Special Feature on Alex Rodriguez – in the September Issue of Yankees Magazine

September 12, 2016 – A few days after Alex Rodriguez told the world that he would be playing his last game in pinstripes in mid-August, I traveled to Boston to chronicle his final days between the white lines.

In the hours leading up to the three games at Fenway Park — which immediately preceded A-Rod’s Aug. 12 final game at Yankee Stadium — I spoke with him three times. Each time we talked, the veteran of 22 major league seasons was more sentimental than he was in the previous conversation.

“It hit me harder today than it did yesterday,” Rodriguez said prior to the second game of the series. “When the clock is ticking on the one thing you’ve done your whole life, you want time to stand still. But that’s not how it works.”

Moments after making that comment to me in the visiting dugout, A-Rod launched pitch after pitch out of the park during batting practice, including one that traveled nearly 500 feet.

“I’m down to my last 72 hours as a player,” the 41-year-old said when he got back to the dugout. “I’m going to swing the bat hard, and I’m going to enjoy every pitch I hit out of here, even if they’re only in batting practice.”

During a longer conversation that evening, I asked A-Rod if he had reminisced about his first big-league game, which was also played in Fenway Park.

“I remember sitting right here,” A-Rod said from the dugout. “I was 18 years old, and I had just gotten called up by the Mariners and met the team in Boston. The one thing I remember is how nervous I was. I was sitting here, and my knees were actually shaking. I was only a year removed from my high school graduation, and I was about to play in a major league game in front of a packed house at Fenway Park. That was a life-changing event.”

As that conversation played out, A-Rod spoke about several other key moments during a career that has included three American League MVP Awards, 696 home runs, more than 3,000 hits and an epic performance in the 2009 postseason.

“I thought about winning that World Series a lot today,” he said. “I keep flashing back to that. It’s nice to think about.”

On his last day at Fenway Park as a Yankees player, A-Rod did something he long considered a “bucket-list thing.”

As batting practice was winding down, A-Rod walked out to left field and through a door that led to the inside of the famed Green Monster. Once inside, he posed for photos with the medal No. 13 sign used for the ballpark’s scoreboard on the wall. Yankees chief photographer Ariele Goldman Hecht captured that exclusive image for the story.

The following night, Rodriguez and his team returned home and took on the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium. That game would mark A-Rod’s last as a Yankees player, and it proved to be a special swan song. He collected an RBI double in the first inning and made one last appearance at third base in the ninth. A sold-out crowd gave him long ovations when he ran out to the hot corner for the last time, when he was pulled from the game and after the Yankees victory.

All of the emotional moments from that night are included in my story, along with several behind-the-scenes photos and anecdotes that you will only find in the September Issue of Yankees Magazine or at www.yankees.com/magazine, where we are putting our longform content online.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Q&A Feature with Derek Jeter – in the September Issue of Yankees Magazine

September 12, 2016 — The September Issue of Yankees Magazine includes two Q&A features on the Yankees’ 1996 championship team. I traveled to Tampa, Florida, in May to interview Derek Jeter for one of the pieces, and managing editor Jon Schwartz spoke with Joe Torre in New York City for the other feature.

I visited with Jeter at his office in Tampa for more than an hour, and I thoroughly enjoyed our candid conversation about his first full season in the big leagues. Besides interviewing Jeter for this special feature, it was also great to catch up with him and reminisce about so many other great moments in his storied career that I got to witness firsthand.

During the interview, I asked Jeter about a trade that George Steinbrenner almost made in the spring of 1996, in which he would have dealt Mariano Rivera to Seattle for shortstop Felix Fermin. Had that deal gone through, Fermin would likely have been the Yankees starting shortstop that season.

“The guys I came up through the organization with were mentioned in trade rumors all the time,” Jeter said. “I was supposedly getting traded every offseason when I was in the minor leagues. That’s what you’d hear. So you can’t say you tune it out, because you can’t help but to hear about it, but you really try not to pay attention to it. I think that was just the way of the world back in the day. Bernie [Williams] was the first guy from our era to get an opportunity to come up through the minor league system and be an everyday player in New York. The Yankees stuck with him. They let him struggle, and he ended up becoming a great player. But we always felt like we were playing for our jobs. So who exactly supported Mariano not getting traded and me getting an opportunity? Who really knows. But I appreciate whoever took a chance on me.”

