July 2012

Welcome to New York, Ichiro

July 27, 2012 — Earlier today, I covered Ichiro Suzuki’s first press conference at Yankee Stadium as a member of the Yankees.

The media gathering came a few hours before Ichiro collected a single in his first game in the Bronx since being traded to the Yankees.

When Ichiro was asked what it feels like to wear the pinstripes for the first time, he shed light on his appreciation for the Yankees history.

“I was in Japan until 2000, and back then, I was a big fan of Major League Baseball,” Ichiro said. “I had a Yankees jersey, and when I put the pinstripes on today, it felt as if I had worn this uniform before.

“As a visiting player with the Mariners, I realized that mentally, the Yankees are different from every team in the world,” Ichiro continued.

I was impressed by Ichiro’s interest in the Yankees this afternoon, but I wasn’t surprised. After I wrote the book Yankee Stadium: The Official Retrospective, which included a quote from Ichiro, I gave a copy to a Mariners staffer to deliver to Ichiro at his locker in Yankee Stadium’s visiting clubhouse. The next day, the Seattle employee told me that Ichiro wanted to personally thank me for the book, which he had read the night he received it. I followed my colleague to Ichiro’s locker, and through an interpreter, the two-time batting champion, 10-time All-Star and 2001 AL MVP graciously thanked me for the book and praised my work.

That was a memorable day for me, and witnessing the buzz that Ichiro created in the Yankees 10-3 win over the Boston Red Sox tonight was thrilling, as well.

–Alfred Santasiere III

Robinson Cano’s Minor League Memories

July 27, 2012 – I was in Trenton, NJ yesterday to cover Robinson Cano and David Robertson’s return to Waterfront Park.

The two former Trenton Thunder players were back in their old stomping grounds to accept significant donations to their respective charities.

Cano will be the subject of the cover story of the September Issue of Yankees Magazine and the first-ever Spanish Language Issue of Yankees Magazine.

The evening in Trenton presented an opportunity for me to spend time with Cano and to talk to him about his early days in the game and his rise from a minor league prospect to one of the greatest players in the majors.

“This brought back a lot of memories,” Cano said. “It reminded me of the challenges I faced when I played for the Thunder and how much I wanted to make it to the big leagues.

“I remember hitting my first home run here,” Cano continued. “That ball went over the scoreboard. Even after being in the big leagues for what feels like a long time, you never forget moments like that.”

Before Cano took part in the pre-game ceremony, he signed a few hundred autographs and made a visit to the home clubhouse, where he spent a few minutes with every player, coach and trainer he could find.

Cano even make a surprise stop in the visitor’s clubhouse, so that he could catch up with former Yankees and Thunder pitcher Chien-Ming Wang, who is with Washington’s Triple-A team on a rehab assignment.

Yankees team photographer James Petrozzello was also on hand, and he captured several images of Cano (see photo below) for the story, which will also include a comprehensive look at the second baseman’s stellar play this season.

–Alfred Santasiere III

Ringing the Bell

July 27, 2012 – On July 18, the greatest closer of all-time got things started on Wall Street.

Rivera, who is currently recovering from a knee injury, was at the New York Stock Exchange to ring the opening bell.

“First of all, the relationship that the stock exchange has with the New York Yankees is tremendous,” Rivera told me when I interviewed him a few minutes before we walked onto the trading floor. “This is a great experience for me personally, and I’m really proud to have to opportunity to ring the opening bell.”

From the time we got onto the floor until Rivera made his way to the deck, the traders, who were in pursuit of his photo and autograph, swarmed the closer.

In a conversation with a Stock Exchange official, who has been witness to a few decades worth of athletes and other celebrities ringing the opening bell, I was told that “Rivera got more attention than anyone who has come through here.”

Rivera graciously signed every baseball and photo that was put in front of him, while posing for dozens of photos.

“It was a great experience,” Rivera said. “So many people appreciate what we do, and I appreciate their support. I was overwhelmed by the greeting I received and by how beautiful the Stock Exchange building is. The history there tremendous, and I am proud to have seen it up close.”

