October 2011

Alex Rodriguez … the Football Fan

October 24, 2011 – The Yankees season came to an end a few weeks ago, following the team’s ALDS Game 5 defeat to the Detroit Tigers.

It’s always disappointing to see a long season end without a World Series championship or without a berth in the Fall Classic, but, I, along with my team of editors and photographers, have quickly turned our attention to the New Era Pinstripe Bowl Game Program and the many publications we will be producing in 2012.

As always, our goal is to bring you the most unique content and the most exclusive access to the Yankees that you will find anywhere. And, while it’s too early in the offseason for me to give you the behind-the-scenes stories of any trips to our players’ homes or football games at Yankee Stadium, those blog entries will come.

But, for now, I have posted (below) what I believe to be the best part of a question and answer feature that I put together with Alex Rodriguez for The Finsiders Playbook, which is the Miami Dolphins game day magazine.

Rodriguez, who has lived in Miami since he was a young child, has long been a fan of the Miami Dolphins. With that knowledge, Scott Stone, who is my counterpart with the Dolphins, reached out to me last summer and inquired as to whether if I would ask A-Rod a few questions about his affinity for football and for the Dolphins. Stone also sent a custom-made Dolphins jersey with Rodriguez’ name and No. 13 and asked if our photographer would capture a photo of the third baseman with the jersey for the feature.

During an event in a Yankee Stadium suite — shortly after Mariano Rivera’s record-breaking save — I presented Rodriguez with the jersey and discussed his favorite football team with him.

Rodriguez’ reaction to the receiving the jersey gave me a sense of how the interview was going to go. A-Rod repeatedly — and enthusiastically — told me that he planned to display the jersey in his new house after he had worn it a few times.

As expected, the interview went well. It was especially enjoyable for me, because I not only worked in the Miami Dolphins media relations department in 2002, but because I also have been a devout Miami Dolphins fan since I was a young child.

Like Rodriguez, my favorite athlete was — and is still — Dan Marino. Most of the memorable games that A-Rod spoke to me about, I had my own memories of — some of which you’ll read below.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Alfred Santasiere III:  When did you begin to root for the Miami Dolphins and what compelled you to do so?

Alex Rodriguez: I grew up in Miami, and the Dolphins are like a religion there. It’s a way of life. The Miami Dolphins were a part of Miami’s culture long before there were any other professional sports teams in Miami, and  they were the most compelling team to watch during my youth. When the Dolphins drafted Dan Marino out of the University of Pittsburgh, that’s when I really started following them.

Alfred Santasiere III: You began wearing number 13 when you were traded to the Yankees, and you chose that number because of your reverence for Dan Marino. What is your favorite memory of Dan Marino?

Alex Rodriguez: There are so many to pick from. The Monday Night game in which the Dolphins beat the undefeated Chicago Bears at the Orange Bowl in 1985 is always the first game that comes to my mind. Earlier that season, Dan threw a game-winning touchdown pass to Mark Duper on a 50-yard fly-pattern with no time left to beat the New York Jets, which I will never forget. There were also a couple of great games against the Jets in 1986 that I have great memories of. The Dolphins lost the first of those contests, 45-51, but it was the most high-powered shootout I’ve ever witnessed. Later that season, the Dolphins beat the Jets, 45-3, and that was a lot of fun to watch.

Heart of a Lion

October 6, 2011 – Jorge Posada has been a Yankees fan favorite and one of the fiercest competitors in the game for the past 16 seasons. And, in the wake of what many have called the most difficult season of his career, Posada has batted .400 this postseason (coming into tonight’s game). In the biggest game of the year, Posada has two singles.

So, for all of the naysayers, Posada has shown that while he may not have the same ability he once had, he still has the heart of a lion. Posada’s last hit was off Tigers flame thrower Max Sherzer, who tossed the Yankees designated hitter a 98 mph fastball. Posada lined the Scherzer’s offering to left field for his second hit of the game.

Hits like that one are the reason Posada is — and will remain — an icon in New York City.

