one team that hasn’t conformed to change.
Think about it. The Arizona Diamondbacks have only been in the league since 1998. They are going on only their 18th season in existence and have changed their uniform colors from teal, copper, purple and black to Sonoran sand (a shade of beige) and Sedona Red while maintaining black.
Not to mention when the Diamondbacks first made their Major League Baseball debut, they had three different logos for their cap: one for home games, one for away games and an alternate.
The Yankees, on the other hand, have had the same cap design — the solid navy blue hat with the interlocking “NY” — since 1922.
Ninety-four years with the same cap. Again, consistency in terms of fashion in the truest sense.
Save for spring training, that is.
As most fans know, the Yankees only don the pinstripes for their spring opener — which, as a friendly reminder, spring training begins in a few short weeks. After their first exhibition, the Yankees wear navy blue road and away jerseys in spring training games. This year, the Yanks and other teams across MLB will get snazzy new unis for spring training.
The Yankees’ new spring training jerseys come complete with designs inside the numbers on the back, as well as an “FL” inside a blue shield on the sleeve and on the side of the cap.
Seeing as how the Yanks are in Florida’s Grapefruit League for the spring, perhaps the image of a fruit would have been more clever as far as a special character for the uniform.
But hey. Maybe that’s why I blog and don’t design baseball unis.
Notwithstanding, it’s refreshing to see a team in the modern age uphold its tradition, and prove the point that swapping colors and changing logos frequently are unnecessary practices.
Sticking with something and going with it usually works out just fine.
The gifts have been unwrapped. The New Year will be rung in Thursday night.
And that means in a few short weeks, Spring Training begins and before we know it baseball is back for a new season.
Our beloved New York Yankees have been busy little beavers this offseason, gaining Starlin Castro from the Chicago Cubs and just this past week, Aroldis Chapman from the Cincinnati Reds.
And let’s not forget Aaron Hicks, coming over from the Minnesota Twins.
With that in mind, here are a few things this writer is particularly looking forward to in 2016.
Barring a trade, the 7th, 8th and 9th innings are going to be really difficult for anyone opposing the Yankees this upcoming season.
As if the tandem of “D ‘n A” — Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller — wasn’t deadly enough, the addition of Chapman makes the back end of the Yankee bullpen all the more lethal.
All three flamethrowers recorded 100 or more strikeouts in 2015. If that’s any indication of what’s to come, the Yankees could potentially have the best bullpen in the majors.
However, there is always a possibility Brian Cashman spins his magic and deals one of the three studs for a starting pitcher.
The young bucks
In 2015, we got a glimpse of what type of damage the younger crowd of Yankees can do. But now, the baby Bombers will really get the opportunity to spread their wings.
Case in point: Greg Bird, who lit the Bronx on fire over the last third (or so) of the summer. The 23-year-old slugged 11 home runs and drove in 31 runs in just 46 games played.
Then you combine Bird’s power and finesse with the defense and scrappiness of Didi Gregorius and Castro in the middle infield.
Throw in the sturdy pitching of Luis Severino, and you get the idea.
Perhaps one of the most encouraging aspects of 2016, just in scrolling through the Yankees’ current 40-man roster: just 18 of those 40 players were born before the year 1990.
Brace yourselves. The future is now.
A summer matchup against the Giants
I marked my calendar when I got the news.
July 22. The Yankees welcome the San Francisco Giants for a three-game set.
What’s so special about this series? Allow me to explain.
The newspaper I work for, the Poughkeepsie Journal, extensively covers the Giants’ second baseman, Joe Panik. Panik has been hailed as a local hero, being a graduate of a high school within the Journal’s coverage area.
Having already discussed it with my editor, I’ll have the chance to go to the stadium and interview Panik on assignment. That means I’ll get to sit in the press box at Yankee Stadium, which I’ve had dreams about in the past — then being annoyed when I woke up because it wasn’t real.
This summer, it will be real.
I only ask that Panik stay healthy for the entire year. He missed the last month or so of 2015 with a bad back.
And if you’re wondering, yes. I will document my entire experience covering the Yankees-Giants game for the blog.
It will be but one of many adventures 2016 will surely bring.
Sunday marked the final day of the 2015 regular Major League Baseball season. Which, figuratively speaking, meant all 30 clubs used their might to push the sun back up into the sky and give us one more day of summer.
Even though it was a blustery October day.
