March 10, 2014 – A few weeks before spring training began, legendary quarterback Joe Namath accepted my invitation to attend a game at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida.
With the cooperation of Yankees skipper Joe Girardi and GM Brian Cashman, I arranged for Namath to serve as the Yankees honorary co-manager and to also toss a ceremonial first pitch.
Before the March 3 game, I conducted an interview that I had long coveted. With Namath in a full Yankees uniform — including a number 12 jersey — he and fellow New York icon Derek Jeter joined me in the dugout for a 20-minute discussion (see photo below).
From the moment that Namath and Jeter approached each other, just about every photographer and reporter swarmed them. Everyone wanted to capture the rare encounter between two of New York’s most storied athletes, and I felt extremely fortunate to have an audience with them.
As the interview began, Namath offered a classy comment that meant the world to me.
“First of all, I want to thank you both for doing this,” Namath said. “This is a real thrill for me.”
Then, with about 50 members of the media looking on from the area in front of the dugout, I asked Jeter and Namath how they maintained their outwardly calm demeanors in the biggest games they played in.
For Namath, the question brought him back to Super Bowl III, the game he so famously guaranteed a win in, despite being on a New York Jets team that was heavy underdogs.
“Well, my heart was beating pretty hard before I got out there on the field that day,” Namath said. “I learned to accept the nervous energy before a big game. But once I got out there, I was just repeating what I knew how to do. I was doing something that I had done since I was a child. I wouldn’t have been out there if I lacked confidence, and I always knew the difference between being cocky and confident. I was able to be calm once the game started, and that came from confidence in myself.”
“I agree with what Joe said about having butterflies,” Jeter then said. “I’ve always feel the butterflies before I take the field. I’ve always cared about winning and playing well, and that nervous energy is there before I get on the field. But I’ve tried to treat every game the same. Baseball is baseball, whether it’s a spring training game, a regular season game or a World Series game. There is more attention off the field during the bigger games, but once you get on the field, you have to treat every game the same way. Like Joe said, when you get out there, it’s just about playing the game you’ve played your whole life.”
I also asked Broadway Joe and the Yankees captain to discuss why winning in New York is extraordinarily special.
“The fans really care,” Jeter began. “They watch every game. It’s almost like life or death some times. They experience everything that happens throughout the year. Also, New York is the media capital of the world, so there’s a lot of attention and scrutiny, and if you’re able to win a championship in New York City, it doesn’t get any better. With no disrespect to any other cities or teams, if you can win it all in New York with all the attention that is on you, it makes it that much more special.”
“I’ve given this a lot of thought over the years,” Namath said. “What makes New York special? Well it goes back a few hundred years. New York was special from the beginning. The Big Apple is made up of a gathering of people from different backgrounds who have always had their own ways of doing things but still worked collectively together. The people are sharp, and they will let you know how they feel, especially when you win. It’s the greatest city in the world. I cherish my relationship with New Yorkers. I feel like I’m one of them.”
After the interview, Namath visited with players and coaches in a lounge inside the home clubhouse. Then, as we walked out to the field, he asked me to warm him up for the ceremonial first pitch. That experience was both thrilling and nerve racking.
In front of the packed Yankees dugout, I found myself playing catch with Joe Namath, and the Hall of Fame quarterback made one strong throw after another. Fortunately, I caught Nathath’s warm-up pitches, and I got the ball back to him without making any throwing errors.
Namath then took the field to a chorus of cheers, and from a few feet in front of the mound, he threw a strike to his catcher — Derek Jeter.
“I planned to walk out to the mound,” Namath said. “But I ended up jogging out there, because the adrenaline was going. I was really excited because of where I was. When I looked down there and saw Derek in the catcher’s stance, I couldn’t believe it. I knew he was going to catch the pitch, but I when I saw him out there, it was really special.”
When the game was over, I asked Girardi’s co-manager if he had to make any difficult decisions during the team’s win over the Washington Nationals.
“I wasn’t sure how long I wanted to keep Jeter in the game,” Namath joked. “For real, I kept thinking to myself, this is the early part of spring training, and he’s been out there for a while. Then, around the sixth inning, it dawned on me: Derek’s probably calling that shot. I realized that he was going to stay in the game as long as he wanted to.”
My entire interview with Namath and Jeter, along with sidebars on the former quarterback’s first pitch and his time in the dugout, will be published in the May Issue of Yankees Magazine.
–Alfred Santasiere III
March 10, 2014 – During the first week of spring training, I interviewed Masahiro Tanaka over lunch for the cover story of the April Issue of Yankees Magazine.