A few minutes later, I had a funny exchange with Jeter stemming from a comment I made about Torre’s expectations for him back in 1996.

“Joe Torre said his hopes for you in 1996 were that you would play solid defense and bat somewhere between .240 and .250,” I said.

“He didn’t tell me that,” Jeter said through a laugh.

“He didn’t?” I asked.

“He never told me that he hoped I would hit .240 to .250,” Jeter responded.

Jeter far exceeded what Torre had hoped for, batting .314 in the regular season, with an especially impressive .350 average in the second half.

“First, I wanted to play every day and contribute,” Jeter said. “I wanted to help the team win. I don’t think I ever really sat down and said, ‘Statistically, I want to do this, this, and this.’ I just wanted to contribute. Even though there were a lot of questions about me, I felt as if I could do that. I took it day to day and came to the ballpark with the attitude of what can I do on this particular day to, No. 1, get better but — more importantly — help the team win and keep my job?”

I was also interested in what life was like for Jeter as a young star in the Big Apple.

“When that year started, I was 21, so if I wasn’t playing professional baseball, I would have been going into my senior year of college,” Jeter said. “My college experience to that point was playing in the minor leagues and then it ended in New York. I don’t know what to compare it to because it’s all I know. But if you have success in New York playing for the Yankees and you win a World Series when you’re 22 years old, it’s everything you could imagine. I don’t know what you wanted to be when you were younger, but that’s everything I wanted to be. All the things that came along with playing for the Yankees, that’s something I don’t know that you could ever prepare yourself for. I guess I was wide-eyed.”

At the end of the interview, I got Jeter to talk about something that he vowed he would never discuss me about during his career — individual accomplishments. I reminded him that he said he would reflect on personal triumphs after he hung up his jersey for the last time, and he did just that.

In addition to that season’s crowning accomplishment of winning the World Series, Jeter also took home the American League Rookie of the Year Award with a unanimous vote.

“Everything that I could possibly have imagined happening in my first year happened for me,” Jeter said. “I can’t look back and say, ‘Well, I wish this or that happened,’ because absolutely everything did happen. It was the perfect picture. There’s no other way I would have wanted it to go.”

Be sure to pick up a copy of the September Issue of Yankees Magazine, where you’ll find the complete Q&A. This feature can also be found on www.yankees.com/magazine, where we are putting our longform content online.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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The Art of Sport with Bruce Smith – in the September Issue of Yankees Magazine

September 12, 2016 – Last fall, I met up with Pro Football Hall of Famer Bruce Smith at Champions restaurant in Uniondale, New York, for dinner and to interview him for an Art of Sport feature in the September Issue of Yankees Magazine.

Smith was in town for the Joe Namath – March of Dimes golf outing, and we chose Champions because it was the most convenient location for both of us to meet. Little did I know (or remember) but it also had the perfect backdrop for our interview. As you can see in the photo below, the back wall of the restaurant — which is located inside the Long Island Marriott — features an enormous photo of the original Yankee Stadium, taken during the 2000 World Series.

As we sat down for dinner, Smith noticed the photo.

“This feels like we are sitting in a suite at the old Stadium,” he said. “This is the best place to do an interview for Yankees Magazine.”

My interview with Smith, the NFL’s all-time sack leader with 200, began with a question about his earliest days in Norfolk, Virginia, where he grew up in the 1970s.

“It was a challenging place to grow up, to say the least,” Smith said. “There were civil rights issues, and each of my parents worked two jobs at a time to make ends meet. It was invaluable because I learned a lot of lessons from not having a lot and making the most out of what we did have. My mother worked in a plastic factory for a number of years and sold lunches that she would prepare the night before. My father drove a dump truck for a construction company and also drove a cab. Seeing how they did things they didn’t necessarily love doing but had to do in order to provide for their family helped me understand how important it was to find something that I would enjoy doing for a living.”

As the evening moved along, our conversation shifted to Smith’s 15 seasons with the Buffalo Bills. The No. 1 overall pick in the 1985 draft shared his memories of his first trip to Western New York.

“I went up there in May of 1985 for the first minicamp,” Smith said. “[Fellow rookie] Andre Reed and I were on the plane together going there. During our first practice, we noticed some dark clouds off in the distance, and within 15 minutes, it rained, snowed and hailed. After a 30-minute downpour, the sun came out, and I thought to myself, ‘What the [heck] have I gotten myself into?’ Later that season, I believe it snowed for 31 straight days, starting with Halloween. But it warmed up very quickly when we started winning.”