–Alfred Santasiere III

Real Dream Team Coach Honored at Yankee Stadium

July 27, 2012 — In the first-ever Women’s Issue of Yankees Magazine, which was published in August 2011, I wrote a feature story on Mike Candrea, who is the head softball coach at the University of Arizona.

In addition to winning eight national championships in his 27-year career with the Wildcats, Candrea also led the United States Olympic softball team to a gold medal in 2004 and to a silver medal in the 2008 games.

After spending a day with Candrea at his home in Tucson, Arizona during the winter of 2011 for the story, he and I have stayed in touch. The coach, who is a life-long Yankees fan and has a room in his house filled with classic baseball memorabilia, has come to New York in each of the last two seasons to take in a few Yankees games.

This season, Candrea and his wife Tina, came to New York a few days after the 2004 USA Softball team was inducted into the United States Olympic Hall of Fame in Chicago. That squad not only won the gold medal, but they also secured their legacy as one of the greatest Olympic teams ever to compete in the games. In nine Olympic contests, Candrea’s Team USA compiled a 9-0 record, while recording eight shutouts. Team USA, which out-scored its opponents by a combined score of 51-1, also graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, where they were dubbed “The Real Dream Team.”

After gaining the permission of Yankees executives, I got to make a phone call to Candrea that I will always remember.

On July 16, a few hours before Candrea was set to arrive at Yankee Stadium, I told him that the Yankees would be honoring him in a pre-game ceremony.

“This better not be a joke,” Candrea responded.

I assured the coach that I was not kidding, and he came to the Stadium with an ear-to-ear smile that lasted the entire night.

A few minutes before the Yankees took on the Toronto Blue Jays, Candrea was announced at home plate. The coach received a warm ovation from the crowd, and he was congratulated by his long-time friend (Yankees hitting coach) Kevin Long, who is a graduate of the University of Arizona.

“I have followed the Yankees my entire life, and I developed my heroes by rooting for them,” Candrea said. “To be standing at home plate in Yankee Stadium for a ceremony in which I was being honored was a dream come true”

For more on Candrea’s on-field recognition, check out the August Issue of Yankees Magazine.

–Alfred Santasiere III

Darryl Strawberry Golf Tournament — Sept. 11, 2012

July 20, 2012 – On Tuesday Sept. 11, Darryl Strawberry will be hosting the sixth annual Darryl Strawberry Golf Tournament in Brookville, New York.

The proceeds from the event will benefit the Darryl Strawberry Foundation, which is focused on ensuring quality of life for individuals affected by autism through the development of programs that focus on special education, socialization and independent skills training in a structured learning and caring environment.

Earlier today, I spoke with Strawberry on the phone about his dedication to helping families affected by autism. I left the conversation with an even greater level of respect for someone who I have long considered to be one of the most caring and kindest people in sports.

“I first interacted with kids with autism at an event in Long Island,” Strawberry said. “At that point, my wife and I immediately got involved and began helping their families. The things that the families of autistic children do for them are remarkable, and we just felt like it was something we wanted to help with.

“We really started the foundation because of how special the kids that are affected by autism are,” Strawberry continued. “We grew a close bond and connection to the kids we were around. I think a lot of people who have never experienced autism don’t realize how friendly the kids are. We were able to love them, and the kids became close to our hearts. They just allowed us to be their friends.”

As for this year’s golf tournament, if the first five outings (see photo below) are any indication, it will be a great day for everyone in attendance.

“We’re grateful for the support we’ve received over the last five years,” Strawberry said. “The celebrities, the golfers and the sponsors come together and have a wonderful time.

“I’ve seen so many of the golfers meet the celebrities, mingle with them and ultimately build relationships with them,” Strawberry continued. “Everyone is there to support a great cause and to have fun.”

Although I have not yet learned the game of golf, I will be on the links to support a great cause and the efforts of a remarkable person, Darryl Strawberry.

For more information on the outing, including the types of golf opportunities and non-golf opportunities that exist, go to www.fightforautism.org or email golf@darrylstrawberry.com.