–Alfred Santasiere III

Electric Atmosphere

October 6, 2011 — It’s the second inning of the decisive Game 5 of the ALDS, and there is a certain energy in the atmosphere that, in my opinion, is not felt anywhere but at Yankee Stadium. Event though the Yankees are down 2-0, the crowd is buzzing.

What does that mean, specifically?

Well, you can literally hear a buzz in the air — a loud chorus of voices — at all times. It never goes on. It’s palpable, and impossible not to get into.

Mark Teixeira just doubled to right-center field, and the Stadium erupted.

There are no white towels waving around — as was the case in Detroit. These fans are instead cheering the old fashion way. They are into every pitch, sighing when a Yankees pitcher throws a ball, and cheering loudly and then clapping on every strike call.

It’s louder than it was in Detroit during Games 3 and 4, and there’s more tension in this place than I can remember at a Yankees home game since Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS against Boston (I’m purposely omitting Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS because the Yankees were out of that game in the early innings).

If the Yankees can come back in this contest, it will be one of the great in-Stadium celebrations of the decade.

–Alfred Santasiere III

ALDS Comes Back to New York … Thanks to A.J. Burnett

October 4, 2011 – Tonight, A.J. Burnett resembled Rocky Balboa in the movie Rocky IV. Burnett came into a hostile environment with his team’s back to the wall — facing elimination — and did what every writer (particularly the New York scribes in the Comerica Park press box) and most of the baseball said he couldn’t do … WIN.

And like the Rocky movie scripts, it appeared as if Burnett was going to get pummeled at the outset of the game. But after Burnett loaded the bases in the first inning, he got out of trouble on a jumping grab by Curtis Granderson.

Burnett strategically moved through the next five innings, making quality pitches when he had to and gaining more confidence with every pitch. He only gave up one run, and of greater importance, he only walked one batter after the first inning — hence the reason he only gave up one run.

The differences between Burnett and Balboa are that Burnett is real as opposed to Balboa’s exaggerated character, which, of course, if far from real.

In other words, while Burnett’s performance was impressive and even awe-inspiring, it wasn’t unbelievable.

Burnett is a competitor, and he took his pride with him to the mound tonight and got it done.

Joe Girardi took Burnett out of the game at the perfect time — when the pitcher gave up a single with two outs in the sixth inning. It wasn’t too early, it was the exact right time for Girardi to turn the game over to the most dominant bullpen in baseball.

What happened after that was almost as unreal as the Rocky movies. The Yankees tacked on six runs in the eighth inning, during which time they sent 11 batters to the plate.

Rookie Jesus Montero singled in his first major league postseason at-bat and five other Yankees collected hits in the inning.

As I’ve written on this blog before, I believe Montero is a star in the making, and tonight may have been just the beginning of a long run of October heroics.

But for now, all that matters is that the ALDS — and our team plane— are going back to New York!

–Alfred Santasiere III

Bringing It

October 4, 2011 – Baseball is a funny profession.

In one night, a player can make up for an entire season that has not gone well.

For A.J. Burnett, a well-liked guy in the Yankees clubhouse, tonight is that night.

The third-year Yankee posted an 11-11 record this season with a 5.24 ERA. He pitched well and earned two victories (in two tries) against the Tigers, and he gets a third shot at them tonight with the entire season at stake.

If he wins tonight’s game, it will trump non-quality start Burnett made in the regular season.

A lot has been made in the last day about the Burnett’s performance in Game 2 of the 2009 World Series. The Yankees had dropped the first game, and a loss in Game 2 would have sent the Series to Philadelphia with the Yankees trailing 2-0. But Burnett pitched a gem, and the Yankees won the pivotal game.

Burnett watched a video of that game today, and while you never know what another person’s mindset is, I believe the fact that Burnett took the initiative and the time to watch that game, underscores a point that Joe Girardi has stated since spring training.

A.J. Burnett cares deeply about helping a team that has helped him through tough times on the mound.