The Bills certainly won a lot of games while Smith was in Buffalo, especially between 1990 and 1993, when they took home four consecutive AFC championships. Smith spoke about the factors that he believes led to the team’s unequaled success and to his individual accomplishments during that era.

“Well, the game slowed down for me,” said Smith, who made 19 sacks in 1990. “I had shaved about 40 pounds off. I knew how to study film and break down the opponent, and I had great talent around me on defense. We had the most potent offense in football for a number of years with Thurman Thomas, Jim Kelly and Andre Reed, and we had fans that really made it difficult for opposing offenses in Buffalo. There wasn’t a louder stadium in the league than ours. We gave our fans something to shout about every single Sunday, and they fed off of that.”

The most interesting part of our conversation came when I asked Smith how he would describe the legacy of the Bills teams that made it to four consecutive Super Bowls and lost football’s biggest game four times in a row.

“Those teams epitomized what life is all about,” Smith said. “We got knocked down time and time again, but our courage, resilience, work ethic and our never-give-up mentality will live on forever. We got knocked down more than any other team, and we kept getting up. That can never be taken away. While some people may look at the Bills in that era as being losers, I would ask them to define the term ‘loser.’ We won a ton of games, and we were AFC champions four times in a row. I’m proud to have been a part of those great teams.”

The entire Q&A is in the September Issue of Yankees Magazine, along with a separate Art of Sport feature on New York Giants legend Lawrence Taylor.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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The Art of Sport with Lawrence Taylor – in the September Issue of Yankees Magazine

September 12, 2016 — Earlier this season, I sat down with one of the single greatest football players in history for an Art of Sport Q&A feature in the September Issue of Yankees Magazine.

On a humid night in July, Lawrence Taylor — whose penchant for sacking the quarterback from the outside linebacker position revolutionized the sport — was at Yankee Stadium to watch a live baseball game for the first time in his life. From a Stadium suite, I spoke with Taylor about his storied career.

“I can’t believe I’ve never been to a game in all of the years since I came to the Giants,” Taylor said at the beginning of the interview. “But this is a beautiful place to watch a baseball game. The Yankees fans remind me of our Giants fans. They’re knowledgeable and passionate.”

Our conversation quickly turned from baseball to football, and LT provided colorful answers to so many of my questions, including when I asked him to compare the two Super Bowl champion teams he played on during his 13 seasons with the New York Giants.

“In 1986, we just dominated teams,” said Taylor, who won the NFL’s MVP award that season. “We expected to win every time we took the field. On defense, we really didn’t think any group of guys could even compete with us, and on most Sundays that season, including the playoffs and the Super Bowl, we proved that to be right. Our 1990 team really had to fight for every victory. We found different ways to win every week. We weren’t as talented as the 1986 team, but when we won the Super Bowl that year, it was more satisfying because of how hard we had to work. There were three or four teams that were much better and much more talented than us on paper, including the San Francisco 49ers and the Buffalo Bills. Those teams didn’t have Bill Parcells coaching them, though, and they didn’t have our determination.”

The Pro Football Hall of Famer, who racked up 132 ½ career sacks, also spoke with me about how he succeeded in intimidating opposing quarterbacks.

“I would always try to make eye contact with the quarterback,” he said. “It didn’t take long for me to figure out if he was fearful of me. I could tell just by the way he looked at me. And then I would just take it from there and try not to let up the whole afternoon.”

The entire Q&A is in the September Issue of Yankees Magazine, along with a separate Art of Sport piece on Buffalo Bills legend Bruce Smith, the NFL’s all-time leader in sacks.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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September Issue of Yankees Magazine – ON SALE, MONDAY SEPTEMBER 5

September 2, 2016 –- The September Issue of Yankees Magazine will on sale beginning Monday, September 5.

You can purchase a subscription to the print version of Yankees Magazine by visiting www.yankees.com/publications or by calling (800) GO-YANKS. Additionally, we recently put our longform content online at www.yankees.com/magazine.

The Yankees newest star, Gary Sanchez, graces the cover of this edition. Contributing writer Mark Feinsand caught up with the catcher during the team’s recent series in Seattle for an interesting read.

