Reliving History with Aaron Boone

January 24, 2013 – On Thursday January 16, I spent a few hours interviewing former Yankees third baseman Aaron Boone in Scottsdale, Arizona for a feature that will be published in the October Issue of Yankees Magazine.

The story will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Boone’s epic 11th inning home run in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox.

I met Boone at True Food Kitchen, which is an eatery in the Scottsdale Quarter. For nearly two hours, Boone shared his memories of the 2003 season with me — which was my first year with the organization — from the time he found out that he was going to be traded from the Cincinnati Reds to the New York Yankees to the postgame celebration that followed his historic home run.

While enjoying a warm afternoon in the outdoor mall, I watched Boone’s level of excitement increase when he began speaking of the 2003 postseason. When he got to the point in the story that mattered most — ALCS Game 7 — he was more descriptive and more animated than at any other time.

One of the anecdotes that I found to be most interesting was Boone’s description of the bench-clearing brawl in Game 3 of the ALCS. As most fans remember, things got heated at Fenway Park when Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez hit former Yankee Karim Garcia in the back of the neck with a fastball. In the next inning, Roger Clemens, who was already the least popular player among the Red Sox faithful, tossed a high fastball that Boston slugger Manny Ramirez believed was intended to brush him off the plate. Ramirez approached the mound with his bat in hand — and from there, things got crazy.

Moments later, Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer, who was 72 at the time, charged after Martinez and was violently thrown to the ground by the Red Sox pitcher.

“Whenever we faced Pedro, Zim used to wear him out,” Boone said. “Zim would just yell at him the whole time he was on the mound, and it seemed to get into his head at times. I can’t repeat most of what Zim would yell at him, but it got all of our attention.

“After Pedro threw at Karim, we knew it was going to get real hairy in a hurry,” Boone continued. “When you see a ball fly into a teammate’s neck, you know things are going to escalate. There was bad blood with Jorge [Posada] and Pedro, and the whole situation was intense. It was a full fledged rivalry from that moment on, and the brawl ratcheted up in the world’s view of that series.”

The Yankees won Game 3, and a few nights later, they took on the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium in what would be one of the greatest games in franchise history.

“We knew what was at stake that night,” Boone said about Game 7. “It was the kind of game every athlete dreams about playing in, but at the same time, we were all trying to stay calm and stay in the moment. I felt like I had to keep things as routine and as relaxed as possible. That was the biggest challenge for me.”

Boone, who had struggled at the plate during the postseason and who didn’t start the contest, took the field for the first time as a pinch runner in the bottom of the 8th. By that time, the Yankees had come back from a 5-2 deficit to tie the game.

“It was a cool, autumn night,” Boone said. “I’m wasn’t used to coming off the bench so it was an odd feeling. I’m glad I got to pinch run because it threw me into the fire a little bit before I had to go into the field.”

Two innings later, Boone stepped to the plate to take on knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.

“When I was running off the field after the top of the 11th, I had a good feeling,” Boone said. “I hadn’t swung the bat very well in the series but I felt like I was going to do something good.

“When I was walking to the on-deck circle, Joe [Torre] said to me, ‘Hey, stay through the middle. It doesn’t mean you won’t go deep, but just stay through the middle,’” Boone continued. “The whole time I was on deck, I was thinking, I might take a pitch to start the inning. But as I walked to the plate I said to myself, ‘I’m going to hit the first good pitch I get.’”

Boone hit the first pitch of the at-bat into the left-field seats. The home run defeated the Red Sox in one of the most awe-inspiring series in baseball history, and Boone became a big part of Yankees lore.

In the feature, Boone will tell the story of his memorable season and his classic home run in the first person. This special piece will include much more than what is in this blog entry, along with a few anecdotes that have never been published before.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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