–Alfred Santasiere III

July Issue of Yankees Magazine – ON SALE, JULY 13

July 11, 2012 – The cover of the July Issue was supposed to feature Andy Pettitte, but a few days before we went to press, the lefty took a comebacker off his leg and broke his fibula.

Needless to say, we needed to change our plans — quickly.

And, so we did.

Contributing writer Bob Klapisch, who had written the Pettitte feature, went to work on a story about Hiroki Kuroda, and our team of editors chose a portrait photo — which Yankees team photographer James Petrozzello snapped in Spring Training — to grace the cover.

Hopefully, Pettitte will make back to the field and onto the cover of an issue of Yankees Magazine in the near future. As I wrote on this blog a few weeks ago, staff photographer Ariele Goldman Hecht took a stunning photo of Pettitte for the original cover — which we would very much like to get the opportunity to run this season.

But for now, we’re going with a guy who has been one of the best pitchers in the American League over the last two months. In Kuroda’s last 11 starts, he has given up two runs or less seven times (and three runs or less eight times) while going at least eight innings in each of those outings.

Klapisch’s story is a great read because it details the adjustments Kuroda made earlier this year along with ways he is getting hitters out.

The July Issue also includes several features I have written about on this blog over the last few months.

There are two “Five Minutes With” interviews that are as exclusive as any we’ve published. The first is with Hall of Fame coach Don Shula and the second is with Mike Tyson and Spike Lee.

My feature on Bucky Dent, in which I wrote about his charitable golf outing and the day I spent on the ocean with him, is also in this issue as well as associate editor Craig Tapper’s feature on Mel Stottlemyre and our annual roundup story on HOPE Week.

This issue has it all, and it will be on sale at Yankee Stadium this Friday, July 13. You can subscribe to Yankees Magazine — print or online versions — through (800) GO-YANKS or www.yankees.com/publications.

–Alfred Santasiere III

On the Links… with Yogi

July 11, 2012 – On July 9, I attended the Yogi Berra Museum Celebrity Golf Classic in West Orange, New Jersey, and I spent a few minutes with the 87-year-old Yankees icon, whose philanthropic efforts have led to the creation of several educational and athletic programs for youngsters.

As much as I enjoyed speaking with Berra about those programs and the museum that bears his name, I also relished the conversations with several of the notable people who took the time to support all that Berra does.

Below are some of the comments that resonated with me about Berra and about the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center, which is located in Little Falls, New Jersey.

–Alfred Santasiere III

“Yogi was a coach when I played, and when he spoke, we listened. You have to listen to someone who has three MVP Awards and 10 World Series rings as a player.

Yogi has always loved kids, and he has always been very generous in the community. Everyone loves him for that, and I love him for that. He is the ultimate gentleman and the ultimate giver.”

–Brian Doyle

“Yogi has done so much for his community. Montclair embraced him when he first moved here, and being the person that he is, he has also had a love affair with this community. The people of Montclair are very fortunate that Yogi decided to plant his roots here. It has made this community better.

It’s difficult for me to put into words how great of a friend Yogi has been to me. I met him in 1975, when he got a locker next to mine. We talked every day, and our friendship really blossomed quickly. When he started coming back to spring training, I just took it upon myself to take care of him, and that has made our friendship even stronger. We talk on the phone a lot while we’re watching the Yankees play from our respective homes in New Jersey and Louisiana. We both enjoy those conversations immensely.”

–Ron Guidry

“Yogi has been a great ambassador for the game of baseball. He’s one of the most recognizable people in the United States, and he has been fantastic for the game. I spent some time at the museum a few years ago, and I can tell you, it is a special place.”

–Bucky Dent

“Yogi is as kind as anyone you’ll ever meet. He is a gem of a human being, and I am a better man for knowing him.”

–Willie Randolph (pictured below with Berra)

Old-Timers’ Day – 2012

July 11, 2012 – The July Issue of Yankees Magazine will feature our annual Old-Timers’ Day Photo Essay, and the images that we chose from this season’s festivities are better than ever.

Below is a preview of what you’ll find in the upcoming July Issue of Yankees Magazine, which will be on sale this Friday, July 13.