At around the same time that Sanchez was emerging, Alex Rodriguez was playing in his final few games. For a special story on A-Rod’s last days as a Yankees player, I traveled to Boston, where I interviewed the all-time great at Fenway Park two days prior to his final game. My feature also includes a collection of exclusive anecdotes and photos from that last game, played at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 12.

This issue also includes two Q&A pieces about the 1996 season. I sat down with Derek Jeter at his office in Tampa, Florida, in May for one of the features, and managing editor Jon Schwartz spoke with Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre for the other piece.

Speaking of that special championship season, the Yankees honored the 1996 team in a ceremony on Aug. 13. We captured it all in a photo essay. In addition to all of the great photos, we also included quotes about that season from several of the key members of the team.

Lastly, this edition includes Art of Sport Q&A features with two of the greatest football players in history. Last September, I interviewed the NFL’s all-time sack leader, Bruce Smith, over dinner in Long Island. This summer, I sat down with Lawrence Taylor, the man who revolutionized the game of football with his penchant to rush the quarterback, at Yankee Stadium. I’m proud that these pieces reflect their subjects, two unique people.

Enjoy the September Issue.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Special Feature on Darryl Strawberry – in the August Issue of Yankees Magazine

September 2, 2016 – In early June, I spent a day with Darryl Strawberry in East Moriches, New York, a bayside town in Long Island, for a compelling story on the former Yankee outfielder’s life that was published in the August Issue of Yankees Magazine. You can also read the feature on www.yankees.com/magazine where we are putting our longform content online.

Following a roller-coaster career that included several suspensions for cocaine use and an even more rocky time after his career ended, Strawberry is a Christian minister these days. He also works with three drug rehabilitation facilities, named after him. Based in Orlando, where he resides with his wife Tracy — also a minister — Strawberry has worked tirelessly in recent years to combat a significant drug epidemic in the United States, one that has particularly affected young people.

He was in Long Island to deliver a powerful and emotional sermon to about 500 people, set up by the South Bay Bible Church. For the entire day leading up to his Saturday evening speech, he was at the home of one of the members of the church, and I was fortunate enough to spend the better part of that day with him there. During that time, we had several lengthy conversations about his life as a player and his life today.

“I started drinking and smoking marijuana when I was 13 years old,” he said. “I was already in trouble coming out of junior high school. I was smoking a couple joints before I got to school, and there were times when I wouldn’t even go to class. I would go into the bathrooms and start a fire because I was high and I didn’t want to go to class. I continued to drink and use drugs when I got to high school, even though I was playing sports.”

A few weeks shy of his high school graduation, Strawberry was selected by the New York Mets with the first overall pick of the 1980 draft, and he would soon report to the team’s rookie league club in rural Kingsport, Tennessee. There, he used the same vices to cope with being away from home for the first time.

For Strawberry, the jump from marijuana and alcohol to drugs with stronger effects came at about the same time he made the leap from the minors to the majors. According to Strawberry, on his first road trip with the Mets, veteran teammates offered him cocaine.

“That was part of the big-league lifestyle at that time,” Strawberry said. “The drug when I came up was cocaine. I went to the back of the plane and tried it, and I liked it. I fell into the same lifestyle as everyone else, drinking and using cocaine.”

As the years rolled on, things only got worse for Strawberry off the field.

Just before the start of his final season with the Mets, Strawberry entered an alcohol rehabilitation program. He would enter treatment two more times during his playing career, once while playing for his hometown Dodgers, and once while with the Giants.

After parts of five seasons with the Yankees from 1995 through 1999, which included three championships and his first of two bouts with cancer, Strawberry’s career was over.

In 2000, he relapsed again and was ordered by the court to undergo treatment. After leaving the treatment center without permission in October, he was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

In 2002, Strawberry finally hit rock bottom. Additional drug violations — including an episode in which he left a rehab facility and was missing for three days before being found sleeping behind a 7-Eleven convenience store in Florida — led to an 18-month prison sentence. Strawberry would serve 11 months in the Gainesville Correctional Institution, and after that, his second marriage fell apart.

“When I took the uniform off, I was in the midst of a complete downward spiral of addiction,” Strawberry said. “When I was in jail, I refused chemotherapy because I would have much rather been dead. But God was doing for me what I couldn’t do for myself. He wasn’t going to let me go. God had a purpose and plan for my life. When I look back on that, God always knew that I would fulfill the purpose and plan. I finally came to a place where I was brought to my knees, and I looked up and answered the call. My purpose was to preach and to help others.”