On February 18, I spent a few hours with the Yankees free agent acquisition at SoHo Sushi in Tampa, Florida. During our meal, Tanaka discussed his childhood in Japan, his incredible career in Japan’s Nippon League and his goals with the Yankees.
In final three seasons with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, Tanaka racked up a 53-9 record, and he put together a perfect 24-0 season with a 1.27 ERA, while leading the Golden Eagles to their first championship in 2013.
Tanaka — who was accompanied by Yankees advisor of Pacific Rim operations, George Rose, interpreter Shingo Horie and Japanese media advisor Yoshiki Sato — ordered a variety of sushi and other Japanese favorites for the group.
Without even browsing the menu at the acclaimed sushi bar, Tanaka quickly rattled off a list of items in Japanese to Horie, who then relayed the order to our waitress.
Moments later, 12 sushi rolls and several other dishes began to fill the table.
As quickly as the culinary masterpieces arrived, Tanaka began to pluck pieces of sushi off each dish with a pair of chopsticks. From the tuna rolls to the elaborate volcano roll, which included crab and cucumber wrapped in avocado and buried under a mountain of baked spicy salmon and crabmeat, Tanaka devoured it all.
“I love sushi,” Tanaka said through Horie. “I’ve been eating it since I was a little kid.”
During the meal, Tanaka opened up about his decision to attend Komazawa University Tomakamai High School, which was located far from his hometown.
“It took a two-hour plane ride to get from my home to the high school,” Tanaka said. “I was far away from where my family was, but I wanted to go to that high school because I felt that I could become a better baseball player there. Even when I was very young, I was thinking about where I could improve my skills as a baseball player, and when I saw the environment that they had at Tomakamai, I knew that was the best place for me. That’s why I made the decision to go there.”
Tanaka, who led Tomakamai to two championships in Japan’s prestigious Summer Koshien tournament, also discussed the pressure he felt to perform at such a young age.
“Tomakamai had been very successful before I got there,” Tanaka said. “As a result, there was an enormous amount of pressure on me to continue to help them win championships. I didn’t feel any pressure when I was playing, but when the games were over, I always felt a sense of relief. That helped me to understand that there was a lot of pressure, but I also felt good about the way I dealt with it.”
The part of the conversation that interested me the most involved the amount of time Tanaka spent on the diamond when he was in high school.
“I practiced baseball about nine hours a day back then,” Tanaka said. “I went to school and finished my studies at about 1 p.m., and then I would play baseball until about 10 o’clock at night. There were nights in which some of my teammates and I would finish up at around midnight.”
After we discussed Tanaka’s early days, he shared his thoughts on more recent times, including his undefeated campaign in 2013.
“I was just taking it one game at a time,” said the 25 year-old right-hander. “I just happened to get 24 wins.”
At the end of the lunch, Tanaka beamed as he spoke about his decision to sign with the Yankees.
“I feel that the Yankees wanted me the most and gave me the highest evaluation,” Tanaka said. “As a player, you can’t ask for much more than that. The Yankees are so rich in tradition. They are the team that everyone wants to play for. I felt that this was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”
–Alfred Santasiere III
February 26, 2014 – The 2014 New York Yankees Official Spring Training Program is on sale now, exclusively at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida.
This season’s spring training program cover features a photo of Derek Jeter, who will be participating in his final Grapefruit League games in March. The annual publication also includes contributing writer Bob Klapisch’s feature on the Yankees acquisitions during the winter months, along with a guide to all the Yankees’ Grapefruit League action.
My Q&A feature with three stars from the Yankees 1978 championship team (see blog entry below) is included in the spring training program, along with another Q&A feature that managing editor Nathan Maciborski put together.
Maciborski spoke with two former Yankees whose ties to Tampa run deep. Yankees great Tino Martinez, and Hall of Famer Wade Boggs, both of whom were born and raised in Tampa and reside nearby there today, shared their thoughts on the best places to visit and the best restaurants to eat at in and around their hometown. If you’re going to be in Tampa this spring, Maciborski’s interview is a must read.
–Alfred Santasiere III
February 26, 2014 – The Spring Issue of Yankees Magazine is on sale now. You can purchase a subscription to the print version of Yankees Magazine by calling (800) GO-YANKS, and you can purchase a print or digital subscription by logging on to http://www.yankees.com/publications.
Yankees Magazine is also sold at Yankee Stadium and on newsstands throughout the tri-state area.