–Alfred Santasiere III

Kickoff Party at my Alma Mater

July 11, 2012 – On June 29, my alma mater, Misericordia University, held a fundraising dinner for its football team, which will begin their first season of play this September.

As a member of the athletic department’s advisory board, I worked with school officials on several aspects of the dinner, and I am thrilled with how the night turned out.

In the months leading up to the event, I reached out to several of my friends in professional sports, asking for their assistance in securing autographed items the event’s silent auction. Every person that I sought the help of sent me a valuable piece of memorabilia, and I am extremely grateful for that.

Every one of the nearly 50 items in the silent auction received bids, and they brought in more than $7,000 in revenue for the football program. Those items included a baseball signed by Derek Jeter, jerseys autographed by Yogi Berra and Don Mattingly, an autographed Denver Broncos helmet by Tim Tebow and a photograph signed by LSU football coach Les Miles, which he also inscribed “Geaux Cougars.”

The Yankees also made a significant contribution to the Cougars football program. It makes me proud to be a part of an organization that supports the projects that its employees care about. And, when I’m in Dallas, Pennsylvania, this fall for a game, it will also give me pride in knowing that the Yankees made an impact Misericordia University’s first season of football.

For me, the highlight of the Kickoff Party was introducing the keynote speaker, Ottis Anderson. The former University of Miami running back, who is one of only 25 players to amass 10,000 rushing yards in NFL history, played a key role in the New York Giants first two Super Bowl championships. After earning his first Super Bowl ring during the 1986 season, Anderson powered the Giants past the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV (1990 season), and he will always be remembered for winning MVP honors in that game.

During his speech, Anderson, who I reached out to about through a mutual friend in March, brought several members of the Cougars football team onto the stage.

“There’s only one first season of Misericordia football,” Anderson said. “Play with pride every time you take the field in 2012, because you will be part of history.”

Before the night was over, I conducted an interview with Anderson, for a “Five Minutes With” feature that will appear in the October Issue of Yankees Magazine. That edition will also include a “Five Minutes With” interview with fellow Super Bowl MVP, Franco Harris, who recently visited Yankee Stadium.

Finally, without the advice and assistance of my wife Tiana on this project, I am certain that the auction would not have been nearly as successful and the evening would not have gone so smoothly.

–Alfred Santasiere III

5 Minutes with Mike Munchak

July 11, 2012 – On June 27, I had the privilege of spending a few hours with Mike Munchak, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001.

Munchak, who played offensive guard for the Houston Oilers for 12 seasons beginning in 1982, grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Munchak is in his second season as the Tennessee Titans head coach, and he was joined by the team’s assistant special team’s coach Chet Parlavecchio and several of his friends at Yankee Stadium.

When we arrived in the New York Yankees Museum, curator Brian Richards handed Munchak the bat that Babe Ruth used to hit the first home run at the old Yankee Stadium. In the funniest moment of the day, Munchak walked to the area in front of a statue of Yogi Berra in a catching stance to pose for a few photos. Before Munchak could get into his batting stance, Parlavecchio was standing behind him, calling balls and strikes (see photo below).

I also took Munchak and his group to Monument Park before the coach met up with Joe Girardi on the field.

While we were in Monument Park, I asked Munchak if he believes there were more fans of the New York Yankees or of the Philadelphia Phillies in Scranton — which is located two hours from each city — during his childhood in the 1970s.

“The Yankees fan base was much stronger,” Munchak said. “That was the case because the people in the area did a great job of offering bus trips to Yankee Stadium, and that’s how I got to a lot of games. My dad and other families in the neighborhood went to Yankee Stadium a few times a year on bus trips. In the mid-’70s, our cable company began to carry some Yankees games on TV in Scranton, and that’s when I really became a hard-core fan.”

As a graduate of Misericordia University in Dallas, Pennsylvania, which is located in the shadows of Scranton, I was especially proud to interview Munchak for a “5 Minutes With” interview that will be published in the August Issue of Yankees Magazine.

–Alfred Santasiere III