For several years now, Strawberry has been answering that call. He and Tracy, who were married in 2006, became ordained ministers in 2007. Strawberry estimates that they have spoken at about 400 locations to date.

“My life has been a transformation like never before,” he says. “I’m still Darryl Strawberry, but I don’t wear a Mets or Yankees uniform. I don’t talk about baseball. I talk about God. I found the purpose of life, and it’s about helping others.”

Be sure to read about the rest of my time with Strawberry in June.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Q&A Feature with Mariano Rivera – in the August Issue of Yankees Magazine

September 2, 2016 — A few days before we published the August Issue of Yankees Magazine, I met up with Mariano Rivera at Yankee Stadium to interview him for a 1996 Q&A feature.

On a hot and humid July morning, Rivera and I sat in the cool press conference room and spoke about the season in which his star began to rise.

Rivera began spring training of 1996 unsure as to whether he would wind up in the team’s starting rotation, in the bullpen or in the minors.

“I didn’t care where I ended up as long as I made the team,” he said. “I just wanted to be on the 25-man roster. I pitched well in the 1995 postseason, but I came into spring training in 1996 knowing that I had to fight for a spot on that team. I did what I needed to do, and thank God Mr. [Joe] Torre saw what I was able to do.”

With John Wetteland firmly planted in the closer’s role and a cast of starters well-suited for the rotation, Rivera pitched out of the bullpen, and almost immediately found success.

By the All-Star break, Rivera had already thrown 60 innings, the normal amount of work for most relievers in an entire season.

“I was used to throwing a lot of innings,” Rivera said. “I had been a starter and a long reliever, and that helped me a lot. I was always OK with the amount of innings I was pitching. Mr. Torre knew what he was doing, and I really trusted him. I was getting the job done, and Mr. Torre put me out there when he felt the situation dictated that I should be on the mound.”

Rivera also discussed the relationship he forged with the team’s closer, John Wetteland (who he replaced in that role a season later, and who is also featured in a Q&A on the pages of the August Issue).

“I was in the bullpen as a long reliever and then as his set-up man,” Rivera said. “That brought us very close. We would sit together during games and talk. He had experience, and I didn’t. I would sit next to him like a sponge, just trying to absorb everything he was teaching me. It was an amazing experience for me because of the type of friend and teammate he became.”

At the end of the interview, I asked Rivera how he remembers the 1996 team and that special season.

“It was the beginning of everything,” he said. “It was about a group of guys who never gave up, who wanted to be different and who wanted to do something for the fans. That’s why we were able to accomplish what we did. We weren’t even the most talented team in the American League that season. You had Cleveland and Baltimore and Seattle, and they were the teams to beat. But we were a group of guys who were determined to do something special, and that showed in the end.”

To read the entire interview, grab a copy of the August Issue of Yankees Magazine or visit www.yankees.com/magazine , where we are putting our longform content online.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Q&A Feature with John Wetteland – in the August Issue of Yankees Magazine

September 2, 2016 – Earlier this season, I met up with John Wettland at Yankee Stadium to interview the former closer for a 1996 Q&A piece that was published in the August Issue of Yankees Magazine.

After having lunch with the 1996 World Series MVP at the Hard Rock Café at the Stadium, we walked out to the right-field bleachers to finish our conversation, and while we were out there, chief photographer Ariele Goldman Hecht snapped a portrait of Wetteland for the opening spread of the feature.

When we first sat down, Wetteland spoke about the struggles he had in the 1995 American League Division Series and how that impacted his success a year later.

“What happened in ’95 didn’t shake my confidence,” Wetteland said. “But it really upset me. I still say that I single-handedly lost that series for the Yankees. I also believe that what I did in 1996 came as a direct result of what happened in 1995. I really let the emotion of the situation get to me in the ’95 postseason, but when I took the mound in October of 1996, I realized that what I needed to do was no different that what I had done so well in the regular season.”

Wetteland also spoke with me about the late-innings combination of set-up man Mariano Rivera and himself that season.