The Spring Issue, which is the first edition of the year, features an environmental portrait of one of the Yankees prized offseason acquisitions on the cover. In a photo shoot with Brian McCann in the batting cage at Yankee Stadium, Yankees chief photographer Ariele Goldman Hecht captured a photograph of the seven-time All-Star catcher behind the plate. In the unique photo, which was taken on the day McCann was introduced to the New York media, the catcher is wearing a suit and tie — and a catcher’s mitt (see cover below).
Managing editor Nathan Maciborski’s story on McCann is as compelling as the cover photo. It includes several exclusive quotes from McCann, in which the star backstop shares his excitement about joining the Yankees.
The Spring Issue also includes my feature on long-time Yankees pitching guru Billy Connors (see blog entry below), my “5 Minutes with…” interview with Julius Erving (see blog entry below) and a very special story on the Yankees history in New Orleans, which was scribed by executive editor Ken Derry.
Additionally, the Spring Issue contains a feature by contributing writer Bob Klapisch on all of the Yankees’ offseason acquisitions. Of course, those acquisitions include McCann, along with All-Star outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, and one of Japan’s greatest stars, pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
In my opinion, we’ve started 2014 with a fascinating issue of Yankees Magazine, so don’t wait to get your subscription!
–Alfred Santasiere III
February 26, 2014 – On Saturday February 22, the Yankees held Media Day at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Each spring at Media Day, the players and coaches spend a few minutes with each of the media outlets who are stationed throughout the ballpark. Many of the Yankees Magazine cover photos that we’ve published over the years have been taken on Media Day.
This year, staff photographer Matthew Ziegler took portrait shots of every player and coach from the umpires’ clubhouse. While Ziegler captured several beautifully-lit photos, team photographer James Petrozzello had one very important job. Petrozzello was set up in an outside location near the right field bullpen. There he snapped the image that will run on the cover of the 2014 New York Yankees Official Yearbook.
On the final Media Day of Derek Jeter’s career, Petrozzello captured a magnificent portrait of the Yankees captain. In the photograph, Jeter is leaning against a fence, which sits in front of a baseball field. In my opinion, the early-morning haze gives the photo character, and Jeter’s smile makes it stand out.
If previous media days have taught us anything, it’s that there is a major difference between Jeter’s natural smile and the one that photographers typically get during photo shoots. But this year, for this important photo, Petrozzello and I were determined to get Jeter to give us an ear-to-ear grin.
A few seconds after Jeter began to pose for the photo, Petrozzello asked Jeter to smile. The captain obliged, but he didn’t look very happy. That prompted Petrozzello to bring to Jeter’s attention the look that he sported in a photo that he took with my 6-year-old son, Alfred, a day earlier.
“When you met Al’s son yesterday, you really looked happy,” Petrozzello said. “That’s the look we’re trying to get now.”
Jeter responded quickly.
“Well, Al’s son makes me happy,” he said. “He’s a great kid.”
Jeter’s face lit up, and Petrozzello snapped several photos. The photographer captured Jeter’s signature smile, and just like that, a yearbook cover for the ages was made.
–Alfred Santasiere III
February 26, 2014 – I’ve had the opportunity to speak with some of the greatest athletes in history, including several Yankees legends. When I wrote Yankee Stadium: The Official Retrospective and The Final Season: The Official Retrospective, I was fortunate enough to briefly ask five United States Presidents about the Stadium. But with deference to all of those experiences, I landed the biggest interview of my life last week.
On February 20, I sat down with Bill Clinton for more than 20 minutes for a very special “5 Minutes with…” feature that will be published in the April Issue of Yankees Magazine.
The interview took place in a conference room in Clinton’s midtown Manhattan office, and from start to finish, the former President answered my questions brilliantly.
I began the conversation with a few questions about baseball including one in which I asked Clinton to discuss Derek Jeter’s career.
“I recently read an article in which the author listed who he thought were the 10 greatest Yankees,” Clinton began. “I think that Derek will be on any list of the 10 greatest players in the history of the Yankees storied franchise. Derek is the most important example since Cal Ripken Jr. of someone who just wanted to play for one team, who wanted to give it his all and who has always been there for the team. Derek’s attitude has always been team first and me second. He’s done it without ever being dower or sanctimonious about it. I don’t think anyone has ever had more fun playing baseball than Derek Jeter. He has managed to make it a joyous endeavor and to have a good time doing it. People have known that he is all about the team and winning, and as a result, he has always received support from not only the players but also the public.”
After Clinton waxed poetic about the Yankees captain, I asked him who he would choose if he could share a meal with any athlete throughout history.