The baseball world also learned the layout of this year’s postseason; who’s in the dance and who’s not. After days of waiting, we now know the Yankees will host the Houston Astros at 8:08 p.m. on Tuesday in a do-or-die Wild Card game. The defending American League champions and winners of the American League Central division, the Kansas City Royals, will take on whoever emerges victorious Tuesday night.
The road is going to be anything but easy for the pinstripers, who in terms of the playoffs, aren’t on the outside looking in for the first time since 2012.
But the playoffs start Tuesday. Now is yearly time for regular season reflection. A chance to tout the achievements of the 2015 Yankee team.
Yes, the annual awards.
Yankee Yapping Rookie of the Year
Winner: Greg Bird
Greg Bird flew in on Aug. 13, and could not have landed at a better time. Four days after he was promoted to the big club, first baseman Mark Teixeira fouled a ball off his leg and was injured. Bird was thrust into the role of everyday first baseman, and to say the least, he rose to the occasion and produced.
In his short time with the club (45 games), Bird knocked in 30 runs, slugged .523 and generated an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .862. What’s more, he flexed his muscles with 11 homers. This writer, in fact, saw one of those round-trippers live on Sept. 7, when he crushed a home run in the Yankees’ 8-6 win over the Baltimore Orioles.
The 22-year-old Bird truly soared like an eagle since his arrival. And if the Yankees want a deep run in the postseason this month, he really must spread his wings.
Yankee Yapping Comeback Player of the Year
Winner: Alex Rodriguez
The type of season Alex Rodriguez put together was nothing short of remarkable. Perhaps the most stunning aspect of his 33-home run, 86-RBI campaign is that no one predicted it.
If you would have asked even the staunchest proponent of A-Rod’s at the beginning of the season, they likely would have said his ceiling was 20 homers and 55 RBI.
Rodriguez not only proved the naysayers (including this writer) wrong, but he did so in historic fashion. On May 7 Rodriguez passed Willie Mays on the all-time home runs list, mashing a tater off Chris Tillman of the Orioles.
A month and 12 days later, Rodriguez blasted a first-inning home run off Justin Verlander of the visiting Detroit Tigers. It was his 3,000th career hit, and only the third time in baseball history (behind Wade Boggs and Derek Jeter) a player hit the ball into the stands for his 3,000th career hit.
Rodriguez also set an AL record for most career RBI, passed 2,000 career RBI, and passed Roberto Clemente on baseball’s all-time hits list.
Oh, and with three homers in one game against the Minnesota Twins on July 25, Rodriguez became the fifth-oldest player to hit three homers in a single game.
Some possible attribution to Rodriguez’s success: making him, at age 40, the full-time designated hitter. That decision by the Yankees has paid dividends. Rodriguez appearing in 150 games this season is proof of that.
Either way, the type of season he had – I’d call that a comeback. A comeback with a vengeance.
Yankee Yapping Ace of the Year
Winner: Masahiro Tanaka
Admit it. You thought Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow was going to fall off.
Last summer when it was revealed the Yankees’ big-ticket starting pitcher had a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm, most Yankee fans panicked. They feared the three words that are as common as a routine fly ball in this day and age: Tommy John surgery.
Tanaka opted to treat his tear with a platelet rich plasma injection, and came back to pitch in 2014. Before the season began, Yankee manager Joe Girardi said he expected Tanaka to make 34 starts.
Skip’ was 10 numbers off, as Tanaka made 24 starts. Forearm and wrist soreness sidelined him early in the season, plus when the opportunities arose, Girardi rested him.
Despite missing those 10 games and spending time on the disabled list, the man from Japan proved to be pretty effective when he needed to be.
On Sept. 13 in particular, he hurled seven shutout innings in the Bronx as the Yankees blanked the Toronto Blue Jays, 5-0. Although Toronto went on to win the AL East, the game was important in terms of staying in the race for the division title.
Against those same Jays at Rogers Centre on Aug. 15, Tanaka put on a virtuoso performance. He tossed a complete game five-hitter, and the Yanks beat the Jays, 4-1.
Tanaka’s won-lost record isn’t reflective of a very dominant season: 12-7. His season earned run average wasn’t bad, but not the lowest number out there: 3.51. He gave up 25 home runs over the course of the year, which in the eyes of many armchair managers, is probably too many.
But he gave the Yankees 150-plus innings. Tanaka kept the ball in the strike zone by fanning 139 hitters – and only issuing 27 walks. He performed when they needed him to perform.
And he will need to bring his maestro-like skills on Tuesday and serenade the Bronx with another rendition of the tune “Tanaka wins.”