“Mariano was the bread and butter of what we did that season,” Wetteland said. “He put the ball into my hands. If we were winning in the sixth, I knew I’d be getting the ball in the ninth. That was the beauty of watching Mariano develop that season. We were 70-3 when we were winning after the sixth, and that was absolutely incredible.

Of course, Wetteland and the Yankees defeated the Texas Rangers and the Baltimore Orioles in the postseason and advanced to the World Series.

After falling behind to the Atlanta Braves, two-games-to-none, the Yankees won four straight to capture a memorable championship. Wetteland saved all four of the team’s victories in the Fall Classic, and he shared the emotions he felt when he took the mound at the old Yankee Stadium for the ninth inning of the clinching Game 6.

“That was the most nervous I ever was in my career because I didn’t think that we could beat John Smoltz in a potential Game 7,” Wetteland said. “I felt like everything we wanted to accomplish was on my shoulders, but I had to somehow detach myself from that. I let a few guys on base, and I let a run in. With the score now, 3-2, I was wary of giving up a home run. I have to admit, as much as I don’t want to, I was getting even more nervous as the inning went on. The crowd was going crazy, and I was letting that affect me. With two outs, Mark Lemke came up, and with a full count, I threw a perfect low-and-away fastball. He fouled it into the seats next to third base. After that, I detached myself from everything. I couldn’t even hear the fans anymore. I just told myself to Xerox that same pitch, and that’s what I did. In one pitch, I finally found the inner focus I needed.”

At the end of the interview, I asked Wetteland to describe his relationship with Rivera — who took over the closer role in 1997, when Wetteland signed with Texas — these days.

“I think we’re like an old married couple sitting in the living room,” Wetteland said. One’s reading the paper, the other one’s sipping tea and listening to some soft music. We don’t really have to talk that often, but we love each other dearly.”

To read the entire interview, grab a copy of the August Issue of Yankees Magazine or visit http://www.yankees.com/magazine, where we are putting our longform content online.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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August Issue of Yankees Magazine – ON SALE NOW

August 3, 2016 – The August Issue of Yankees Magazine is on sale now.

You can purchase a subscription to the print version of Yankees Magazine by visiting www.yankees.com/publications or by calling (800) GO-YANKS. Additionally, we recently put our long-form content online at www.yankees.com/magazine.

This month’s edition is very special. For starters, it includes three covers. Didi Gregorius graces the cover all month, except for on one special weekend. On Aug. 13, the Yankees will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the 1996 championship team, and copies of Yankees Magazine available that afternoon at Yankee Stadium will feature a photo of World Series MVP John Wetteland taken seconds after the final out of that remarkable season. The following afternoon, the team will be dedicating a Monument Park plaque to Mariano Rivera, and copies of the magazine at the Stadium will feature a portrait of the all-time great closer.

I sat down with Wetteland in June and Rivera in July at Yankee Stadium for separate Q&A features about the 1996 season. Both of these candid features also include a great collection of photos from 20 years ago, and the opening spread of the Wetteland Q&A features a portrait that chief photographer Ariele Goldman Hecht took at Yankee Stadium during a rare visit by the former relief pitcher.

Deputy editor Nathan Maciborski wrote the cover story on Gregorius, and it details how the shortstop has come into own as one of baseball’s best players this season.

Speaking of shortstops, I spent a few days with Bucky Dent in Boston for a story on his famous home run in the 1978 tiebreaker (see blog entry below). The story features a collection of spectacular photographs and candid — and never before told — anecdotes.

The August Issue also includes my story on Darryl Strawberry’s life today. The Big Apple icon has certainly had his ups and downs, but he’s doing some great things these days. I spent a day with him earlier this summer, and he shared so much about his life as a baseball star and his life today with me for this special story. He’s had a fascinating journey, and for any fan of baseball in New York, this is a must-read feature.

Enjoy the August Issue.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Special Story on Bucky Dent – in the August Issue of Yankees Magazine

August 3, 2016 – In late April, I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience and have since written a feature story that I believe is as special as any I’ve penned during my career.

A few weeks before the season began, I asked my friend and former Yankees great Bucky Dent if he would spend some time with me in Boston for a story about the home run he hit in the winner-take-all, tiebreaker game to decide the American League East in 1978.

When Dent agreed to re-live the moment that changed his life and that helped shape the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry in the city and specifically the ballpark that it took place in, I felt as if I had hit a monumental home run.