I was also encouraged by Burnett’s outward confidence in yesterday’s press conference. He sounded like a guy who believes he will succeed, and that is the mark of a great competitor. Regardless of what happened in the past, Burnett is supremely confident in his ability to win.

“You can’t count me out,” Burnett said. “I’m going to bring everything I’ve got and just let loose out there.”

–Alfred Santasiere III

Great Effort in Defeat

October 3, 2011 — It’s hard not to admire the Yankees effort in Game 3 of the ALDS.

They were facing a pitcher  in Justin Verlander who was consistently throwing 100 mph fastballs, while mixing in “off-speed” pitches that were hitting 92 mph on the radar gun. I’ve rarely seen pitches break from the press box of any stadium — but it’s was easy to see the movement on Verlander’s breaking ball from high above the field tonight.

From the second inning through the second out in the seventh, Verlander only allowed three singles, two of which were erased by subsequent double plays.

But with two outs in the seventh, Posada worked the count full, and eventually earned a walk. It was a gritty at-bat, and Posada showed his postseason pedegree with each pitch he fouled off or didn’t swing at.

I believe that Posada’s at-bat took some of Verlander’s unflappable concentration, which was evident when the pitcher hit the next batter, Yankees catcher Russell Martin, with a 100 mph fastball.

Posada’s two-out walk was huge. It kept the inning alive long enough for Brett Garnder to hit a game-tying, two-run double, which won’t get nearly as much attention as it should. Gardner’s clutch double against Verlander was as impressive as any hit a Yankee collected this season.

The Yankees battled another tough pitcher in the ninth in Tigers closer Jose Valverde, who converted 49 saves in 49 chances during the regular season.  Posada and Gardner got on base with walks, but that’s where the threat and the game ended.

The Tigers lead the ALDS two games to one, but the Yankees battled from start to finish. I am confident that the Yankees will again work Tigers pitching the way have the entire series. Eventually, they are going to break through. Hopefully that will happen tomorrow night.

–Alfred Santasiere III

Granderson and Jackson — Two of a Kind

October 3, 2011 — You may remember that the Yankees traded centerfielder Austin Jackson to Detroit (along with other players) for Curtis Granderson in 2009. Granderson and Jackson have both been successful in their first two season with their respective teams and both players have spoke highly each other, which has come as no surprise to me.

Granderson is among the most respected players in the game for his play and for the way he carries himself on and off the field. Jackson’s career is just beginning, but I am confident he will someday be known as one of baseball’s good guys, as well.

When Jackson was in the minors, I had lunch with him at the famous Anchor Bar in Buffalo New York.  I was traveling with the Scranton/Wilkes Barre Yankees for a Yankees Magazine story about life in the minors, and I was also intent on getting to know Jackson, because I expected that he would become a major league star.

Jackson was easy-going and was as interested in learning about life in the minors from a front office executive as I was in learning about the life of a highly-rated prospect.

When I left the team at the end of the week, I told Jackson how impressed I was with his humility, and I added, “When you become a star, don’t change.”

When Jackson was introduced tonight, I realized that he hasn’t changed. As Jackson jogged toward the third base line, he looked toward Granderson and tipped his cap. Granderson responded by tipping his cap to Jackson. In my opinion, it was an act that showcased the mutual respect the two have for each other and the humility that embodies both players.

I was impressed by the gesture, but again, I wasn’t surprised.

–Alfred Santasiere III

Silencing the Crowd

October 3, 2011 – There’s something about the moments before and during postseason games on the road. When you’re team is about to take on one of the best clubs — and the best pitcher in 24 game winner Justin Verlander — in the league in a hostile atmosphere, you can almost feel the adrenaline in your veins. I’ve talked about times like the one I am in the middle of right now with Derek Jeter, and he has always acknowledged it to one of his favorite experiences in or away from the game.

“I like hearing the fans boo me,” Jeter said to me in spring training. “It makes you want to silence them. It only motivates me.”