Yankee Yapping Platinum Sluggers of the Year
Winners: Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran
The Yankees suffered a devastating blow on Aug. 17 when Mark Teixeira fouled a ball off his leg. The first baseman sustained a fracture, and the injury –a freak injury, at that – ended his season.
But before he was forced to watch the rest of the 2015 from the bench, Teixeira was raking. He crushed 31 homers and drove in 79 runs. He was on pace to smash 40 or more homers, drive in over 100 runs and analysts put his name and the term “American League Most Valuable Player” in the same sentence at certain times.
The injury may have negated it all, but make no mistake about it: Teixeira played well.
Carlos Beltran on the other hand avoided major injuries, and turned on the jets during the second half of the season. After the All-Star break, Beltran clubbed 12 of his 19 home runs. He finished with 67 RBI, 37 of which came after the midway point.
Beltran’s best may be yet to come, as he’s a well-known stud in the playoffs. So much so, in fact, that he’s earned the nickname “Senor Octubre” among some folks.
In the postseason, Beltran is a lifetime .333 hitter with 16 homers and 40 RBI. He’s also scored 45 runs, slugged .683 and owns a .445 on-base percentage.
In less than 48 hours we’ll see if he delivers, but he went out with a bang: three hits in the Yanks’ 9-4 loss to Baltimore in the season finale Sunday.
Yankee Yapping Reliever of the Year
Winner: Dellin Betances
Although he’s been struggling of late, Dellin Betances was as consistent as they come this year.
An almost automatic eighth inning shutdown machine, Betances struck out 131 hitters in just 84 innings pitched. Of those 84 innings, he only allowed 45 hits. However, his walk total was a bit high: he issued 40 free passes. But most of the time, he was able to wiggle out of danger.
Case in point: Sept. 7.
Betances walked the first three he faced, but bounced back to strike out the next three in order.
What’s more, he showed maneuverability. Betances took on the closer role when needed, and saved nine games.
Yankee Yapping Most Valuable Player
Winner: Andrew Miller
The formula was simple. A song with a statement played, the closer came in and then slammed the door.
“You can run on for a long time. Run on for a long time. Run on for a long time. Sooner or later, God’ll cut you down.”
The words heard each time Andrew Miller came in to finish off the opposing team.
Fightin’ words. One might even say words a little harsher than the lyrics to “Enter Sandman,” used by Mariano Rivera, one of Miller’s predecessors.
Harsher words, perhaps, but when the sweet sounds of Johnny Cash came blaring through the Yankee Stadium speakers, you knew the game was over.
Miller saved 36 games in 38 opportunities this season, striking out 100 batters in 61 2/3 innings. He held opponents to a .151 batting average, and tested hitters while attacking them.
A tactic Troy Tulowitzki knows about.
On Aug. 14 with the game on the line, the Blue Jays shortstop stood between the Yankees and a pivotal win. It took 12 pitches and the dramatic at-bat put the baseball world on the edge of its collective seat, but Miller got the job done.
His whiff of Tulowitzki was one of the most clutch performances of the season, and one of the many examples of how valuable he truly was.
Yankee Yapping Lifetime Achievement Award
Winner: Yogi Berra
The world – not just the baseball world, the world in general – lost a treasure the morning of Sept. 22.
Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra, the Yankees’ famed catcher and legendary philosopher, passed away at the age of 90.
Berra won the most World Series of any player in history with 13 (10 as a player, three as a coach). He smacked 358 home runs and possessed a lifetime batting average of .285. It’d be easy to sit here and write out every noted accolade Berra amassed over the course of his career.
But let’s talk about the man for a second.
Let’s mention how in love he was with his wife Carmen, and his family. Let’s mention how he served our great country as a gunner’s mate in the United States Navy during World War II. Let’s mention how his wit and easygoing personality impacted everyone around him, even those he didn’t personally know.
His fantastic “Yogi-isms” will be a part of our culture forever. Our millennial generation can now pass on his wisdom. The next era needs to know that you can observe a lot by watching, and that baseball is 90 percent half mental.
The rest is physical.
The YES Network publicly aired Berra’s funeral – a beautiful sendoff for a beautiful man. I noticed the gospel passage, which was elegantly read by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, was the same gospel passage read at my grandfather’s funeral on April 15 last year. John 14:1-7, a reading that explores comfort in a time of impending sadness.