Of course, I still needed to get the Red Sox front office to allow me to bring Dent to Fenway Park for an interview and photo shoot. Following a request from Yankees chief operating officer Lonn Trost, Red Sox president Sam Kennedy agreed to let us do so.

A few weeks after ironing out the plans, I arrived in Boston and met up with Dent at the Union Oyster, America’s oldest restaurant. In my opinion, this historical establishment was the perfect place to start the two-day trip and for Dent to share his memories of the history he wrote.

As Dent began to reminisce about the dramatic 1978 game, the restaurant’s GM brought out a round “Green Monsta’ IPA” beer, a tasty tribute to Fenway Park’s left-field wall that the shortstop is forever linked to.

Early the next morning, I met Dent outside Fenway Park. Moments later, we were greeted by Zineb Curran, a Red Sox executive who escorted us everywhere we wanted to visit within the ballpark.

As we walked through a dimly-lit concourse and out to the seats, Dent’s eyes lit up.

“This is pretty cool,” he said. “I haven’t been here in a long time. When you walk into this ballpark, the first place your eyes take you is to the Green Monster. Every time I see it, I’m in awe of its beauty.”

When Dent got down to the field, he began to retrace his steps, from the dugout to the on-deck circle and finally to the batter’s box where he made history.

“In my first two at-bats, I popped the ball up,” Dent said. “Then when I came up in the seventh, I fouled the second pitch off my foot. I had been wearing a shin guard and a foam pad on my leg because I had gotten a blood clot earlier in the season. I wasn’t wearing that stuff that day, and when I fouled the ball off my foot, it swelled up right away because of the blood clot. We didn’t have any other infielders on the bench, so I knew that I had to stay in the game.

That’s when fate — and a helpful teammate — intervened.

“As I was walking back to the batter’s box, Mickey [Rivers] noticed that the bat that I had been using was cracked,” Dent said. “So he yelled, ‘Hey, Homie, you’ve got the wrong bat.’ But I was in so much pain that I didn’t even hear him. The next thing I know, the bat boy comes up to me, takes one bat out of my hand and gives me a new bat.”

Still standing in the batter’s box on the late April morning earlier this year, Dent turned toward left field.

“I knew [Red Sox pitcher] Mike Torrez was trying to get the ball in on me,” Dent said. “I thought he was going to try to throw another pitch on the inside part of the plate, and that is what he tried to do. But he missed, and the ball came in over the middle of the plate. I knew I hit the ball pretty good. But I didn’t know if it was going to clear the Monster. There was a shadow on the wall, and I couldn’t tell where the ball was. When I rounded first base, I saw the umpire signal that it was a home run.”

After describing the at-bat, Dent began to walk in the same direction that the baseball had traveled all those years ago.

“As I was rounding third base, this is what it sounded like,” said Dent, looking into the seats of the nearly empty ballpark. “It was silent.”

Still taking it all in, Dent continued a slow walk out to the Monster.

When he got to the large wall, Dent pointed to one of many grooves created by baseballs crashing up against it.

“They used to refer to these as dents,” he said. “But that’s not a nice word around here, so now they call them dings.”

Our last stop that morning was the seats on top of the Green Monster, which were added many years after Dent hit the home run.

“Who would have ever thought they would have built seats up here,” Dent said. “This is an amazing view. Whoever thought of putting seats up here is a genius.”

After taking in the view, Dent figured out where the baseball he hit cleared the Monster.

“This is where the ball went out,” Dent said. “It was right here. I can tell by where the poles were. Back then, the poles held the net. We tried to get the ball out of the net afterward. My friend asked the Red Sox if they could get the ball out of the net, but after each game, they would dump all of the batting practice and home run balls onto the street below.”

Later that evening, we attended the Yankees-Red Sox game at Fenway. We got to our seats — next to the Yankees dugout — early, and with time to kill before the first pitch, Dent decided to do something he had never done in Fenway Park: walk up to a concessions stand and buy a beer.

Without looking up at Dent, the man serving the beer asked for his driver’s license. The man looked down at the license. Then he looked up at Dent.

“How are you doing, Bucky?” the man asked.

“Great,” Dent said. “I love being here.”

There are so many more anecdotes from the two days I spent with Dent in Boston in the story, which is in the August Issue of Yankees Magazine. It is a special and candid recollection of one of the great events in Yankees — and baseball — history.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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