Game 3 of the ALDS has just begun in Detroit, a tough town where the fan-base smells blood in the wake of the Yankees Game 2 loss. Comerica Park was rocking long before the game began. It appeared as if every seat was filled before the pre-game introductions, and everyone in the stands was and is still waving white towels. Derek Jeter was booed for almost 10 seconds when he walked to the plate to start the game — and he responded by hitting the first pitch of the game up the middle for a single. The hit silenced the crowd.

The defining sounds and the visual of thousands of people rooting against the Yankees came to a momentary pause when former Tigers star Curtis Granderson followed Jeter by hitting a long fly ball over the outstretched arm of Austin Jackson for a triple. The tree-base hit scored Jeter — and just like that, the Yankees had the upper hand against Verlander and 50,000 of his closest friends. Alex Rodriguez gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead on a ground ball to third base that scored Granderson.

Now, Yankees ace CC Sabathia, who has said that “no atmosphere” rattles him, will take the mound.

–Alfred Santasiere III

Detroit Bound

October 2, 2011 – Through the first seven innings of today’s ALDS Game 2, the Yankees had little success against Detroit pitching.

Curtis Granderson led off the eighth inning with a home run to cut the Tigers’ lead to 4-1. And after Detroit scored a run in the top of the ninth, the Yankees did what they do better than any team in the game — they rallied. Nick Swisher hit a leadoff home run in the ninth, and Jorge Posada (pictured below) hit the first postseason triple of his life. A sac fly off the bat of Andruw Jones scored Posada to make the score 5-3, but the Yankees couldn’t keep the rally going.

Even though the outcome didn’t fall in the Yankees favor, they battled hard against Jose Valverde, the Tigers closer who was 49 for 49 in save opportunities this season. That will go a long way in this series.

Now, the ALDS moves to Detroit, where Game 3 will be played tomorrow. The pitching matchup in that game will feature two of the best in CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander.

Verlander won 24 games this season, and he will be pitching in front of the home crowd. Those factors favor the Tigers in what will be a pivotal game, but Sabathia is 5-1 in his postseason career, and he is 4-0 in ALDS games. Verlander has not had as many chances in October, but his record stands at 1-2.

Sabathia has been as good as anyone in the game on the road, and I expect that tomorrow will be no different. The series is tied at one game a piece, and the Yankees will need Sabathia to put them back on top in Game 3.

I will be traveling to Detroit with the team, and I will be reporting from Comerica Park prior to tomorrow’s game.

–Alfred Santasiere III

Return of a Hero

October 2, 2011 – Game 2 of the ALDS has just begun, and the pitcher with the most postseason wins in history took the hill for the Yankees.

Andy Pettitte, who won 19 games in October (and November) brought the sold-out Yankee Stadium crowd to a roar when he jogged to the mound to throw the game’s ceremonial first pitch.

Jorge Posada got to the plate and began to dust off the infield dirt that barely was out of place, only so the crowd would have a few more minutes to applaud the home-grown Yankees hero.

Although fans were still filing into the ballpark when Pettitte made the pitch, I can honestly say that it was the loudest ovation I’ve heard for a former player or for a ceremonial first pitch in my decade with the organization.

Pettitte was the perfect selection to start today’s festivities. It gave Yankees fans their first chance to celebrate the career of one of the greatest Yankees of all-time. In addition to winning 240 regular season games, Pettitte won crucial playoff games in each of the five World Series championship runs he was a part of.

In 2009, the lefty won the clinching games of the ALDS, ALCS and World Series. I only witnessed the championship teams of the late ’90s and 2000 from a far, but I’m sure Pettitte’s role on those clubs was much like the one he played on the 2009 team, which I was around from start to finish.

Pettitte led through his gritty example — he pitched well when he had his best stuff and he pitched kept the Yankees in games when he didn’t. He led by consistently encouraging his teammates. He led by treating fans and the media with the utmost respect.

And, of course, he led by winning a lot of big games.

So, on a perfect 60 degree fall day, under giant white clouds and a bright blue sky, this great man returned to the place where he is completely relevant, and as he did so many times before, Pettitte threw a fastball to Posada for a strike.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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