“That’s a hard question,” Clinton said. “I would have liked to sit down and talk to Jesse Owens about the Berlin Olympics and what it was like to be an African-American competing in front of Adolf Hitler, who had all of those crazy racist theories. What did he see in the eyes of all the German people who watched him compete? How did the way he conducted himself affect the way people felt about him?”
After a brief pause, Clinton spoke about the Yankees he would have liked to meet.
“I would also like to have had a Yankee dinner with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio,” Clinton said. “I would have liked to talk with them about the evolution of baseball through time and the connection between natural ability and training, the difference between what Ruth would have to do now to perform at the level he did when he was playing and what he did then. That would have been a fascinating conversation.”
After we spoke about sports, I asked Clinton several questions about his life and his presidency, including one about the satisfaction he feels today about the striving economy in America during his two terms.
“I have enormous satisfaction because we not only created 22 million jobs but we didn’t have the great income inequality that we have today in America,” Clinton said. “Wages rose at every level. I just did a little research, and one of the economic reports from when I was in the White House pointed out that we had 100 times more people moving from poverty to the middle class in my eight years than in the previous 12 years. I’m really proud of that because we had serious policies in place to help people train for the jobs of tomorrow, to finance new businesses and to help people succeed at home and at work. In my opinion, if everyone who wanted a job had one, the country would only have about ten percent of the problems we have today. The key to everything is that people are able to make their own way, educate their own children, support their own families and buy their own homes.”
To read my complete interview with the 42nd president of the United States, please pick up the April Issue of Yankees Magazine.
–Alfred Santasiere III
February 26, 2014 — Each year, at the start of spring training, Derek Jeter meets the media, and spends about a half hour answering questions about the state of his career and of the team.
That “gathering” took place last week in a pavilion at George M. Steinbrenner Field. But this time around, the media availability with Jeter was actually a historic press conference.
In front of a packed room that included journalists from around the country, several members of the Steinbrenner family and the entire Yankees team and coaching staff, Jeter spoke about the announcement he had made a few days earlier on Facebook. Although he wouldn’t refer to the gathering as a formal press conference, this was the time in which Jeter formally announced that the 2014 season will be his last as a player.
As a member of the Baltimore Orioles media relations department in 2001, I was at Cal Ripken Jr.’s retirement announcement, and last spring I was at the press conference in which Mariano Rivera revealed that 2013 would be his final season. In both of those situations, the retiring legends were emotional. Ripken and Rivera nearly broke down when they spoke about the finality of their playing days – even though they still had several months of baseball left.
Jeter was different. He was unemotional. He was stoic. More than anything else, he was focused.
As I sat a few rows in front of the one of the most storied Yankees of all-time and listened to him discuss his career, I realized that what has made Jeter so great year-in-and-year-out, is his unwavering focus. And, just because he’s made a decision to move on after this year, that unflappable focus hasn’t gone away.
When asked about his future after baseball or about his past accomplishments, Jeter said little. When asked about the upcoming season, Jeter spoke at length. While much of the baseball world is focused on the fact that in few short months, Derek Jeter’s career will be over, he is focused on the now. That’s how he’s always been, and that is what has made him stand out among all the great players in the modern era.
“I’m looking forward to doing other things, but not yet,” Jeter said. “For now, I guess I like the idea of doing other things, but until the season is over, I really don’t plan on thinking about those things at all.”
–Alfred Santasiere III
February 26, 2014 – On the morning after Bucky Dent’s golf tournament, I traveled north to Juno Beach, Florida for an interview and photo shoot with Hall of Fame football coach Bill Parcells.
I met Parcells at the Hurricane Cafe, which is located one block from the Atlantic Ocean, and I spoke with him over breakfast for an upcoming “5 Minutes with…” feature in Yankees Magazine.
One of the most interesting topics we discussed was Parcells’ first season as the New York Giants head coach. Parcells and the Giants struggled in 1983, and they got off to a rocky start in 1984. Looking back on that time, Parcells acknowledged that he needed to make significant changes to his approach.
“My first year as a head coach was a disaster,” Parcells said. “I was lucky to survive it. If someone had tried to screw it up on purpose, they couldn’t have done a worse job than I did. But the main thing I learned was that you can’t try to portray yourself as something that you’re not. I tried to be someone different from who I really was. The most important change I made was that I just went back to being myself. I needed to be forthright and candid like I had been before I took over as head coach. I’m pretty confrontational, and that had always served me well. Once I got back to being that way, the players knew where they stood with me, and we began to win.”
Parcells also discussed legendary Giants quarterback Phil Simms, who will be featured in a “5 Minutes with…” piece in the same issue as the coach.