I felt that only fitting, especially because I read an article with the headline “Yogi Berra, ‘everyone’s grandfather,’ dies.”
Again, fitting. Grandfathers have a way about them, brightening the lives of their grandchildren. How many lives has Berra illuminated with his wit and charm?
Too many to count.
Berra has a prime seat in Heaven now for the postseason. Maybe the proverbial fork in the road is the World Series.
Go ahead, Yankees. Take it.
Yankees vs. Houston Astros
What: American League Wild Card game
When: 8:08 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 6
Where: Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York
Houston probable pitcher: Dallas Keuchel (20-8, 2.48 ERA)
New York probable pitcher: Masahiro Tanaka (12-7, 3.51 ERA)
Perhaps it’s just for fun. Maybe it’s a way to ease the stress of what’s to come: one game to decide who gets the American League Wild Card.
Either way, the YES Network proved its genius with “Yankees Feud,” a variation of the famed “Family Feud” game show.
Click here to check it out!!!
A writer once penned that a catcher who can hit is a bonus.
The Yankees have had that bonus this season, and it’s never been more evident than the last few games. Brian McCann has been swinging the bat well – a far cry from what some might consider a disappointing 2014. The 31-year-old backstop enjoyed a nice homecoming this past weekend, equaling and surpassing a few offensive numbers from last year in the process.
In fact, he now leads all major league catchers in the home run and RBI categories.
Over the last seven games, McCann is batting .320, slugging .600 and has produced a .438 on-base percentage. He’s collected eight hits over that span – two of which have left the yard – and has driven in eight runs. He’s shown a keen eye, too, drawing six walks.
Three of those six walks were issued on Friday, when the Yanks rolled into Atlanta, McCann’s former stomping grounds. McCann, as we all know, started his career with the Braves in 2005 and stayed with them until the 2013-14 offseason, when the Bronx Bombers were waiting for him with open arms.
And an open wallet, of course. McCann, a native of Athens, Georgia, elected to leave home and sign with the Yanks to the lucrative tune of $85 million over five years. This weekend, he earned his keep, showing the Braves what they’re missing along the way.
On Friday, the catcher clubbed a three-run home run in the top of the eighth inning. A home run, by the way, for which he got boisterously cheered. For the lack of a better phrase, the Braves faithful just ate up McCann’s tater, appreciating the fact that he homered 179 times in a Braves uniform.
That is, McCann smacked 176 homers for Atlanta in regular season play, and added three more round-trippers in the postseason as a Brave (he hit two home runs in the 2005 National League Division Series and one in the 2010 NLDS).
McCann being cheered upon his return to Turner Field was almost reminiscent of Tino Martinez’s homecoming to the Bronx in 2003. Martinez, a key player in the Yankees’ dynasty of the late 1990s, left New York after 2001 for the St. Louis Cardinals.
When the red birds visited the Yankees in June of 2003, Martinez smacked a home run off Andy Pettite – a shot that found a familiar landing spot in the short porch at the old stadium. It generated a positive response from the Yankee fans.
Much like McCann on Friday, the hometown audience stood up and graciously applauded its former player.
McCann’s homecoming on Friday was finalized with four RBI and three runs scored, as the Yankees trounced the Braves, 15-4.
On Saturday it got even sweeter, as he drove in one of the Yanks’ three runs. Three runs were all the Yankees needed, as they handed the Braves a 3-1 loss.
And on Sunday, he put a nice bow on it. McCann collected a hit in the series finale, drove in two runs and scored two more. His offense was a small part of the collective effort, as the baseball score looked more like a football score when it was all said and done. The Yankees wrapped up the series against the Braves by pulling out the broom for a sweep in the form of a 20-6 victory.
This past weekend wasn’t just a spectacular hitting show with McCann in the starring role, but proof of improvement from a year ago. With his home run Friday, McCann matched his 2014 home run total. He entered the weekend with 75 RBI – the amount he finished with last year – and with seven over the past three games, he eclipsed his 2014 RBI total.
Now, heading into Monday’s series opener with the Red Sox in Boston, McCann has 23 homers and 82 RBI, the most among all backstops in the bigs. McCann also has an opportunity to set career-highs in both homers and RBI this season.
His season-high number in home runs?
24, in 2011.
The most amount of runs he’s knocked in over the course of one season?
94, in 2009.
With 33 games left on the schedule, there is plenty of opportunity for McCann, who has proven he’s a good hitter; who has proven he can handle himself in pinstripes.
McCann, who has proven he is that bonus.