Great Among Greats: Dan Marino Visits Yankees Spring Home

March 14, 2013 – A few minutes after the Mariano Rivera press conference (see below) came to an end, I left George M. Steinbrenner Field for the Tampa International Airport.

I wasn’t heading back to New York, but instead, I was picking up one of the greatest football players in history.

Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino flew to Tampa to throw out a ceremonial first pitch at the Yankees spring home on March 9, and for the second time in two years, I had the privilege of spending the day with him.

Marino came to Yankee Stadium last January for a tour of the ballpark and an interview with me, which was published in the April 2012 Issue of Yankees Magazine.

On that winter day last year, Jorge Posada announced his retirement after 17 seasons with the Yankees.

“I’ve been around the Yankees on two days in the last two years,” Marino said. “Those are the days that two great players announced that they’re going to retire, which is a crazy coincidence.”

This time around, the long-time Miami Dolphins quarterback spent some time with Yankees players and coaches. Walking into the home clubhouse with Marino made for an unforgettable experience. It’s not often that you see the game’s best players in awe of another athlete, but that was the case on that sunny morning.

A few minutes after we walked in to the locker room, CC Sabathia approached Marino.

“Mr. Marino,” Sabathia began. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I just want to shake your hand.”

Pitcher David Phelps then asked Marino if he would autograph a baseball, and All-Star David Robertson followed suite. When fellow pitchers Joba Chamberlain and Adam Warren noticed how gracious Marino was, they grabbed baseballs and approached him.

Sabathia came back over and asked Marino if he would pose for a photo with him, and before team photographer James Petrozzello could snap the photo, Chamberlain jumped in.

“When athletes from other sports visited the Dolphins facility, I would ask for photos with them,” Marino said. “It’s part of the camaraderie among athletes. For me, it’s an honor when a professional athlete asks you for your autograph or photo.”

As interesting as it was to see the aforementioned players with Marino, the former quarterback’s interactions with two legends in their own right, truly stood out.

When Derek Jeter walked into the clubhouse, he and Marino immediately greeted each other with a hug. The two icons had spent time together before, and on this day, they discussed the challenges of coming back from serious injuries.

Jeter, who suffered a broken leg in the 2012 postseason, asked Marino about the challenges he faced in coming back from a torn Achilles tendon, which ended his 1993 season.

“Take your time this spring to figure out how your body is going to adjust to the injury,” Marino said. “But trust me, even though your leg might not feel the same way it did before the injury, you will learn to adjust. You’ll get it done when it counts.”

A few minutes later, Marino and Rivera crossed paths. Although they had never met, it appeared as if they were old friends.

Marino congratulated Rivera on what he called a “magical career,” and the two posed for a few photos together.

Another great relief pitcher caught Marino’s ceremonial toss. Hall of Famer Goose Gossage greeted Marino when he got to the home dugout.

“I’m going to give you three signs,” Gossage said. “One is fastball. Two is fastball. And, three is fastball.”

The quarterback, who set more than 30 major National Football League records, threw a strike to Gossage and received a loud ovation from the sold-out crowd.

After the pitch, Marino and I watched the first three innings of the game together in the seats. The experience of watching a Yankees game with Marino will be etched in my mind forever.

During that time, Marino shared his thoughts on what it was like taking the mound.

“I had a lot of nervous energy before every game I played in, and I had that same feeling today” Marino said. “You need to have it. If you don’t have it, there’s something wrong.”

We left the game for a late lunch at Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza in South Tampa. Marino is a partner in the chain of restaurants, which are owned by Anthony Bruno.

We spent a few hours at the restaurant with Bruno and with David Wells, who did his best to un-nerve Marino before the pitch.

“I was worried about bouncing the pitch in front of you,” Marino said to the former Yankees pitcher turned spring training instructor. “I bet if you had to throw a football off the mound, you would have bounced it.”

The rest of the story will be published in the April Issue of Yankees Magazine, which will be available on April 1.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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