“Phil is the type of guy who you always want on your side because he’s as tough as nails,” Parcells said. “He’s got that soft blond fluffy hair, but you wouldn’t want to mess with him. I may have bruised his ego a few times, but he wasn’t overly sensitive, and I really liked that about him. I always knew that he was with me, and that he was trying to do the same thing I was trying to do. What I tried to do with Phil, was get him to a point in which he wasn’t afraid to fail. I wanted him to be smart, but I didn’t want him to hold back. If you asked him about me, I think he would tell you that I allowed him to be aggressive mentally.”
Parcells also shared an interesting story with me about his long-time friend, Gene “Stick” Michael, who served as the Yankees general manager from 1979 to 1980 and from 1990 to 1995.
“Stick and I used to go out for lunch at a place called Hagler’s in Oradell, New Jersey,” Parcells said of the current-day special advisor. “Stick helped me with free agency, because it had been a part of baseball for several years before it was in the NFL. He explained to me that you have to face the fact that you’re going to lose some of your players. He explained that I needed to quit thinking so much about who we were going to lose and that I needed to start thinking about how we were going to replace those players. That was a big help.”
After we finished breakfast, we drove to a nearby beach, where Yankees staff photographer Matthew Ziegler snapped several beautiful portraits of the coach, including the one below.
The rest of the interview with Parcells will be published in Yankees Magazine this summer, along with a Q&A feature with Simms.
–Alfred Santasiere III
February 26, 2014 – A few minutes after my interview with Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage and Bucky Dent concluded (see blog entry below), I spent the rest of the day on the golf course with Gossage.
The Hall of Fame closer, along with my wife, Tiana, and my colleagues, Mike Hicks and John Mendez, made up a foursome that competed in Bucky Dent’s 30th annual charity golf outing.
Armed with Gossage’s awe-inspiring drives, and impressive short game of all four golfers, the team birdied six of the final seven holes to finish 10 under par.
Much to everyone’s surprise, that score, coupled with the group’s combined handicap, was good for first place in the tournament. When it was announced that the team had won the tournament, each of the golfers (including Gossage) were beaming with happiness (as you can see in the photo below).
“It was a great day,” Gossage said. “Everyone on our team played great. We really had four ringers out there, and we had a heck of a lot of fun. To win the whole thing, that was awesome.”
–Alfred Santasiere III
February 26, 2014 – While attending Bucky Dent’s annual golf outing in Lake Worth, Florida, in January, I sat down with Dent, Ron Guidry and Hall of Famer Goose Gossage for special Q&A feature that was published in the 2014 New York Yankees Official Spring Training Program.
In the interview, which took place on a deck that overlooks The Falls golf course, I asked the greats several questions about the Yankees 1978 championship season.
That year, the Yankees trailed the Boston Red Sox in the standings by 14 games in late July, before staging an epic comeback. Thanks in part to the contributions of Gossage, Dent and Guidry (who won 25 games), the Yankees caught the Red Sox at the end of the regular season, forcing a one-game playoff.
That epic contest, which took place in front of a hostile crowd in Fenway Park, is regarded as one of the most thrilling games in major league history, and the three men I spoke with played the most significant roles that afternoon. Guidry pitched the first 6 1/3 innings, giving up only two runs. Gossage staved off the Red Sox in the final 2 2/3 innings, and Dent hit the home run that put the Yankees on top in the seventh inning — and etched his name into baseball lore.
In the first few minutes of the half-hour conversation, I asked the former Yankees to discuss the season-long chase of the Red Sox.
“I was happy we were chasing the Red Sox, rather than being chased by them,” Gossage said. “We knew that they were looking over their shoulders because we were playing great and they were faltering. We knew there was more pressure on them, and we felt comfortable chasing them.”
A few minutes later, the former ballplayers discussed their archrivals.
“They were by far the best team I ever pitched against in my career,” Guidry said of the 1978 Red Sox squad. “From the first guy to the ninth guy, they were dangerous.”
When the conversation turned to the one-game playoff, the former players discussed the atmosphere in Fenway Park as if the storied game had just taken place.
“It was a beautiful fall day, and the crowd was into every pitch,” Dent said. “I felt a lot of pressure from the minute I got into the ballpark, but thankfully, I was able to stay focused and help us win the game.”
“There was a different feel to that day, beginning with batting practice,” Gossage added. “You could feel the tension in the ballpark. The crowd was actually subdued because they were so nervous. I never pitched in a game like that before or after that day.”
This feature includes several other great anecdotes about the 1978 season, and if you are a fan of Yankees history, I believe you will enjoy it.
–Alfred Santasiere III